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In spoken German, we mostly only use one past tense: das Perfekt.
|I ate an apple.||→||Ich habe einen Apfel gegessen.|
|I have eaten an apple.||→||Ich habe einen Apfel gegessen.|
For the Perfekt, you will need:
The auxiliary verb haben or sein
The past participle of the verb
|||auxiliary verb||past participle|
|Ich ||habe ein Apfel||gegessen.|
|Ich||bin zur Arbeit||gefahren.|
You will often read that the rule of thumb is to use sein if the action involves movement, and haben in all other cases. This can be misleading, because almost all verbs involve some kind of movement and for many of those you will need haben and not sein.
For example, "to dance" involves movement and yet the auxiliary verb is haben.
So when do we use "sein"?
When the action of the verb in question involves:
a) a change of location: to go, to fly, to run, to walk, to swim, to drive
b) a change of state: to wake up, to fall asleep, to become, to die
The auxiliary verb remains in the second position, as usually. The past participle goes to the end of the sentence. If the sentence was a sandwich, your verbs would be the bread.
Ich habe gestern drei Stunden mit meiner Mutter gesprochen.
I talked with my mother for three hours yesterday.
"Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth."
Mark Twain - "The Awful German Language".
Many of them are irregular, but nobody expects you to know all of them right away. We will help you memorize the irregular past participles with our flash card system and you will master them in no time!
The regular ones look like this: