Berlin, Alexanderplatz, Mai 1945, 2015

As you look back, you see the irretrievable past. In language terms, it is called simple past. In German it is called Präteritum, mostly used in written language.

The simple past or Präteritum describes an activity in the past that does not continue anymore. It happened, it is finished, a one-time event. When we speak we often use the perfect tense, a combination of an auxiliary verb and a participle.

Present tense: Ich singe die Arie.

Perfect tense (as we speak – so to speak): Ich habe die Arie gesungen.

Simple past (as you would write it in your memoir): Ich sang die Arie.

Regular verbs change differently than irregular verbs. Our most important verb singen is an irregular verb and appears in the past tense as ich sang, du sangst, er, sie, es sang, ihr sangt, wir, sie, Sie sangen.

Verbs like singen, trinken, essen, sprechen, bringen, rufen etc. are old words and therefore irregular verbs and as such they do not follow the modern rules of verb declension. It changes its vowel.

Regular verbs, on the other hand, are easy fellows. Ad a –t or an –et and they are gone from the present.

Wir sagen, wir sagten. Ich sage, ich sagte. Ihr sagt, ihr sagtet.

Here are two more examples of regular verbs in simple past, probably the most common activities in opera: lieben and hoffen.

ich liebte                  hoffte
du lieb
test                hofftest
er, sie, es liebt
e        hoffte
ihr liebtet                 hofftet
wir, Sie, sie liebten  hofften

We treat all new verbs that enter the language as regular verbs.

Caruso googelte Maria Callas. Sie twitterte, dann flirtete sie mit ihm.