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Verbs: Preterite is the seventy-fifth (assuming left to right) skill in the German language tree. In the six lessons of this skill, the student of German learns all about the simple past tense, often called das Präterium or der Imperfekt. This is essentially equivalent to the English words went, saw, and purchased. The preterite is most commonly used in formal writing and is considered pretentious in everyday speech.

Grammar notes[]

How to form the Preterite[]

The preterite for each pronouns is remarkably familiar to the regular verb conjugation. Often, all that changes is the stem or a -t is inserted before the rest of the ending:

Present Preterite
ich finde ich fand
du findest du fandst
er, sie, es findet er, sie, es fand
wir finden wir fanden
ihr findet ihr fandet
sie, Sie finden sie, Sie fanden

Konnten vs. könnten[]

The problem is that the word could in English has two different meanings:

When I was younger, I could ride a bike -- past tense of can. Als ich klein war, konnte ich Rad fahren.


If I am lucky, I could become president -- subjunctive. Wenn ich Glück habe, könnte ich Präsident werden.

It is important to distinguish between the two kinds of "could" in English to understand the difference between konnten and könnten in German

(Thank you to schmidzy)[]

Zuvor vs. Vorher vs. Bevor[]

Zuvor and vorher are adverbs and basically synonyms. Zuvor may sound a bit stilted sometimes, vorher is generally the better choice.

"Es passierte drei Wochen zuvor/vorher" - "It happened three weeks before" (another event from the context).

Bevor is a conjunction introducing a temporal subclause. "Wir müssen viel vorbereiten, bevor wir abreisen" - "We have a lot to prepare before we depart".

(Thank you to landsend)[]


Lesson 1[]

  • war = was
  • hatte = had
  • kam = came
  • trank = drank
  • begann = began
  • ging = went
  • sprach = spoke
  • sah = saw
  • (aus)sah = looked {aus is sperable}

Lesson 2[]

  • zuvor = before
  • vorher = before
  • = ate
  • sagte = said
  • wurde = became
  • lag = lay
  • zeigte = showed

Lesson 3[]

  • bevor = before
  • schwamm = swam
  • dachte = thought
  • erhielte = got
  • führte = lead
  • machte = did, made
  • gab = gave
  • schlief = slept

Lesson 4[]

  • blieb = stayed
  • fuhr = drove
  • ließ = let
  • schrieb = wrote
  • fand = found
  • stand = stood
  • arbeitete = worked
  • stellte vor = introduced
  • stellte aus = exhibited

Lesson 5[]

  • stellte = placed, set
  • las = read
  • nahm = took
  • brennen = to burn
  • konnte = could (past tense)
  • wollte = wanted

Lesson 6[]

  • wäre = would be
  • schloss = closed
  • musste = had to
  • verlor = lost
  • spazierte = walked
  • könnte = could (subjunctive)


Duolingo Lesson: www.duolingo.com/skill/de/Verbs%3A-Preterite

Canoo and Verbix also give charts of various preterite conjugations.