As You Read and Write It: The Simple Past – Part Two

Brandenburger Tor, May 1945, May 2015
Brandenburger Tor, May 1945, May 2015

The simple past is mostly used in written language, including in libretti. However, in spoken language we use the simple past with many verbs like the modal verbs können, müssen, wollen, dürfen etc.

Ich wollte nicht ins Theater. Durftest du als Kind singen? Mozart musste komponieren, er konnte nicht anders.

Other verbs spoken in simple past are haben (hatten – ich hatte einen Riesenhunger!) or sein. The verb sein is one of the oldest verbs and most irregular. The infinitive in present tense is sein, conjugated to ich bin, du bist, Maria Callas ist etc. The infinitive in simple past is waren:

ich war, du warst, er, sie, es war, ihr wart; wir, Sie, sie waren

Next week: Part III – How verbs change their vowel

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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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