In Written Language: The Simple Past – Third & Last Part

Potsdamer Platz, May 1945, May 2015

Irregular verbs are eccentrics. They change their vowel but not in a manner we can identify as a pattern. In simple past, there are groups of verbs with the same main vowel.

logen, boten, hoben

The vowel must be stressed.

They look (and sound) as if they are from the same family, but in present tense they have nothing to do with each other.

lügen (to lie), bieten (to offer), heben (to lift)

Verbs in simple past with a stressed a: kamen, baten, stahlen

Present tense: kommen, bitten, stehlen.

Verbs in simple past with a stressed u: trugen, fuhren, einluden.

Present tense: tragen, fahren, einladen.

Some simple past verbs with the stress upon ie stem from present tense verbs with ei as the main vowel.

schrieben, stiegen, blieben

Present tense: schreiben, steigen, bleiben

So, to get to the past, we just need to interchange the letters.

However, other simple past verbs with ie stem from present tense verbs with different vowels.

schliefen, anriefen, hießen

Present tense: schlafen, anrufen (to call on the phone), heißen

When conjugated, they also differ from the verb-ending pattern as we know it. They create their own pattern. Here are two examples (bieten and bleiben).

ich              bot       blieb
du               botest  bliebst
er, sie, es    bot       blieb
ihr               botet    bliebt
wir, Sie, sie boten   blieben

Be aware that this form of the past tense is often used in written language. In spoken language we create the past with the perfect tense combining haben or sein with the participle (gesungen, gegangen etc.)

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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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