As in Southern dialects the Präteritum or Mitvergangenheit is often dropped in favor of the perfect tense, I was wondering about some things regarding the "i wår" (apparently the Präteritum of "sein") in dialects south of the Appel-Apfel-Linie.

Is it an exception? If yes, is there a reason why it is still in use despite there being the "i bin gwesn/gsi"? Is it used everywhere and since when?

Also, if someone does not know the answer but knows a good source I'd regard the question as answered, because I tried looking for one on the Internet but I only came across inconclusive information.

1 Answer 1


According to dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache (10th edition, 1994), p. 163 (Die deutschen Mundarten: Syntax), there is a broad transition area

das im Süden keine Präteritalformen kennt (Ausnahme vielleicht: war) und in dem nach Norden hinein der Gebrauch von Präteritalformen immer mehr zunimmt.

Thus, war appears to be an exception indeed. The shift from the preterite is commonly attributed to the loss (apocope) of word-final -e that made forms of preterite (er sagt') indistinguishable from the present tense (er sagt); one could therefore guess that the exception is due to war being sufficiently different from is(t), and of course being a very frequent form.

(Note that the preterite line and the Appel/Apfel line are quite different, in particular to the West of the Rhine.)

  • Thank you very much for the answer! The 'vielleicht' may imply that the authors of dtv-atlas themselves are not 100% sure as to why or to what extent that may be, so if they don't know for sure, I don't need to either.
    – Matthaeus
    Commented Jun 22, 2013 at 18:48
  • I'm from Southern Eastern Tyrol and we use war / waren - but as you said correctly it is an exception. It's not unusual to ask someone "woasch du schon amol do?" (1:1 it means: "were you lately once here") which can be replied with:"Jo, woa i" (yes, were I)
    – Qohelet
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 8:52
  • 1
    I'm not sure the difference in form between "ist" and "war" is the only reason "ich war" is used instead of "ich bin gewesen". The preterite of "sein" is entirely unknown and never used in the Alsatian dialects and we would say from north to south "ich bin g(e)wan", "ich bin gsin" or "ich bi gsi". Now schooling is entirely in French and standard German exerts no influence on dialectal forms. So perhaps mass education accounts for the existence of the "war" forms as opposed to periphrastic "bin gewesen" in southern dialects.
    – grandtout
    Commented Jul 4, 2019 at 16:53

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