1. Simple Past: Usage
  2. Simple Past of Regular Verbs
  3. Simple Past of Strong Verbs
  4. Simple Past of Modal Verbs

The simple past tense, or Präteritum, is mostly used in news and formal written texts. In spoken language, we use it for the verbs sein, haben, werden, and the modal verbs.

Simple Past: Usage

Rule 1: We use the simple past tense to:

- express a completed action in the past

- talk about a fact or condition in the past



Mit dem Fahrrad fuhr ich von Hamburg bis Dresden.

I rode my bicycle from Hamburg to Dresden.

Simple Past of Regular Verbs

Rule 2: The simple past of weak or regular verbs is formed as follows, according to the matching person:

verb stem + -te, -test, -te, -ten, -tet, -ten



Ich lernte das in der Schule.

I learned this in school.

Simple Past of Strong Verbs

Rule 3: Strong verbs change the vowel and use the endings as follows. Please note that no ending is added for the 1st and 3rd person singular.

changed verb stem + - , -st, - , -en, -t, -en

Here's an example with the verb gehen (to go):

ich ging
du gingst
er, sie, es ging
wir gingen
ihr gingt
sie gingen

Stems of the verbs in simple past can change unpredictably - you can only memorize them.



Im Mai ging er nach Nizza.

He went to Nice in May.

Simple Past of Modal Verbs

Rule 4: Verbs having an umlaut in their infinitive form will drop the umlaut in the simple past, and then we add the regular simple past endings to them. For modal verbs without the umlaut, we simply add the endings.

Here's an example with the verbs dürfen (may) and sollen (should):

ich durfte sollte
du durftest solltest
er, sie, es durfte sollte
wir durften sollten
ihr durftet solltet
sie durften sollten

For example:



Das sollte ich nicht tun.

I shouldn't have done that.