Ich habe gelebt

Ich bin gestorben

To live and to die are opposites, yet in their perfect constructions one uses sein and the other uses haben, why?

The meanings of leben and sterben are related, being opposites, so you might (or at least I might) expect the auxiliaries to be the same.

  • From the English point of view, the fact that there is a choice between two auxiliaries is surprising (English has lost the perfect auxiliary be; it has survived in phrases such as the time is come).
    – David Vogt
    Sep 18, 2022 at 10:57
  • Have you checked the general thumb rules for which German verbs use "sein" for their perfect tense? Or are you asking for these rules?
    – HalvarF
    Sep 18, 2022 at 11:41

1 Answer 1


To live and to die are opposites

I suggest thinking of it differently: living is a state, and being dead/non-existent is a state, whereas being born or dying are transitions between the two states. Thus, geboren sein and sterben both conjugate with sein.

This logic may seem a bit contrived, since in German geboren sein is a kind of passive structure. Note however that the same logic applies in other languages, where being born and dying are both active actions: e.g., in French naître (to be born) and mourir (to die) both conjugate with auxiliary être (to be) rather than with avoir (to have). Moreover, unlike in German, the group of verbs that conjugate with être in French is very small, and includes exclusively verbs of motion.

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