In some dictionaries, contrary to what Wiktionary states, one can find that, say, verderben allows both sein and haben as auxiliary verbs to form the Perfekt. That's the case for these verbs as well:

biegen, brechen, fahren (seriously?), gären, reißen, reiten, schwimmen, treten, verderben, ziehen.

The list is not complete, I guess.

The question is: When should I use each auxiliary verb?

  • Ich bin mit dem Rad gefahren./Ich habe die Katzen mit dem Rad zu meiner Schwester gefahren. Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 18:55
  • Note: The English Wiktionary entry is correct for this verb. The German one still lists only haben.
    – RDBury
    Commented Nov 19, 2020 at 2:11

3 Answers 3


Most of these verbs can be used either as transitive or intransitive verbs, with different meaning. When used as transitive verbs, they form the perfect with haben.

Ich bin nach Hause gefahren. Ich habe Sebastian nach Hause gefahren.
Das Seil ist gerissen. Der Stabhochspringer hat die Latte gerissen.
Die Vorräte sind nach und nach verdorben. Computerspiele haben die Jugend verdorben.

See Canoo for a more extensive discussion.

A special case are the three verbs stehen, sitzen, liegen and some prefixed derivatives that are still close in meaning. In standard German, they form the perfect with haben, and this is true for spoken German in northern Germany as well. In the south, however, including Austria and Switzerland, these verbs are treated like verbs of movement, with a sein perfect.

  • 1
    @c.p.: Diesen Abend and similar constructions aren't objects, so there is no influence on the verb. - While thinking about this, I notice that there is a special class of objects to verbs of movement: Ich bin den Berliner Marathon gelaufen. Ich bin einen weiten Umweg gefahren.
    – chirlu
    Commented Aug 31, 2013 at 7:08

Here some examples for the verbs you mention. I give for each verb a sentence with sein-perfect and for haben-perfect. You will see that "sein" is usually used when the verb has an intransitive meaning and "haben" is mostly used when the verb has an transitive meaning (i.e. if there is a direct object):

Die Wurst verdirbt. Sie ist verdorben. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Du verdirbst mir (mit deinen Spoilern) den Roman. Du hast ihn mir verdorben. (transitive, haben-perfect)

Franz biegt um die Ecke. Er ist um die Ecke gebogen. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Marie biegt die Eisenstange. Sie hat sie gebogen. (transitive, haben-perfect)

Das Regal bricht unter den Lasten. Es ist gebrochen. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Jesus bricht das Brot. Er hat es gebrochen. (transitive, haben-perfect)

Die Vogelschar zieht nach Süden. Sie ist nach Süden gezogen. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Anne zieht am Seil. Sie hat am Seil gezogen. (transitive, haben-perfect)

Ein Gummiband reißt unter Zug. Es ist gerissen. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Der Hochspringer reißt die Latte. Er hat sie gerissen. (transitive, haben-perfect)

Julia fährt mit dem Auto. Sie ist gefahren. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Armstrong fährt die Tour de France (nicht mehr). Er hat sie (aber schon mal) gefahren. (transitive, haben-perfect; some native speakers may prefer "er ist sie gefahren")

Manfred reitet gerne. Er ist gestern geritten. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Manfreds reitet gerne sein rotes Pferd. Er hat es gestern geritten. (transitive, haben-perfect; same as for "fahren")

Claudia schwimmt jeden Montag. Letzten Montag ist sie auch geschwommen. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Manchmal schwimmt Claudia 20 Bahnen. Sie hat sie geschwommen. (transitive, haben-perfect; same as for "fahren")

Felix tritt nach vorne. Er ist nach vorne getreten. (intransitive, sein-perfect)

Im Streit tritt Karl seinen Bruder. Er hat ihn getreten. (transitive, haben-perfect)

The verbs of motion "fahren", "schwimmen" and "reiten" (and some more, I guess) may be used with "haben" and "sein" regardless of transitivity. This is sort of a north-south issue.

"Gären" is a bit different. The sentences

Der Most ist gegoren. Der Most hat gegoren.

mean the same thing. In the first sentence you describe a bit more the result, in the second sentence you describe a tiny bit more the process of fermentation.

  • 1
    could you give an example for "fahren" being used intransitively with "haben". I don't really know what you are going for with that statement
    – Emanuel
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 10:06
  • The word "gegoren" is an adjective in "Der Most ist gegoren.".
    – rimrul
    Commented Aug 30, 2013 at 14:28
  • 1
    @rimrul: Not necessarily. You could add, e.g., nach und nach (as I did in my example sentence with verderben in my answer, exactly in order to avoid the interpretation as an adjective).
    – chirlu
    Commented Sep 2, 2013 at 10:20

I quote McWhorter, J. PhD Linguistics (Stanford), who explains the semantic nuance behind this distinction in two of his books.

Source: Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue (2009). [p. 102 Bottom]

  Learn a European language, including any Germanic language but Swedish, and note that quite often, while most verbs form their past perfect with the verb haveIch habe gesprochen (“I have spoken”)—a good little bunch do it with the verb be, too—Ich bin gekommen (“I ‘am come’ ”). Just like in Old English: Learning had fallen away was “Learning was fallen away”: Lār āfeallen wæs.
  Marking some verbs with be instead of have is a matter of being explicit about a certain nuance: in the perfect, the verbs marked with be refer, technically, to a state rather than an action; i.e., something that bes. When you say you have arrived, you mean that you have now achieved the state of being there: “I’m here, so let’s get started.” On the other hand, when you talk about how you raked leaves this afternoon, you usually are getting across that you per-

[p. 103]

formed the action of raking leaves, not that you have achieved the state of having raked the leaves and are now ready to have your picture taken.
  We English speakers think, “Well, yeah . . .” but hardly feel it necessary to split that hair. The other Germanic languages do split it—and Old English did.
  But something strange started happening in Middle English, as usual; now it was the be-perfect that was falling away (like autumn leaves). By Shakespeare, be is used with only a few verbs

(“And didst thou not, when she was gone downstairs, desire me to be no more so familiarity with such poor people?” Henry IV, Part II, II, i, 96)

and today, it lingers on only in a frozen form such as The autumn leaves now are gone. Even there, you may well have thought of gone as an adjective (The leaves are red, The leaves are gone), and in any case you can also say The autumn leaves have gone, which, in this case of the grand old Old English be-perfect, they have, as always in English.

Source: What Language Is (2011), p. 27 Top.

  Or, what part of speech is gone in She is gone? Call it an adjective—and explain why you can't say a gone dog as you can say a brown dog. She is gone is English's wan gesture toward something robust in its Germanic relatives, in which a whole group of verbs take be instead of have in the past, because they describe something that is more how you are than what you did. To be gone is just that, to be gone. Sure, it is also technically to "have" exerted the action of leaving, but we think more read-ily of the result of the leaving, that one is in the state of being gone. Thus just as French has Il est allé, "He is gone," German has Er ist gegangen. All of the other Germanic languages have the equivalent, or almost all (what's up with you, Swedish?). English crudely forces have on every verb, and while Swedish does, too, that's just one coarseness, as if it happened not to learn to put a napkin in its lap but still went about in double- breasted suits and cultivated orchids. English, in comparison, just-the-facts-ma'am across the board, is Cro-Magnon.

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