Advanced German Past Tenses

Henrymy

New Member
English
Hallo zusammen,

I have been working on understanding the finer points of English-German tenses with a friend and with a book (Hammer's German Grammar and Usage 5th Edition by Martin Durrell). The friend is PhD educated German native and the book is probably the most comprehensive German grammar book that I know, and yet I cannot seem to get my German to precisely express what I can easily say in English.
I'm posting what I have so far for two reasons: 1) so other people don't have to do the work when are learning the tenses, and 2) so those with advanced understanding of German-English tenses can confirm or correct my input.

Here we go...would appreciate any corrections:

1 Wir hatten das Zelt aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
We had set up the tent when they arrived at 18 o'clock.
(it doesn’t specify how long the act took or how long ago it occurred before they arrived).

2 Wir hatten das Zelt schon aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
We had already set up the tent when they arrived at 18 o'clock.
(same as #1, but just with more emphasis on completion of action.)

3 Wir hatten das Zelt gerade aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
We had just set up the tent when they arrived at 18 o'clock.
(almost same as #1, but specifies how long ago the action was completed – just; still no info on how long it took to complete the action.)

4 Wir hatten das Zelt seit 3 Stunden aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
We had set up the tent 3 hours before they arrived at 18 o'clock.
(similar to #3, but specifies the action was completed 3 hours before they showed up, instead of just before; still no info on how long action took to complete).

5 Wir hatten das Zelt 1 Stunde lange aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
We had set up the tent for 1 hour when they arrived at 18 o'clock. Translation sounds clunky because in English we cannot focus on the process without making the verb progressive, but if we make it a progressive verb (e.g. We had been setting up the tent for 1 hour...) then it implied that the action took place the 1 hour immediately before they arrived.
Thus, a better translation is: It took us 1 hour to set up the tent before they arrived at 18 o'clock (note it still doesn't specify when this 1-hour setup occured...could have been in the morning).
Meaning almost same as #1, but it specifies how long the action itself took to complete; however, unlike #3 and #4 this doesn’t specify how long ago the action was completed before they arrived.

6 Wir hatten das Zelt 1 Stunde lange gerade aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
No direct English translation. Best translation: We had just set up the tent when they arrived at 18 o'clock and it took 1 hour to set it up.
Essentially, a combination of #5 and #3.
Some books translate this as: We had been setting up the tent for 1 hour before they arrived (past perfect progressive). I find this translation wrong because the English Past Perfect Progressive means that the action may or may not have been completed (that's why it is a progressive tense), whereas the German sentence to me sounds that the action is undoubtedly completed. Also, I don't see how just adding the additional info of how long it took to set up the tent (e.g. comparing #6 with #3), the tense suddenly becomes progressive.

7 Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
We had been setting up the tent, when they arrived 18 o'clock.
(past perfect progressive tense.) Compare this to #3. The meanings are almost identical with one exception: #3 makes it clear that the action was completed, whereas in #7 the action was occurring at the time when they arrived and it may or may not have been completed at time of arrival. In other words, when they arrived we were in the process of setting up the tent, and completion of act is not important).


8 Wir waren gerade seit 1 Stunde dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
We had been setting up the tent for 1 hour, when the arrived at 18 o'clock.
Meaning same as #7, but it adds how long the action was taking place.
Compare #8 with #6. The meanings are almost identical, except in #6 the action is definitely completed whereas in #8 it may or may not be completed.

I look forward to any feedback and corrections. Thank you!
 
  • elroy

    Imperfect Mod
    US English/Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Welcome to the forum!

    Here's my take (as a non-native speaker):

    First of all, it's "als sie um 18 Uhr kamen."

    1. yes
    2. yes
    3. yes
    4. yes - though I might translate the sentence as "When they arrived at 6 p.m., it had been three hours since we had set up the tent."
    5. I don't think your German sentence works.
    If you mean that we had worked on setting up the tent but didn't finish, you could say "Wir hatten eine Stunde lang am Aufbauen des Zeltes gearbeitet, als...".​
    If you mean that the tent was completely set up and that process took an hour, you could say "Wir hatten das Zelt aufgebaut, was eine Stunde gedauert hatte, als...".​
    6. "gerade" has to come first, and see #5.
    "Wir hatten gerade eine Stunde lang..."​
    "Wir hatten gerade das Zelt aufgebaut..."​
    7. yes - but if we were setting up the tent when they arrived, the strong implication is that the process was not complete when they arrived. The only exception would be if they literally walked in as we were performing the final step of setting up the tent. Also, you don't need "gewesen," and you don't need both "gerade" and "dabei/bei":
    "Wir haben das Zelt gerade aufgebaut, als..."​
    "Wir waren dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen..."​
    "Wir waren beim Aufbauen des Zeltes..."​
    8. Again, you don't need "gewesen." In this case I would not use "gerade": "Wir waren seit einer Stunde dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen..."
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    :thumbsup: I agree with everything elroy said.

    But regarding 7 and 8, I disagree with your statement that the setup process may or may not be complete.
    The German forms clearly express that setup was not complete. Using pluperfect to suggest completion doesn't really work in this case:
    Wir sind gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...
    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...
    Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...

    All 3 versions, present perfect, preterite and past perfect, express the same idea here and I think this has two reasons:
    - the conjunction 'als' expresses simultaneity of 2 events
    - the verbal phrase 'dabei sein etwas zu tun' expresses an unfinished process; it's sort of a paraphrased progressive tense

    And as elroy said, we are unlikely to use pluperfect in this clause because it is not productive in this specific case and because pluperfect in general is a bit in decline in modern German - it is still being taught in school, I think, but you'll probably be able to find native speakers who never ever use it in their everyday standard German.
     

    Kajjo

    Senior Member
    but you'll probably be able to find native speakers who never ever use it in their everyday standard German.
    I don't think Plusquamperfekt is that rare. It is quite common even for the average speaker when narrating past events. However, I agree that in other situations it has become less frequent. I don't think a normal speaker would avoid Plusquamperfekt in this sentence. It is very natural:

    Wir hatten das Zelt schon aufgebaut, als die zweite Gruppe gegen 18:00 endlich auch ankam.

    7 Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
    We had been setting up the tent, when they arrived 18 o'clock.
    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als die anderen ankamen.

    Here, indeed, we won't use Plusquamperfekt. For pseudo-progressive actions it just doesn't fit. Note that normal narrative is anyway in Präteritum, so this has to be. Use Plusquamperfekt when you need to describe actions done before the narrative time.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    edit: I removed discussion about um 18 Uhr word order Reason: Not neccesary, Henrymy is aware of the "um 18 Uhr"-problem and asked not to discuss it..

    ...
    - the conjunction 'als' expresses simultaneity of 2 events
    ...
    Basically I agree, if a status is also counted as event.

    Wir kamen, as sie fertig waren.

    Wir kamen is simultanious somehow with the status "fertig sein" and in this example this status starts with the status change.
    So it does not matter how long they have been/were ready.

    "Als" indicates at least overlapping of the times.

    "Kommen" can mean "ankommen" -- depending on context.
     
    Last edited:

    JClaudeK

    Senior Member
    Français France, Deutsch (SW-Dtl.)
    4 Wir hatten das Zelt seit 3 Stunden aufgebaut, als sie um 18 Uhr ankamen.
    We had set up the tent 3 hours before they arrived at 18 o'clock.
    (similar to #3, but specifies the action was completed 3 hours before they showed up, instead of just before; still no info on how long action took to complete).
    Der Satz "Wir hatten das Zelt seit 3 Stunden aufgebaut" klingt für mich nicht sehr idiomatisch. Bin ich da allein?

    In dieser Situation würde ich sagen "Das Zelt war seit 3 Stunden aufgebaut, als sie ankamen." /
    Oder "Wir waren seit 3 Stunden mit dem Aufbau(en) des Zeltes fertig, als .... "
    Oder "Drei Stunden, nachdem wir das Zelt aufgebaut hatten, kamen sie an.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    4 Wir hatten das Zelt seit 3 Stunden aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
    We had set up the tent 3 hours before they arrived at 18 o'clock.
    "nicht sehr idiomatisch" sagt JClaudeK, er möchte wohl besonders höflich sein. Ich würde sagen, der Satz macht keinen Sinn. Eine mögliche Rückübersetzung des englischen Satzes wäre: Es war schon 3 Stunden her, dass wir das Zelt aufgebaut hatten, als sie um 18 Uhr kamen.
    5 Wir hatten das Zelt 1 Stunde lange aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
    We had set up the tent for 1 hour when they arrived at 18 o'clock.
    Macht auch keinen Sinn. Wenn gemeint ist, wie lange das Aufbauen dauerte, würde man eher sagen: Wir hatten 1 Stunde gebraucht, um das Zelt aufzubauen. Ich habe aber den Eindruck , Henrymy möchte sagen:
    Das Zelt war schon seit einer Stunde aufgebaut, als ..... (the tent had been set up for one hour)

    6 Wir hatten das Zelt 1 Stunde lange gerade aufgebaut, als sie kamen um 18 Uhr.
    Das ist Unsinn.
    7. und 8. ebenso.
     

    Henrymy

    New Member
    English
    Hallo zusammen,
    thank you all for the responses. Please note some 'big-picture' points:
    1) I want all the sentences to be active, not passive, sentences (some of the suggestions provided were passive).
    2) I'm aware of the "beim infinitive-verb" (beim Aufbauen) construction to indicate progressive, but I purposely didn't use it (several reasons) and I don't want the discussion to get distracted in that direction.
    3) Yes, I made some mistakes with spelling and the relative "um 18 Uhr" clause. Thank you for pointing it out. For the sake of brevity please ignore them in the past and future, because I want the focus to be understanding the details of tenses.

    My responses:

    Re #4:
    4. yes - though I might translate the sentence as "When they arrived at 6 p.m., it had been three hours since we had set up the tent."
    I agree. Your translation is more accurate.


    "nicht sehr idiomatisch" sagt JClaudeK, er möchte wohl besonders höflich sein. Ich würde sagen, der Satz macht keinen Sinn. Eine mögliche Rückübersetzung des englischen Satzes wäre: Es war schon 3 Stunden her, dass wir das Zelt aufgebaut hatten, als sie um 18 Uhr kamen.
    Ha. Thank you for the directness. I agree the sentence is overloaded and I tried to get it to do too much. Breaking it out with clause makes it clearer. Nonetheless, the tense still remains plusquamperfect (past perfect)

    Re #5

    5. I don't think your German sentence works.
    I agree. The sentence is clunky. I was simply attempting to add a modifier that describes how the long the action took without creating a clause and without specifying when the act occurred.

    If you mean that the tent was completely set up and that process took an hour, you could say "Wir hatten das Zelt aufgebaut, was eine Stunde gedauert hatte, als...".
    Yes, this is exactly what I mean. I'm surprised this wasn't clear....doesn't the "Wir hatten aufgebaut" mean that it was completed?

    Re #7

    yes - but if we were setting up the tent when they arrived, the strong implication is that the process was not complete when they arrived. The only exception would be if they literally walked in as we were performing the final step of setting up the tent.
    English "had been setting up" has the exact same meaning. However, I'm beginning to think that in German your exception is not valid.

    But regarding 7 and 8, I disagree with your statement that the setup process may or may not be complete.
    The German forms clearly express that setup was not complete.
    This slightly contradicts what I thought and also what elroy says above (his exception). However, the more I think about this, the more I'm beginning to think that you are right: "waren dabei gewesen, aufzubauen" indeed does indicate that the action is not complete, unlike the English "had been setting up" which leave elroy's exception also a possible alternative.
    What do you guys think?

    Also, you don't need "gewesen,"
    I disagree. I need "gewesen" to make the sentence the past of the past (past perfect progressive). In my opinion:
    waren dabei gewesen, aufzubauen = had been setting up (past perfect progressive)
    waren dabei aufzubauen = were setting up (past progressive)

    I realize the two tenses are very similar, but if we want to be precise, this is how I would translate them.

    and you don't need both "gerade" and "dabei/bei":
    This is how the Durrell book presented the progressive form, but I too wasn't completely convinced that 'gerade' was really needed. You confirmed what I suspected.

    Wir sind gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...
    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...
    Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...

    All 3 versions, present perfect, preterite and past perfect, express the same idea here and I think this has two reasons:
    I disagree:
    Wir waren dabei gewesen aufzubauen = We had been setting up (past perfect progressive). This is talking about the past of the past.
    Wir waren dabei aufzubauen = We were setting up (past progressive). This is taking about simply the past.
    In other words...Wir waren dabei gewesen aufzubauen = (damals in 2009) Wir waren dabei aufzubauen
    To further understand the difference, read subsection 'Past Continuous vs Past Pefect Continus' in Past Perfect Continuous Tense | ENGLISH PAGE.

    Wir sind seit 3 Stunden dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen = We have been setting up the tent for 3 hours (present progressive) = Wir bauen das Zelt seit 3 Stunden. These 3 have a more similar meaning than your suggestions. Although, I don't have enough exposure to German to understand the difference between: Wir sind seit 3 Stunden dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen vs Wir bauen das Zelt seit 3 Stunden.

    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als die anderen ankamen.

    Here, indeed, we won't use Plusquamperfekt. For pseudo-progressive actions it just doesn't fit. Note that normal narrative is anyway in Präteritum, so this has to be. Use Plusquamperfekt when you need to describe actions done before the narrative time.
    Agreed.

    Overall
    So would everyone agree the followings are equivalents for English-German tense translations?

    We had set up the tent, when they arrived = Wir hatten das Zelt aufgebauet,.... (action complete)
    We had been setting up the tent, when... = Wir waren dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen,... (action not complete...per manfy's suggestion)
    We were setting up the tent when the rain started. = Wir waren dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen,..... (per my comment to elroy)
    We have been setting up the tent for 1 hour; I'm annoyed that you still aren't here to help us. = Wir sind dabei gewsen, das Zelt aufzubauen, or Wir bauen seit 1 Stunde.... (per my comment to manfy...as mentioned not sure of the finer differences between the two German versions)
    We are setting up the tent,..... = Wir sind dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen...= Wie bauen gerade das Zelt, .... (not sure of the finer differences between the two German versions)

    Thoughts?


    Thanks!
     

    Kajjo

    Senior Member
    waren dabei gewesen, aufzubauen = had been setting up (past perfect progressive)
    waren dabei aufzubauen = were setting up (past progressive)

    I realize the two tenses are very similar, but if we want to be precise, this is how I would translate them.
    That's an important issue: You cannot 1:1 translate English tenses into German. "Gewesen" ist not idiomatic in this case. We are not as exact as English when it comes to tenses. Further, progressive is expressed differently anyway, not ab out tenses.

    So would everyone agree the followings are equivalents for English-German tense translations?
    :tick: We had set up the tent, when they arrived = Wir hatten das Zelt aufgebaut,.... (action complete)
    :thumbsdown: We had been setting up the tent, when... = Wir waren dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen,...
    Not idiomatic at all. This is an artificial version to simulate English tenses in German. Nobody would say it this way.

    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als die anderen endlich ankamen.
    Wir waren schon seit einer Stunde dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als die anderen endlich ankamen.


    :tick: We were setting up the tent when the rain started. = Wir waren dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen,..... (per my comment to elroy)
    We don't have progressive tense, so we usually add an indicator word or special construction:

    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als es anfing zu regnen.

    We have been setting up the tent for 1 hour; I'm annoyed that you still aren't here to help us.
    :cross: Wir sind dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen,
    :thumbsdown: or Wir bauen seit 1 Stunde....
    Again, not idiomatic at all. We would use present tense here. Please, get the progressive out of your head in German.

    Wir sind schon seit einer Stunde dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen. Ich bin echt sauer, dass ihr immer noch nicht da seid (, um uns zu helfen).

    "Wir bauen seit einer Stunde" is correct, but not idiomatic here. The focus is "sind dabei (aufzubauen)" and not "bauen".

    We are setting up the tent,..... =
    :tick: Wir sind gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen...=
    :tick: Wir bauen gerade das Zelt auf, ....
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    Hi, just one remark: The usage of tenses is rather lax in German. It is quite other than in English.

    Edit: I fully agree to Kajjo here:
    That's an important issue: You cannot 1:1 translate English tenses into German. :tick:

    Wir sind gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...
    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...
    Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als ...

    All 3 versions, present perfect, preterite and past perfect, express the same idea here and I think this has two reasons:
    I disagree:
    Wir waren dabei gewesen aufzubauen = We had been setting up (past perfect progressive). This is talking about the past of the past.
    Wir waren dabei aufzubauen = We were setting up (past progressive). This is taking about simply the past.
    In other words...Wir waren dabei gewesen aufzubauen = (damals in 2009) Wir waren dabei aufzubauen
    To further understand the difference, read subsection 'Past Continuous vs Past Pefect Continus' in Past Perfect Continuous Tense | ENGLISH PAGE.

    Wir sind seit 3 Stunden dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen = We have been setting up the tent for 3 hours (present progressive) = Wir bauen das Zelt seit 3 Stunden. These 3 have a more similar meaning than your suggestions. Although, I don't have enough exposure to German to understand the difference between: Wir sind seit 3 Stunden dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen vs Wir bauen das Zelt seit 3 Stunden.
    Manfy is right here.

    Wir sind gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen. = During we were pitching the tent, they came (reached us).
    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen. = During we were pitching the tent, they came (reached us).
    Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen. ... = During we were pitching the tent, they came (reached us).

    "Dabei" defines the time relation here rather than the verb form defines it.

    Usage (in case it is used):

    in spoken language very often:
    Wir sind gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen.

    In written language very often:
    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen.

    Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie kamen. (seldom)


    (edit) PS: There are easier methods to express it like "wir bauten gerade das Zelt auf, ..."/"wir haben gerade das Zelt aufgebaut", ... etc.

    ---
    Aufbauen is a verb that itself has a kind of progressive aspect by content. "Gerade" synchronizes the time slot.
     
    Last edited:

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I disagree. I need "gewesen" to make the sentence the past of the past (past perfect progressive). In my opinion:
    waren dabei gewesen, aufzubauen = had been setting up (past perfect progressive)
    waren dabei aufzubauen = were setting up (past progressive)
    I disagree:
    Wir waren dabei gewesen aufzubauen = We had been setting up (past perfect progressive). This is talking about the past of the past.
    Wir waren dabei aufzubauen = We were setting up (past progressive). This is taking about simply the past.
    In other words...Wir waren dabei gewesen aufzubauen = (damals in 2009) Wir waren dabei aufzubauen
    To further understand the difference, read subsection 'Past Continuous vs Past Pefect Continus' in Past Perfect Continuous Tense | ENGLISH PAGE.
    In general, German tenses do not express aspects. Aspects are mainly expressed through adverbs. There is no need to express the perfect aspect in the past (that is what the English past perfect expresses) through the tense. I would go even further: I find gewesen in wir waren gerade seit 1 Stunde dabei gewesen.. not only superfluous but even nonsensical. "Past in the past" (which is what the German Plusquamperfekt expresses) means that in the past the action was already past and it is impossible that it was done "gerade".

    It is maybe easier if we first consider the construct in the present.
    We have been setting up the tent for one hour.
    requires present tense in German:
    Wir sind (gerade) seit einer Stunde dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen.
    Using Perfekt in German (Wir sind seit einer Stunde dabei gewesen...) would mean that you have stopped setting up tent and adding gerade would make no sense. The same is true if you transpose the whole think into the past and use past instead of present and past perfect instead of present perfect.
     

    Henrymy

    New Member
    English
    Hallo zusammen,
    again thanks for all the lively discussion.
    That's an important issue: You cannot 1:1 translate English tenses into German.
    In general, German tenses do not express aspects. Aspects are mainly expressed through adverbs.
    Hi, just one remark: The usage of tenses is rather lax in German. It is quite other than in English.
    I understand that with German I'll need to use adverbs to express what English does with tenses/aspects.
    So my question is, what word pattern (with adverb etc) do I need to use to express what each of the English do.


    Please, get the progressive out of your head in German.
    OK, aber wir kann ich die Handlung selbst, und nicht das Ergebniss der Handlung, betonen?

    1 We had built the tent, so we had time to chill. (focus on completion of action)
    • Wir hatten das Zelt aufgebaut, also hatten wir Zeit zu chillen.

    2 When they arrived, we had been building the tent, so we were frustrated. (This focus on action itself, not it’s completion, which is irrelevant, although highly likely still not completed. This sentence means we were frustrated with the process of building the tent.)
    • ???

    Note, I cannot use other tenses because the meanings are different:
    2b) When they arrived, we had built the tent, so we were frustrated. (This focuses on completion of action. This sentence means we were frustrated with the result of the build – perhaps the tent sucked or we built it incorrectly or whatever.)

    2c) When they arrived, we were building the tent, so we were frustrated. (This focuses at the moment in time when they came – the intersection in time between the two events. This sentence means we were frustrated at their arrival perhaps because they interrupted or whatever. Not a good thing to say if trying to make friends!)


    3) When they arrived, we were building the tent, so we couldn’t greet them. (as noted above, since the focus is the moment in time/the interruption, this sentence explains why we were not able to greet them..because we were busy at that exact moment)
    • Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, also könne wir sie nicht begrößen.

    4) We have built the tent before, so we know how it looks fully-built. (focus on the completion of the action...same as ‘had built’ (#1) but more recent in time)

    One more example for more clarity, since the above verb doesn't make the distinction of this verb too clear: I have lived in Germany, so I know some German.
    • ???

    5) We have been building the tent for 1 hour, so we are frustrated (focuses on the action...same as ‘had been building’ (#2) but more recent in time)
    • ???

    6) We are building the tent, so we cannot greet them. (focuses at moment/intersection of time...same as ‘we were building’ (#3) but more recent in time)
    • Wir bauen gerade das Zelt, also können wir sie nicht begrüßen.
    • Wir sind gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, also können wir sie nicht begrüßen.
    Do these two sentences emphasize something different?

    Thanks!
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Note, I cannot use other tenses because the meanings are different:
    I don't think the difference between 2 and 2c is something you would ever worry about in German. The important difference between English and German tenses is that aspects are grammaticalized in English, i.e. you have to express them. In German would may express them be adding adverbs or by using special constructions like dabei sein zu tun, but you do not have to express them if they don't matter to what you want to express. And I frankly can't think of a speech situation where this particular difference would matter.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    Hallo,
    ich kennzeichne meine Einfügungen kursiv/fett/unterstrichen.
    Ich beschreibe es so, wie ich es verstehe. Bernd hat recht, dass Aspekte in Englisch grammatikalisch ausgedrückt werden. In Deutsch werden sie durch Adverbien und gegebenenfalls durch Kontext und das konkrete Verb ausgedrückt.
    fertigen - hat einen Aspekt des Kontinuierlichen
    bauen - ebenalls eine kontinuierliche Tätigkeit
    abschließen - hat einen Aspekt des Kontinuierlichen plus eine Statusänderung
    aufbauen - hängt vom Kontext ab.

    Kontext, insbesondere Adverbien, aber auch andere Formen, können es klarer machen.

    1 We had built the tent, so we had time to chill. (focus on completion of action)
    • Wir hatten bereits das Zelt aufgebaut, also hatten wir Zeit zu chillen.

    2 When they arrived, we had been building the tent, so we were frustrated. (This focus on action itself, not it’s completion, which is irrelevant, although highly likely still not completed. This sentence means we were frustrated with the process of building the tent.)
    • ??? I do not understand here what you mean. I do not understand why there is frustration. maybe:
    • Beim Zeltaufbauen hatten wir uns überanstrengt und waren frustriert, als sie kamen.

    Note, I cannot use other tenses because the meanings are different:
    2b) When they arrived, we had built the tent, so we were frustrated. (This focuses on completion of action. This sentence means we were frustrated with the result of the build – perhaps the tent sucked or we built it incorrectly or whatever.)
    Als sie kamen, waren wir mit dem Zeltaufbau fertig und unzufrieden mit dem Resultat.
    2c) When they arrived, we were building the tent, so we were frustrated. (This focuses at the moment in time when they came – the intersection in time between the two events. This sentence means we were frustrated at their arrival perhaps because they interrupted or whatever. Not a good thing to say if trying to make friends!)

    Als sie kamen, bauten wir gerade das Zelt auf und waren frustriert, dass wir noch nicht fertig waren.

    Note: As far as I see it, "frustriert" needs some explanation in German.

    3) When they arrived, we were building the tent, so we couldn’t greet them. (as noted above, since the focus is the moment in time/the interruption, this sentence explains why we were not able to greet them..because we were busy at that exact moment)
    • Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, deshalb konnten wir sie nicht begrüßen.
    The sentence is artificial. To say "Guten Tag" is always possible if you want to say it.
    4) We have built the tent before, so we know how it looks fully-built. (focus on the completion of the action...same as ‘had built’ (#1) but more recent in time)

    One more example for more clarity, since the above verb doesn't make the distinction of this verb too clear: I have lived in Germany, so I know some German.
    • Wir hatten das Zelt bereits zuvor aufgebaut, deshalb wussten wir, wie es aussehen musste.
    This fits very good the default of plusquamperfect and past tens in German.

    5) We have been building the tent for 1 hour, so we are frustrated (focuses on the action...same as ‘had been building’ (#2) but more recent in time)
    • Wir haben bereits eine Stunde am Zelt gebaut und sind frustriert, dass wir noch nicht fertig sind.
    • Wir haben bereits eine Stunde für den Zeltaufbau benötigt und sind frustriert.
    Hier passt "aufgebaut" nicht so gut, weil es zusammen mit "haben" einen gewissen Abschluss beinhaltet. "Bereits" hebt den zwar auf, aber es gibt stilistische Probleme. Deshalb habe ich eine zweite Möglichkeit berschrieben. "Benötigen" hat diese Eigenschaft nicht.

    6) We are building the tent, so we cannot greet them. (focuses at moment/intersection of time...same as ‘we were building’ (#3) but more recent in time)
    • Wir bauen gerade das Zelt, also können wir sie nicht begrüßen. :tick:
      Hier passt "aufbauen" auch. Aber der Grund reicht nicht aus. Wenn sie nicht zum Zelt kommen, stimmt es, sonst wäre es seltsam. "Guten Tag" kann man immer sagen, wenn man will.

    • Wir sind gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, also können wir sie nicht begrüßen.:tick:
    Do these two sentences emphasize something different?
    Ich sehe keinen Unterschied hier außer im Stil. Der zweite Satz könnte eventuell als Status betrachtet werden, während der erste einen Vorgang darstellt, aber pragmatisch und in der Verwendung sind sie austauschbar.


    Das ist, wie ich es fühle.


    ---
    Ich möchte kurz auf die Formen doppeltes Perfekt und doppeltes Plusquamperfekt hinweisen, die nicht zum Standard gehören, aber umgangssprachlich besonders im Süden sehr oft verwendet werden. Mehr dazu hier nicht, nur, dass sie einige der Probleme lösen würden, wären sie nur anerkannt. Ich habe sie deshalb nicht verwendet. Bitte das hier nicht weiter diskutieren, Eventuell in extra Faden.
     

    Kajjo

    Senior Member
    OK, aber wir kann ich die Handlung selbst, und nicht das Ergebnis der Handlung, betonen?
    Wie bereits mehrfach gesagt: Wir nutzen unter anderem Adverbien und Partikel, um solche Aspekte auszudrücken. Fokussiere dich bitte wirklich nicht zu stark auf die Verbform. Du versuchst immer noch, alles in die Flektion zu pressen.

    We had built the tent, so we had time to chill. (focus on completion of action).
    Wir hatten das Zelt aufgebaut, also hatten wir Zeit zu chillen.
    You sentence is formally correct, but does not sound idiomatic. For the German intuition some flavour particles are missing:

    Wir hatten das Zelt schon aufgebaut, also hatten wir Zeit zu chillen. / ...und konnten hinterher noch eine Stunde chillen.

    When they arrived, we had been building the tent, so we were frustrated.
    Als sie endlich ankamen, waren wir immer noch beim Aufbauen und schon ziemlich verärgert.

    Again, not that we add adverbs and particles to get the aspects right. It simply doesn't work without. Naked sentences are formally correct, but sound non-idiomatic.

    2b) When they arrived, we had built the tent, so we were frustrated.
    Als sie endlich ankamen, hatten wir das Zelt schon (fertig) aufgebaut und waren ziemlich verärgert.

    3) When they arrived, we were building the tent, so we couldn’t greet them.
    Als sie endlich ankamen, waren wir gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen und konnten sie (daher) nicht begrüßen.

    6) We are building the tent, so we cannot greet them.
    Wir sind gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, daher können wir sie nicht begrüßen.

    Using Perfekt in German (Wir sind seit einer Stunde dabei gewesen...) would mean that you have stopped setting up tent and adding gerade would make no sense. The same is true if you transpose the whole think into the past and use past instead of present and past perfect instead of present perfect.
    :thumbsup: Agreed!

    All "gewesen" suggestions sound non-idiomatic to me. Nobody would say this in real life. These are artificial constructions.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    All "gewesen" suggestions sound non-idiomatic to me. Nobody would say this in real life. These are artificial constructions.
    Exept if you really want to Express past in the past. But none of the examples quality as such.
    You are right, in general context.


    Only: In the given context and with the given examples, it is used, at least regionally.

    In the south we add often "gewesen" in standard- and in coll. language. ("We" : I mean the people living in the places were I learned German, family, friends etc. In schoolI learned standard usage and in daily live I learned colloquial usage.)
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Only: In the given context and with the given examples, it is used, at least regionally.

    In the south we add often "gewesen" in standard- and in coll. language. ("We" : I mean the people living in the places were I learned German, family, friends etc. In schoolI learned standard usage and in daily live I learned colloquial usage.)
    I think you are mixing the Plusquamperfekt with what is sometimes call the Superperfekt or Ultraperfekt of colloquial registers. They are constructed like the Plusquamperfekt (er war gekommen) or maybe like its regional replacement form Doppelperfekt (er ist gekommen gewesen). But this tense is an emphatic past tense and should not be identified with the Plusquamperfekt. I don't find it helpful to discuss this form here, especially since it is strictly colloquial.
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    In the south we add often "gewesen" in standard- and in coll. language. ("We" : I mean the people living in the places were I learned German, family, friends etc. In schoolI learned standard usage and in daily live I learned colloquial usage.)
    :thumbsup: Here I must agree.
    I'm primarily familiar with many of the Bavarian dialects and here you can find a lot of people who don't use preterite (except maybe for sein, haben and modal verbs) and those people have a strong tendency to use gewesen/gehabt as standard markers for a general past tense:
    Wir sind gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen. = normal present tense with progressive aspect
    Wir sind gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen. = normal past tense with progressive aspect

    I guess, the origin of such phrasing is the Bavarian dialect, but because of its simplicity with 'gewesen' as one of few past tense markers, it has also entered non-dialectal standard language in the south. Keeping 'gerade' in this present perfect form doesn't really sound strange to me because with 'gewesen' as marker of past tense, 'gerade' is "pulled down" to the past time reference and it expresses something like "just at that specific point in the time in the past".

    But those people who use this form in everyday spoken language would usually not use it in written form. Even in the south, people are more likely to use preterite when expressing the same idea in writing. So yes, as a learner you should probably align yourself to the written standard language, which is fairly homogeneous throughout all German-speaking areas. You will pick up regional oddities automatically if you ever happen to live there for an extended period of time.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    I only meant standard and colloquial usage like in:

    ...

    7 Wir waren gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie um 18 Uhr kamen.

    [...]

    8 Wir waren gerade seit einer Stunde dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie um 18 Uhr kamen.
    ...
    I already mentioned that I do not want to discuss "Doppelperfect" or "Doppelplusquamperfect" here.
    In #16. I asked explicitely not to discuss this here, and so I did not mention nor mean them. Sorry for confusion.

    I improve for better understanding:

    In the south we add often "gewesen" in standard- and in coll. language in order to use perfect or plusquamperfect. ("We" : I mean the people living in the places were I learned German, family, friends etc. In school I learned standard usage and in daily live I learned colloquial usage.)

    I thougt that in order to use perfect or plusquamperfect was clear from context, so I omitted it.

    In spoken language perfect is often prefered - even if in written language past tense is used.
    Plusquamperfect is seldom used.


    PS:
    All three times plusquamperfect, past tense and perfect are part of standard language and of coll. language.
    Usage is different depending on style, kind of transmission (mündlich/schriftlich) and of region.
     
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    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    I think you are mixing the Plusquamperfekt with what is sometimes call the Superperfekt or Ultraperfekt of colloquial registers.
    Yes, but isn't that restricted to haben? For instance:
    *Wir haben (bereits) gegessen gehabt (dialectal and formally wrong) instead of Wir hatten (bereits) gegessen.

    Sind gewesen
    is not really incorrect as in: Wir sind in Paris gewesen vs. Wir waren in Paris.
     

    JClaudeK

    Senior Member
    Français France, Deutsch (SW-Dtl.)
    I already mentioned that I do not want to discuss "Doppelperfect" here. #16.
    Sorry, das hatte ich übersehen. (Doppelperfekt verwende ich nie.)
    you can find a lot of people who don't use preterite (except maybe for sein, haben and modal verbs) and those people have a strong tendency to use gewesen/gehabt as standard markers for a general past tense:
    Wir sind gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen. = normal present tense with progressive aspect
    Wir sind gerade dabei gewesen, das Zelt aufzubauen. = normal past tense with progressive aspect

    [...]
    Keeping 'gerade' in this present perfect form doesn't really sound strange to me
    + 1
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Yes, but isn't that restricted to haben? For instance:
    *Wir haben (bereits) gegessen gehabt (dialectal and formally wrong) instead of Wir hatten (bereits) gegessen.
    You are talking here about the Doppelperfekt, which is an entirely different issue. It is a purely formal replacement for the Plusquamperfekt replacing the preterite of the auxiliary verb with its present perfect form because the local dialects don't have any preterite forms except for sein. If you had read just a few words further you would have noticed that I had mentioned the Doppelperfekt.
     
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    Henrymy

    New Member
    English
    Hallo zusammen,
    again, thanks a lot for the replies

    2) We had been setting up the tent, so we were frustrated (at the process).

    The Durell book suggestes the following ( would you native speakers consider this normal?):

    Ich wartete (schon zwei Stunden / seit zwei Stunden) auf sie.
    Since I don't see a big difference between warten and bauen (other than perhaps warten can continue until infinity, whereas bauen must at some point end...I don't know if this a significant enough difference), then I should be able to say the following:

    Wir bauten das Zelt seit zwei Stunden: und waren verärgert / also, waren wir verärgert (dass es so lange gedauet hatte).


    However, the problem I see with this construction is that I must always specify a time (seit...).

    I run into the same problem in German when I want to say:

    I have been reading a lot, so I'm tired (the implication is 'lately....I have been reading a lot lately; until the very moment I uttered these words).


    Thanks
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    There is a big difference. If you are just waiting for a long time this is frustrating.
    If you agreed to meet at 2 pm and they are coming late at 4 pm this may cause anger.
    "Schon" indicates (strengthens) the idea of long waiting becomes frustrating.


    If you are building a tent usually this is not frustrating. If it is frustrating, you have to explain it explicitely.
    It might create anger, but usually does not.

    You cannot omit "dass es so lange gedauert hatte".

    In this example you see the importance of meaning and context.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    However, the problem I see with this construction is that I must always specify a time (seit...).
    Well that is the consequence of German not implying aspect in its tenses: its tenses don't imply aspect and you have to make aspect explicit. ;)

    But seriously: Your cases are quite rare. In most situations we don't see any need to express aspect at all and we simply keep it undefined. It is therefore not a big deal to add extra information for the few cases where aspect information is needed.
     
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    Kajjo

    Senior Member
    Wir bauten das Zelt seit zwei Stunden
    Another issue no one really mentioned so far:

    :cross: ein Zelt bauen
    :tick: ein Zelt aufbauen

    Wir müssen das Zelt noch aufbauen.
    Wir haben drei Stunden gebraucht, das Zelt aufzubauen.


    Since "aufbauen" is quite clear-cut including the aim to get it done, we almost always have to use something like "wir waren dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen" if we want to express some progressive aspect.

    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie endlich ankamen.
    Wir sind schon seit drei Stunden dabei, dieses verdammte Zelt aufzubauen.


    Since I don't see a big difference between warten and bauen
    There is, because "warten" does not need to be marked as progressive aspect in German, because it is in itself.

    Wir warten schon seit drei Stunden.

    There is no possibility of "wir sind dabei zu warten" :cross:. "Warten" cannot be more progressive than it is anyway. Contrary to English.


     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    ...

    I have been reading a lot, so I'm tired (the implication is 'lately....I have been reading a lot lately; until the very moment I uttered these words).

    ...
    I would say:

    Ich habe jetzt eine Menge gelesen und bin müde.


    I included "jetzt" to include the idea "until the very moment". "Müde" explains that you mean "today" and not "during the last months" (for example).

    Together they indicate an aproximation of your sentence.
     

    Henrymy

    New Member
    English
    Well that is the consequence of German not implying aspect in its tenses: its tenses don't imply aspect and you have to make aspect explicit. ;)
    I think I had an Eureka moment. I'll think about this a bit more to digest and will post again.


    Since "aufbauen" is quite clear-cut including the aim to get it done, we almost always have to use something like "wir waren dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen" if we want to express some progressive aspect.

    Wir waren gerade dabei, das Zelt aufzubauen, als sie endlich ankamen.
    Wir sind schon seit drei Stunden dabei, dieses verdammte Zelt aufzubauen.
    Very good point! I didn't think about it.

    Thanks!
     
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