May be is my wrong perception, but I am pretty sure that for the verb sein one uses Präteritum way more often that Perfekt. In spoken language one says

Ich habe dieses Buch gelesen (nicht Ich las dieses Buch),


Ich war dort (nicht ich bin dort gewesen)

if one wants to imply the same kind of past tense. If this is true, why is behind the preferred role of Präteritum for sein?

  • possible duplicate of Präteritum of "sein" in Southern dialects
    – chirlu
    Oct 29, 2013 at 9:46
  • This is also true for "haben". "Ich hatte ein Buch" instead of "Ich habe ein Buch gehabt". Obviously, both words are auxiliaries.
    – Em1
    Oct 29, 2013 at 9:46
  • @Em1: Region-dependent. The farther south, the less preterite (including hatte).
    – chirlu
    Oct 29, 2013 at 9:52
  • The preterite is definitely gone in the Palatine region and some other tenses barely cling on.
    – divby0
    Oct 29, 2013 at 17:11

3 Answers 3


I think there are two reasons for that anomality:

  1. Präteritum indeed is much shorter and since sein and haben are used very often it is very economical to reduce speach length here

  2. Germans generally prefer Perfekt over Präteritum in spoken language. However Perfekt just sounds a bit weird for sein and haben because it duplicates the same words. In bin gewesen you actually have twice the word sein. That's even more striking for habe gehabt which I guess most people would consider redundant.


is used for events that took place in the past and have been finished in the past. (Ich las das Buch. - Aber ich habe vergessen was darin stand.) And it is the preferred form of past tense for written narrations, novels und stories (Emil nahm das Messer und stach den Fremden nieder). As part of spoken language it is only used in northern parts of Germany, while in southern parts of Germany and in Austria this form is rarely used.

I grew up in Austria (and still live there) and had to learn the Präteritum (which is called "Mitvergangenheit" in Austria) from the teachers in school, because i never did hear it in spoken german before, and even today to me it still sounds a little bit "artificial" compared to...

This tense should be used to describe events that did start in the past but still have influence to the presence. (Ich habe das Buch gelesen. - Und nun bin ich klüger.) But in spoken German, mainly in southern parts of Germany and in Austria, this is the only one form to describe events from the past.


It's the economizing trend of language. German loses the preterite step by step, because the speaker economize the number of tenses. But in the case of the highly abundant auxiliaries, the shortness of the preterite (war<bin gewesen and hatte<habe gehabt) is more economical.

  • If "economical" is so important, why isn't German loosing the present perfect instead. The reasoning makes no sense to me
    – Emanuel
    Nov 4, 2013 at 13:06
  • 1. Present Perfect has more regular forms than Preterite, IMHO. 2. For non-economical reasons: It's suited better to the "neutral" style of science and technology, which has influenced German language more than literature after the Romantic Era.
    – Toscho
    Nov 5, 2013 at 9:49

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