I am confused about when to use "Past perfect" vs "Pluperfect".

I always compare these two tenses like "Präsens / Perfekt — facts" and "Präteritum / Plusquamperfekt — storytelling"

Is there something more about it than what I wrote that I am not aware of? (My main focus is "Past perfect" vs "Pluperfect".)

For example in the sentence:

Mein Sohn (5 Jahre) hatte heute einen Unfall im Kindergarten und hat sich dabei die Hand/Finger verstaucht.

I am confused about why do we use "hatte" and "hat" not "Past perfect".

  • The verb in the 2nd sentence is "hat... verstaucht" (thus Perfekt). Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 11:49
  • Thank you, why don't we use "Past perfect"? @planetmaker
    – iamshimye
    Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 11:55
  • I recon it's the same, but you name tenses differently. In school I learnt to name the tenses for the German past as "Präteritum", "Perfekt" und "Plusquamperfekt". Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 11:58
  • verstauchen (Präsens) - verstauchte (Prät.) - hat verstaucht (Perfekt) - hatte verstaucht (PQP) Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 12:13
  • 2
    From a bit of Googling it seems to me that past perfect and pluperfect are the same. Please clarify which German tenses you mean.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jun 28, 2022 at 13:01

1 Answer 1


The first instance of "haben" is as a verb of its own in Präteritum (simple past).

Er hatte einen Unfall -> He had an accident.

The second instance is indeed in Perfekt (perfect tense), where "haben" serves as auxilliary verb.

Er hat sich die Hand verstaucht. -> He has sprained his wrist.

Both of these instances do not use Plusquamperfekt (past perfect), because that would be unneccesary. Much like in English, the Plusquamperfekt is used to indicate that something happened before another past event, which is not the case here.

If you wanted to use the Plusquamperfekt, you could say something like:

Bevor mein Sohn den Unfall hatte, war er auf die Straße gelaufen. -> Before my son had the accident, he had run into the street.

Even in that case, the Plusquamperfekt is used quite rarely, especially in spoken German, since the timeline can mostly be inferred from context or from words like "vorher".

Bevor mein Sohn den Unfall hatte, lief er auf die Straße - Before my son had the accident, he ran into the street.

would be equally valid and most likely more idiomatic.

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