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Present tense

 
 
The present tense has four different functions:

Reference to the present
Reference to the future
Reference to the past (historical present) 
Reference to universal facts

Formation of the present tense forms, see Inflection.


Present tense of the present

The present tense refers to something that coincides with the moment of speaking, that is in progress at the moment of speaking:

Es ist (heute) sehr heiß.
Er
trinkt (gerade) Kaffee
Die Musiker
packen (jetzt) ihre Instrumente ein.

The process, action or state may have started in the past:

Ihr arbeitet schon sehr lange an diesem Projekt.
Seit ihrer Kindheit
leidet sie an dieser Krankheit.

The process, action or state may be ongoing:

Wir warten auf Ihre Reaktion.
Die Ferien
dauern noch bis übernächste Woche.


Present tense of the future

The present tense can be used to refer to something that has not yet started at the moment of speaking:

Ich fahre morgen nach Basel.
Wir
sprechen (in einer Woche) noch einmal darüber.
Nächstes Jahr
feiert er seinen achtzigsten Geburtstag.

This present tense of the future is often accompanied by temporal adverbials like morgen, in einer Woche, nächstes Jahr. The context must clearly show that the present tense expresses a future action, process or state.

Present tense and future I

The present tense of the future has the same function as the future I of the future. If the above example sentences are put into the future I, their meaning does not change:

Ich werde morgen nach Basel fahren.
Wir
werden (in einer Woche) noch einmal darüber sprechen.
Nächstes Jahr
wird er seinen achtzigsten Geburtstag feiern.


Present tense of the past (historical present tense)

The present tense can be used to refer to something that has happened in the past. This so-called historical past tense is used in stories, historiography, literature, etc. to make past actions or states more vivid, immediate or exciting.

Ich sitze gestern früh im Zug, da steigt doch ein alter Schulkamerad ein und fängt gleich an, mir die Ohren voll zu reden.
1939
bricht der zweite Weltkrieg aus.
Maria Callas
betritt die Bühne. Stürmischer Applaus bricht los.

When the present tense is used with reference to the past, the context must clearly show that what is said has happened in the past.

The present tense of the past has the same function as the preterite tense. However, if the above example sentences are put into the preterite tense, the stylistic effect (more vivid, immediate, exciting) is lost.

The present tense of the past is frequently used in historical an biographical lists

1492: Kolumbus entdeckt Amerika

as well as in headlines:

Lastwagen verursacht Unfall auf A1.


Present tense of universal facts

The present tense is also used to refer to universal facts that are not restricted by time:

Die Erde dreht sich.
Neon
ist ein Edelgas.
Ziegen
meckern und Schafe blöken.

This use of the present tense is characteristic of proverbs:

Eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen Sommer.
Müßiggang
ist aller Laster Anfang.







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