As we have seen in a different article, German verbs have three forms like in English which you can find in the dictionary.
A regular verb like “kochen” (to cook) will look like this in the three forms:
Kochen kochte gekocht
An irregular verb like “stehen” (to stand) will look like this in the three forms:
Stehen stand gestanden
Today we will focus on the third form, known as Perfekt. Although there are two past forms in German, the Perfekt is the only form used for the vast majority of verbs, making German verbs easier than in many other languages. So, how do we make the Perfekt? As an introduction, we can identify three groups of verbs:
Let us use the verb “kochen”. Remember that we have the root “koch” and the infinitive suffix “en”. For regular verbs, we need to do three things to form the Perfekt:
1. Take the root of the verb
2. Add “ge” before the root
3. Add “t” after the root
So, kochen becomes “ge-koch-t”, or simply gekocht.
Can you form the present of other regular verbs?
Suchen (to look for) ge-such-t or simply gesucht
machen (to to/make) ge-mach-t or simply gemacht
Do you want to try on your own with “lachen” (to laugh) and “putzen” (to clean)?
With irregular verbs, we also take the root of the verb which often presents a vowel change (irregularity), we add “ge” before the root and we add “en” after the root instead of the “t” of regular verbs.
Let us take “schlafen” which means “to sleep”:
Sprechen ge-sproch-en (the dictionary will help you with this vowel change)
Do you want to try with other verbs? Try “waschen” (to wash), “sehen” (to see) and “lesen” (to read).
There is also a small group of irregular verbs (they have a vowel change) that take a “t” in the Perfekt as if they were regular. These are usually memorises as they are used often and students seem to like them because they are different.
Some examples are:
Denken (to think) ge-dach-t
Bringen (to bring) ge-brach-t
Rennen (to run) ge-rannt-t
Nennen (to name) ge-nann-t
Remember that this is only an introduction, so you will find more variations for the Perfekt as you progress to higher levels, but this article gives you a very good idea of how to speak in the past in German. Good luck!