When speaking, Germans mostly use the Perfect tense. But often, students stumble over the rules of when to use “haben” and “sein”. After reading this article and practicing with its free worksheet you will have no doubts anymore.
Tense: Perfekt in German
Unlike English, German has two auxiliary verbs which we need to form a sentence in the “Perfect tense”. They are “sein” and “haben”. Now, many students are unsure about when to use which one and basically it sounds more complicated to make the right decision then it really is.
When to use “sein” in German perfect tense
There are three options which demand the usage of “sein”:
- The verb “sein” in perfect tense (Ich bin gewesen – I have been)
- Verbs which describe that somebody or something physically moves to another place (fahren, schwimmen, fliegen, gehen, laufen etc.)
- Verbs which describe a change of state or a verb which normally cannot be performed in “passive” (bleiben, aufwachen, sterben, warden etc.)
When to use “haben” in German perfect tense
There are two options which demand the usage of “haben”:
- The verb “haben” in perfect tense (Ich habe gehabt – I have had)
- All the verbs which do not fulfill the requirements to be used with “sein”
Decision making of “haben” and “sein” in perfect tense
Now, you should know when to use which one. As a guideline, I always recommend to do the following: Check if your verb fulfills the requirements for “sein” point by point and if you figure out that your verb does not do so, you can use “haben” as it will be shown in the following example. (Of course, there are a few exceptions as usual.)
Now, let’s form the sentence „Ich mache Hausaufgaben.” into perfect tense.
- The verb “machen” is not “sein” and therefore it does not fulfill the first criteria.
- The verb “machen” does not necessarily cause the subject to move from a to b and therefore it does not fulfill the second criteria as well.
- The verb “machen” can be used in passive voice as something can be done and therefore it does not fulfill the third criteria.
This brings us to the consequence that the verb “machen” needs to be used with “haben” in the perfect tense and therefore our example sentence will look like this: “Ich habe Hausaufgaben gemacht”.
Is it “haben” or “sein”?