Unit 1: Basics

5. Understanding Present Tense

Translating the German present tense is not always straightforward, because in English we express present tense in a variety of subtly different ways. Let’s take the sentence, “Das Kind hat eine Krankheit,” as our example. In English this may be translated in three different ways, depending on the larger context of the statement: “The child has an illness,” “The child does have an illness,” “The child is having an illness,” or even “The child has been having an illness.” As you progress to translating sentences with more context provided, be sure to keep in mind that English present tense is more complicated than German, and thus you should consider which of the English options is the most suitable for each particular sentence.

Furthermore, in a German present-tense sentence, time information might be provided that calls for a different English verb tense in your translation. For example:

Das Kind hat ab morgen Fieber.
The child will have a fever starting tomorrow.

Das Kind hat seit gestern Fieber.
The child has had a fever since yesterday.
[or:] The child has been having a fever since yesterday.

The additional time information “ab morgen” (starting tomorrow) or “seit gestern” (since yesterday) is the key to deciding whether a form of English present tense, English future tense, or English present-perfect tense is the appropriate translation of the German present-tense verb.

German present tense never conveys a past, completed event. Therefore English past tense is never a translation option for German present tense. Note that in the second example above, which calls for English present-perfect tense, the child still has a fever in the present moment.


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