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Past perfect describes an event that had happened in the past before another event has happened. Its function is the same as the past perfect tense in English. This tense is called as Plusquamperfekt in German. It is formed similar to present perfect tense, i.e. using the past participle. However, as auxiliary verbs the simple past forms of haben or sein are used. Regarding this point, what we covered previously about the correct uses haben or sein together with the past participle is valid for this tense as well. Hence, if a verb is used with haben in present perfect tense, it should be used with haben in past perfect tense too.

Let’s review how “sein” and “haben” are conjugated in simple past tense first of all.

Sein in simple past

Ich war (I was)

Du warst (you were)

Er/sie/es war (he/she/it was)

Wir waren (we were)

Ihr wart (you were)

Sie/Sie waren (they/you were)

Haben in simple past

Ich hatte (I had)

Du hattest (you had)

Er/sie/es hatte (he/she/it had)

Wir hatten (we had)

Ihr hattet (you had)

Sie/Sie hatten (they/you had)

So, to build a sentence in past participle you will need the appropriate form of haben and sein and also the past participle of the verb. For example, “I had already done my homework” is in German:

I hatte meine Hausaufgabe schon gemacht.


Ich war in die Stadt gefahren (I had gone to the city)

Because “fahren” is used with sein.

As before, the past participle of the verbs stays always at the end of the sentence.

The two helping verbs “haben” and “sein” are used like the following in past perfect tense.


Ich war gewesen

Du warst gewesen

Er/sie/es war gewesen

Wir waren gewesen

Ihr wart gewesen


Ich hatte gehabt

Du hattest gehabt

Er/sie/es hatte gehabt

Wir hatten gehabt

Ihr hattet gehabt

sie/Sie hatten gehabt


Nachdem which means “after that” is used very often in past perfect tense.

Ich ging nach Hause, nachdem Ich ihn besucht hatte (After I had visited him, I went home)

Note that the second clause starting with “nachdem” is used with the past perfect tense and the main clause is in the simple past. With clauses with nachdem “past participle + haben” stays at the end of the sentence. On the other hand, the main clause does not need to stay at the beginning. For example, the above sentence could be also expressed as “Nachdem Ich ihn besucht hatte, ging Ich nach Hause”.


Learn some important German idioms

vieles unter einen Hut bringen: to combine a lot of things

das ist ein dicker Hund: it’s a bad mistake

zu viel in Glas gucken: to drink too much

es gießt in Strömen: it rains heavily

darauf kannst du Gift nehmen: you can count on that

eine Haken haben: to have a difficulty

einen langen Hals machen: to be curious

ein Herz und eine Seele sein: to be inseparable

Lehrgeld zahlen: to have bad experiences

zu guter Letzt: at the end

in die Luft gehen: to be very angry

die nackte Wahrheit: the pure reality