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Both "du hast weitergeleitet" (Indikativ Perfekt) and "du leitetest weiter" (Indikativ Präteritum) are translated by google as "You forwarded".

What then is the difference between the two?

I felt that "du hast weitergeleitet" is closer to "You have forwarded" but apparently that is not the case.

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    Does this answer your question? When to use Perfekt and Präteritum? – Carsten S May 27 at 13:31
  • @Carsten S It partly answers my question. My question is very specific. "Both "du hast weitergeleitet" (Indikativ Perfekt) and "du leitetest weiter" (Indikativ Präteritum) are translated by google as "You forwarded". What then is the difference between the two?" – user17144 May 28 at 5:37
  • @Carsten S the question fits but unfortunately the accepted answer is simply wrong. – RHa May 29 at 8:02
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    I’m voting to close this question because I think that questions based solely on the observation of the results of machine translation show a lack of research effort. There are many books and websites that could have been consulted (including this site) in order to make the question more concrete than "I entered 2^4 and 4^2 into a calculator and both yield 16. So what's the difference?" – David Vogt Jun 26 at 9:09
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    @user17144 german.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask has some great advice on asking good questions. Researching doesn't mean you have to answer your own question, but including information about what you have looked up and did or did not understand will help generate useful answers. (Also, I wasn't comparing language to mathematics. I was comparing the method of entering phrases into a machine translation tool as a strategy for learning about language with entering formulas into a calculator for learning about mathematics. Neither seems useful to me.) – David Vogt Jun 26 at 16:21
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In addition to Hubert Schölnast's advice about translating to English:

There is no difference in meaning between a praeteritum form and a perfect tense form in German. "Du hast weitergeleitet" (Indikativ Perfekt) and "du leitetest weiter" (Indikativ Präteritum) mean the same thing.

They are used in different contexts. Präteritum is for example used in written or formal storytelling:

Es war einmal ein kleines süßes Mädchen, das hatte jedermann lieb, der sie nur ansah, am allerliebsten aber ihre Großmutter, die wusste gar nicht, was sie alles dem Kinde geben sollte. Einmal schenkte sie ihm ein Käppchen von rotem Samt, und weil ihm das so wohl stand, und es nichts anders mehr tragen wollte, hieß es nur das Rotkäppchen. (Gebrüder Grimm)

Gegen 17h brach am Mittwoch in der Stadthalle Krähwinkel ein Feuer aus. Die Ursache konnte die Feuerwehr bisher nicht ermitteln. Es wurde niemand verletzt. (Krähwinkler Zeitung)

Perfekt is used when stating facts or in oral communication.

Albert Einstein hat zwar lange in Princeton gearbeitet, aber nie richtig englisch gelernt.

Anna: Hast du schon gefrühstückt?
Boris: Nein, ich bin gerade erst aufgestanden und habe die Kaffemaschine angeschaltet und die Zeitung reingeholt.
Anna: Hast du Brötchen geholt?
Boris: Nein, ich bin gerade erst aufgestanden. In der Zeitung steht, gestern hat es in der Stadthalle gebrannt. Es ist aber niemand verletzt worden.

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The simple answer is that German, especially spoken German, is way more sloppy with the usage of different tenses than English is.

You might find sentences in present tense that express future events, and dialects in German (generally, the southern half of the German-speaking region - see oberdeutscher Präteritumsschwund on Wikipedia for this phenomenon) that don't even have präterite to express activities with no relation to the present (so, are practically forced to use perfect tense - that obviously tends to have an impact on the usage of these tenses in Hochdeutsch by speakers of these dialects).

The distiction between the two tenses is more present in written language, especially in literature, but still less strict than in English.

So, for all intents and purposes, at least in spoken German, präterite and perfect tense are practically interchangeable, with a clear preference of perfect tense in the southern half of the German-speaking regions.

So, in conclusion, at least for spoken language and when in "non-nitpicking mode", Google translate is correct and for most practical terms the two expressions mean the same thing.

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»Weiterleiten« in 2nd person singular active voice and indicative mode in all 6 grammatical tenses that German has:

  • Präsens

    Du leitest etwas weiter.
    You forward something.

  • Präteritum

    Du leitetest etwas weiter.
    You forwarded something. You forward something.

  • Perfekt

    Du hast etwas weitergeleitet.
    You forwarded something. You have forwarded something.

  • Plusquamperfekt

    Du hattest etwas weitergeleitet.
    You had forwarded something.

  • Futur I

    Du wirst etwas weiterleiten.
    You will forward something.

  • Futur II

    Du wirst etwas weitergeleitet haben.
    You will have forwarded something.


Note, that English has much more grammatical tenses than German. German has only 6 grammatical tenses, but English has 16. So, it's impossible, that there is a perfect match between the two systems. The rules of how German tenses have to be used are very different from the rules for English tenses. So, without any context, the answer which tense matches best to a short phrase that even isn't a full sentence, simply can not be answered.

Take the first example, which is in Präsens:

Du leitest etwas weiter.

This can mean, that it happens just now, so it should become present progressive tense when you translate it:

Ich beobachte dich jetzt, in diesem Augenblick. Du leitest den Brief an die Polizei weiter obwohl ich dir das verboten habe.
I am watching you now, at this moment. You are forwarding the letter to the police although I have forbidden you to do so.

In another context it should be simple present tense:

Du leitest alle Briefe weiter, weil das deine Aufgabe ist.
You forward all letters because that's your job.

Sometimes you should use one of the English future tenses:

Leitest du den Brief morgen weiter?
Will you forward the letter tomorrow?

And sometimes it's present perfect progressive tense in English:

Du leitest schon seit 20 Jahren Briefe weiter.
You've been forwarding letters for 20 years.

In total we have only one German tense, but, depending in the context, 4 different English tenses that match with it, and with some effort you also will find more English tenses that translate to German Präsens in some situations. And what is true for Präsens is true for all tenses. As you see, you simply can't tell which is the correct English tense when you start from a given German tense without any context.

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  • The table of tenses in English seems to be identical to the one in Wikipedia. I'd actually call them verb forms because they count factors such as aspect and mood. Note that is does not include the subjunctive, which does exist (barely) in English, and imperative. If you included those the the verb form tallies in English and German are about the same. – RDBury May 27 at 12:23
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    Sooo ... what IS the difference between "du hast weitergeleitet" (Indikativ Perfekt) and "du leitetest weiter" (Indikativ Präteritum)? ;-) – HalvarF May 27 at 18:48
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    @Yes. My main question is "Both "du hast weitergeleitet" (Indikativ Perfekt) and "du leitetest weiter" (Indikativ Präteritum) are translated by google as "You forwarded". What then is the difference between the two?" – user17144 May 28 at 5:38

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