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Preterite tense

The preterite tense has one function:

Reference to the past  

Formation of the preterite tense forms see Inflection.

Preterite tense of the past

The preterite tense refers to actions, processes or states that have happened, that are completed before the moment of speaking:

Hannibals Truppen überquerten die Alpen.
Während der Besatzungszeit
hungerte die Bevölkerung
arbeitete als Marketingdirektorin.
verschlief und kam zu spät zur Arbeit.

The preterite tense is used in colloquial, formal and literary language. Stories, fiction, accounts, reports, etc. are mainly written or told in the preterite tense.

Preterite tense and perfect tense

The preterite tense has the same function as the perfect tense of the past. If the above example sentences are put into the perfect tense, their meaning does not change:

Hannibals Truppen haben die Alpen überquert.
Während der Besatzungszeit
hat die Bevölkerung gehungert.
hat als Marketingdirektorin gearbeitet.
habe mich verschlafen und bin zu spät zur Arbeit gekommen.

Stylistically it is usually better to use the preterite in stories, reports, etc.

In general, the speakers of the northern part of the German-speaking area use more often the preterite tense, the speakers of the southern part use more often the perfect tense.

The preterite tense cannot replace the Perfect tense of the past affecting the present.

Regional Variants

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