Sunday, 27 January 2008

The Pluperfect

The pluperfect is the ich hatte es getan or I had done tense. You make the pluperfect in German by taking the perfect tense (the ich habe es getan tense) and changing the auxiliary verb (the habe or the bin etc.) into the simple past version of itself (hatte or war etc.). So instead of ich habe ein Eis gegessenI have eaten an ice cream you get ich hatte ein Eis gegessenI had eaten an ice cream. And instead of ich bin im Ozean geschwommenI have swum in the ocean you get ich war im Ozean geschwommenI had swum in the ocean.

Basically, where you would use the pluperfect in English, you also use it in German. There's one exception to this though. Where you are referring to a situation that started in the distant past, but which is still ongoing at a point in the nearer past that you are talking about, although you'd use the pluperfect in English, in German you'd use the simple past. For instance: Since I had lived in Munich, I had been visiting him every Saturday = Seitdem ich in München wohnte, besuchte ich ihn jeden Samstag.

To listen to this podcast on your computer, click here.


Jimmy B said...

Sounds like you got a new microphone! The audio was great on this one. Thanks!

(PS - of course, love the content too!)

Laura said...

I got a new microphone for Christmas! I accidentally trod on the old one and it was being held together with Sellotape.

Anonymous said...


I never realized that you could use "seit" and "seitdem" for periods of time that have already finished in the past as in your example "Seitdem ich in München wohnte, besuchte ich ihn jeden Samstag." ("Since I had lived in Munich, I had been visiting him every Saturday.") I found another example of using "seit/seitdem" with the pluperfect at
By the way, is a pretty good resource for German grammar for advanced learners.



Anonymous said...

Dear Laura,

If I may, I think there was an error in an example you used in your podcast on the Pluperfect. It was not an error in forming the Pluperfect itself, but rather a minor error caused by the specific example you used.

In your podcast on the Pluperfect you used the example "Ich war im Ozean geschwommen.", i.e., I had swum in the ocean.

As you know, a few verbs can be conjugated with either "haben" or "sein", depending on whether they can take a direct object (e.g. fahren), or whether they indicate motion in a specific direction or not.

"Schwimmen" is a classic example. Swimming towards the opposite shore is conjugated with "sein", but just mucking about in the water is conjugated with "haben". I beleive your example falls into the second category. See Hammer's German Grammar and Usage (4th ed.) 12.3.2(ii), pg. 248.

I could be wrong, of course, but your example sent me running back to Hammer's.

Thanks for a great Podcast. I really enjoy it.

John Hatcher
Scottsdale, Arizona

Laura said...

Hi John,

Thanks for that correction. I think that one's minor enough that I can just leave your comment here in this blog as sufficient correction.

Laura said...

Hi John,

Having asked around, I think the split between schwimmen taking haben and sein may be specific to Austria. As far as I've been able to discover, the distinction about getting from A to B (sein) or just swimming back and forth (haben) is made in Austria, but in Germany schwimmen always takes sein. I'm didn't find out what they do in Switzerland.

Laura said...


Even more native German speakers got back to me and the situation got even more confused. Here's a link to the debate (split into sections, so you will need to reconstruct it to use it, as I have experience of this blog refusing to print all of long links in the Comments section, and just cutting them short where it feels it's appropriate): &hilite=423615&kw=bin/war%20im%20ozean% 20geschwommen#entry423615

The good news, is that there seemed to be agreement that "ich war im Ozean geschwommen" is correct German.

Anonymous said...


An interesting and spirited discussion on that other blog site!

Another source I found explained it this way:

""A rather special case concerns some verbs of motion which can take "sein" if they express movement from one spot to another, but "haben" if they just refer to the activity as such, e.g.:

Er hat den ganzen Tag gebummelt / gefahren / geflogen / geritten / gerudert / geschwommen / gesegelt / getanzt.


The tendency in R1 [colloquial German] is to use "sein" with all these verbs in both meanings, and this usage is also well established in R2[everyday written German] and R3 [formal, academic writing]. Only with rudern, segeln and tanzen is the distinction kept at all consistently.""

Using German - A Guide To Contemporary Usage", Martin Durrell, 2nd Ed., Chp 4.4 pg 233

Finally, Hammer identifies "Ich habe geschwommen" as Northern German.

Good to know that everyone's as confused as I am on this point.



Anonymous said...

Hello (:

I don't have a question or a correction, I just wanted to say how wonderful this was. I'm currently learning GCSE German and the pluperfect tense had me in a right state. I didn't know where to use it, how to form it or even what it literally translated into in english, despite the two lessons spent on it.
Whether it was just me being dense or my teacher not explaining it well enough I have no idea, but after reading this page it all makes sense now; thank you so much for this blog. There are very few internet sites that explain grammar as clearly as yours.
Many thanks (:
Another Laura x

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Anonymous said...

Thank youu :D I'm not quite as advanced as the other commenters but this was a great help for my German speaking. Thanks! S x

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