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Present perfect tense. Auxiliary verb Haben or Sein?

edited October 2016 in German


Contrary to English, German sometimes uses a form of “to be”
as an auxiliary verb to form the present perfect. In English, it is exclusively
“to have” (examples: “I have loved”, “He has kissed”) The only exceptions would
come from old nursery rhymes or can be found in the bible on rare occasions. (example “The lord is risen”)

The majority of  verbs in the present perfect will form via the auxiliary “haben” as well.  (examples: “Ich habe geliebt”, “Er hat geküsst” )

However, there are many occasion when you will have to use “sein” instead. The auxiliary “sein” is used if the following two conditions are met and BOTH have to be met.

1.    If the verb conveys motion or a change of condition

Examples: “Er ist gelaufen”.   (He has run), “Sie sind geschwommen”  (They have swum), “es ist eingefroren” (It has frozen) “Wir sind gestorben” (we have died).The verbs to “run” and “to swim” express motion, “frieren”
and “sterben” are examples of verbs that convey a change of condition.

2.       If the verb is intransitive  (i.e. it cannot take a direct object)

The above verbs are all intransitive. Other examples would include “kommen” or “sein”. “Ich bin gekommen” (I have come) and “Ich bin gewesen” (I have been) A counter example would be “essen”. (Ich habe gegessen.) The
word “essen” cries out for a direct object. What have you eaten? The verb is
therefore transitive.

Both conditions have to be met


“Du hast geschlafen” (You have slept)  Schlafen is intransitive, but it conveys neither motion nor a change of condition. For this reason “haben” is the auxiliary.

Ich habe …geöffnet” (I have opened…)The verb “to open” conveys a change of condition and/or motion but the verb is transitive. Hence, the auxiliary is “haben”

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