Perfekt vs. Präteritum

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Suilan

Senior Member
Germany (NRW)
Perhaps he merely confused the term "Präteritum" with "Perfekt"? It happened twice already in this thread (once to me, oops.) Präteritum used to be called Imperfekt since a few years back, so that's what most adults learned in school.
 
  • Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    Hallo Leute! I'm new here. :) I apologize in advance if I do something wrong.

    Now to the matter at hand: I've encountered a native German speaker who says he only uses simple past/Präteritum, even in conversation. He recognizes that it's unusual, and says he doesn't know why he does it. I'm wondering if anyone can elaborate on this quote a little? Is this "very dramatic" to the point of being ridiculous, or pretentious? ie, would people make fun of you for talking like this? Does it sound old-fashioned at all? I'm trying to grasp the nuances of this intriguing two-past-tenses thing (and gain some insight into this guy's personality :D) Danke!
    Usually simple past/Präteritum is just used in written texts and even here mostly in book (novels, poems,etc). Even newspapers and magazins tend to use the "Perfekt" (I dont use the English word perfect because there are too much differences)

    Basically Präteritum and Perfekt mean the same and are used the express finished actions of the past (like the english simple past).

    Präteritum in a conversation is very rare. It does sound a bit archaic if you use it all the time.
     

    Alaedious

    Senior Member
    American English
    Hi! This Internet site is great!

    I read a large number of the discussions concerning the expression of English progressive tenses in German, and I think I'm making some progress in understanding how this may be done. On the other hand, sometimes I feel stumped and this is also linked to the question of the choice been the Perfekt (compound-tense) and the Imperfekt (Präteritum). I have two specific questions in mind.

    a) Imagine I saw a friend yesterday waiting in front of the cinema. I then see my friend today and want to ask: "What were you doing yesterday when I saw you?" My friend replays: "I was waiting for Alex." How would he say this? Ich habe auf Alex gewartet? Ich wartete auf Alex? Both? Or some other way?

    b) Second example: I was in bed the other night, and I heard my computer was making noise, so I got up and put it on stand-by mode. I got back in bed and wondered how I would say: "It was my computer that was making all that noise!" Diesen Krach hat der Computer gemacht? Or, because it was no longer making any noise: Diesen Krach machte der Computer.

    Thanks for any help you might offer!! Danke vielmals!
     

    Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    Hi Alaedious,

    and welcome to the German forum.

    Perfekt and Imperfekt are practically interchangable in German. The German Perfekt does not have an connection to the Present. (as you might think after reading your second example). Both tenses refer to the past. In an everday conversation people usually prefer the Perfekt over Präteritum. The more south you go the stronger the preferance of the Perfekt. Some people even say Präteritum has become a literature-only tense.

    To your examples:
    a) Was hast du gestern gemacht als ich dich sah/gesehen habe? (in the second part Präteritum and Perfekt sound naturally to me)
    Ich habe auf Alex gewartet.

    b) Mein Computer hat diesen Krach gemacht. / Es war mein Computer, der diesen Krach gemacht hat. / Es ist mein Computer gewesen, der diesen Krach gemacht hat.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    a) In northern Germany, they would say "Ich wartete auf Alex." (At least, that's how we Southerners perceive northern German. :D Please correct me if this is misapprehension.) In Austria, Switzerland and southern Germany, always "Ich habe auf Alex gewartet." (Thinking of spoken language. In written language, of course, it MUST be Ich wartete.)
    b) Diesen Krach hat der Computer gemacht, for everybody everywhere. The noise made you wake up, and you're still awake, true? So there's a connection to the present, and that's when you use German Perfekt. (The point, in contrast to English, is not whether it's still going on. The point is whether it still has an immediate influence on the present moment of speaking. Which is, by the way, a quite simple explanation for the use of German Perfekt, which is - as far as I see - still missing from this long thread. Actually, the difference between Imperfekt and Perfekt is not very difficult in my opinion.)
     

    Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    (Thinking of spoken language. In written language, of course, it MUST be Ich wartete.)
    Says who?
    It´s a matter of style for sure, but Präteritum isn´t mandatory in written texts.

    So there's a connection to the present, and that's when you use German Perfekte,
    Also wrong to me.

    "Ich brach mir vor zwei Wochen mein Bein und es tut immer noch weh."
    "Ich war schon zweimal in Südafrika"

    Both sentences have a connection to the present.
     

    Alaedious

    Senior Member
    American English
    Ok! Besten Dank nochmals! I was surprised by the speedy reply and I'm sure to have more questions from time to time! Don't hesistate if you want to know about French and English! :)
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Says who?
    It´s a matter of style for sure, but Präteritum isn´t mandatory in written texts.
    Says everybody who doesn't only speak German but also knows how to speak it... of course it is mandatory in written texts - it's the German narrative time (Erzählzeit). This is clear even for Wikipedia - so there's no sophisticated research required: "Das Präteritum ist die Erzählform in schriftlichen Texten." - http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_Tempusformen


    Also wrong to me.

    "Ich brach mir vor zwei Wochen mein Bein und es tut immer noch weh."
    "Ich war schon zweimal in Südafrika"

    Both sentences have a connection to the present.
    But not wrong in fact - your example sentences are wrong! "Ich war schon zweimal in Südafrika" has to be Präteritum, that's true - because it has NO connection to the present. "Ich bin (!) heute früh aus Südafrika zurückgekommen" would have. And "Ich brach mir vor zwei Wochen das Bein und es tut immer noch weh" is just plain wrong - it has a connection to the present and must therefore be "Ich habe mir das Bein gebrochen und es tut noch weh."

    On all this, it's really easy to get the necessary information online. Just very few examples:

    "Wenn ein Bezug zur Gegenwart hergestellt wird, kann nur das Perfekt, aber nicht das Präteritum verwendet werden:
    Ich habe das Buch gelesen, deshalb kenne ich es schon.
    Nicht: Ich las das Buch, deshalb kenne ich es schon." http://canoo.net/blog/2008/10/16/las-ich-oder-habe-ich-gelesen-%E2%80%93-die-zeiten-der-vergangenheit/ (The example given here could be copied from your sentence about the broken leg.)

    "In folgenden Fällen muss das Perfekt stehen, und nicht das Präteritum: (1) Das Ergebnis eines Ereignisses der Vergangenheit liegt auch noch in der Gegenwart vor: 'Es hat geschneit!' – 'Im Lotto sind folgende Zahlen gezogen worden: ...'" http://www.das-oesterreichische-deutsch.at/reserve.html (with two more - much rarer - examples for mandatory use of Perfekt)

    "Perfekt erklärt also etwas Aktuelles, daher 'Resultatives Perfekt'..." http://www.deutsch-als-fremdsprache.de/austausch/forum/read.php?4,52297 (a forum much like this one...)

    "Erzählzeit im Deutschen ist das Präteritum (Ich kam, sah und siegte); mit deutschem Perfekt übersetzt man nur im Zusammenhang mit Präsens (Ich weiß, ich habe verloren.)." http://www.v-r.de/data/files/352526549/9783525265499_leseprobe.pdf (basics in Latin AND German grammar for Latin beginners)

    "Das Perfekt wird für Sachverhalte verwandt, die (relativ zum Sprechzeitpunkt) in der Vergangenheit abgeschlossen wurden, deren Ergebnis oder Folge aber noch zum Sprechzeitpunkt relevant sind. Der Gegenwartsbezug unterscheidet das Perfekt vom Präteritum." http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfekt (The whole explanation of German Perfekt there is surprisingly excellent.)

    And even (Bavarian) school kids know exactly how easy it is to discern between Präteritum and Perfekt: "Das Präteritum verwendest du vorzugsweise im Schriftlichen, beim Erzählen.
    Das Perfekt schlägt eine Brücke zwischen Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. (...) Die Grundbedeutung besteht darin, dass eine vergangene Handlung noch stark auf die Gegenwart wirkt oder sich in ihren Auswirkungen noch auf die Gegenwart bezieht.
    Das Perfekt ist eigentlich eine kleine Zeitmaschine, denn mit der Verwendung des Perfekts machst du ein vergangenes Ereignis in der Gegenwart lebendig." http://digitale-schule-bayern.de/dsdaten/11/170.doc

    So it's really no miracle to use Imperfekt and Perfekt properly in German. But those who nonetheless don't know how to: please don't add to the confusion of our non-natives here!

     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    And "Ich brach mir vor zwei Wochen das Bein und es tut immer noch weh" is just plain wrong...
    I am afraid I cannot agree. The sentence is perfectly acceptable. "Brach" can always be understood to refer to the act or event of breaking and not to the beginning of the state of being broken.

    On the general topic: There are simply too many speakers or writers who uses Perfekt and Präteritum interchangeably for it to make sense than listeners or readers pay attention to any semantic difference. Hence it has become impossible to convey any information by the choice of tense.
    So it's really no miracle to use Imperfekt and Perfekt properly in German. But those who nonetheless don't know how to: please don't add to the confusion of our non-natives here!
    Umgekehrt wird ein Schuh 'draus! By explaining semantic differences which are not recognized by native speakers any more, you we would most likely add to non-native speakers' confusion and not reduce it.

    I am not against explaining these rules to non-native speakers. But it should be made clear that they are today just matters of style and convey no practical information any more.
     
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    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    But not wrong in fact - your example sentences are wrong! "Ich war schon zweimal in Südafrika" has to be Präteritum, that's true - because it has NO connection to the present. ...
    Indeed it has a connection to the present.
    Depending where I am:

    If I am in South-Africa: The connection is Ich bin jetzt hier, war aber schon vorher zweimal hier.

    If I am not in South-Africa: The connection is: Ich bin jetzt nicht in Südafrika, war aber schon zweimal dort.

    I agree with Berndf that it is just a question of style whether you use perfect or preteritum.

    In very few cases there may be set phrases where only one of the times is used, and in some cases complicate forms usually are not used.

    Examples:


    - "Es ist ein Schnee gefallen" - fixed phrase from a folk song

    - "Hast Du gut geschlafen?" is much preferred to "Schliefst du gut?" independend on the time.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    I agree with both of you that common usage has been blurring the lines between Präteritum and Perfekt for a long time now, and I also agree that there are more than just a few exceptions, as in your spot-on example, Hutschi: "hast du gut geschlafen", you're absolutely right about that.
    But I disagree with you, Bernd, that the difference "conveys no practical sense anymore". I for one don't use them interchangeably, and same goes for all people I've dealt with in my - quite long - professional life (which has always been about writing, in various contexts, journalism, humanities, school and so on). But maybe that's a question of regional usage, once more? Of course, my professional contacts have typically been Austrian...
    Edit: as far as the broken leg, Bernd, please re-read the quotation "ich habe das Buch gelesen" vs. "ich las das Buch" above.
    Edit, once more: as far as South Africa, Hutschi, the connection has to be grammatically (priority to present tense) or of immediate, causal relevance for the speaker's present: Weil ich schon zweimal in Südafrika gewesen bin, fahre ich heuer lieber nach Sambia (priority to a present tense main clause). Heute früh bin ich noch in Südafrika gewesen, deswegen habe ich noch nicht die Koffer ausgepackt. (causal relevance) The fact that everything I've seen or done in my life before has SOME relevance for the present is not sufficient to use Perfekt.
     
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    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    I'm afraid we're moving in a circle, but I want to summarize it a little bit:

    1. The difference between imperfect and perfect exists. It is used and follows rules.

    2. There are slightly different rules depending on region (main differences are between North and South, but also others exist), and on style (spoken language vs. written language)

    3. In some cases the meaning of the forms is different - but this can also differ regionally.

    4. Sometimes one of the forms is seldom used outside of set phrases or it is replaced by the other.

    5. The form may depend on the point of view (Standpunkt/Zeitkoordinaten) of the narrator.

    6. Often the relations are build synthetically, using additional words to make it clear. "Gestern las ich ein Buch"="Gestern habe ich ein Buch gelesen." - "Ich habe gerade ein Buch gelesen." "Ich habe gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen."

    ---

    And we should note, that in written texts the style is restricted. There are implicit or explicit style guides. Usually the style is consistent in a document.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    But I disagree with you, Bernd, that the difference "conveys no practical sense anymore". I for one don't use them interchangeably, and same goes for all people I've dealt with in my - quite long - professional life (which has always been about writing, in various contexts, journalism, humanities, school and so on). But maybe that's a question of regional usage, once more? Of course, my professional contacts have typically been Austrian...
    I wrote “information”, not “sense”. It suffices if a majority or even a sizable minority of speakers/writers uses Perfekt and Präteritum interchangeably to make it unwise for a listener/reader to allow the choice of tense to influence one’s understanding of a sentence. In this respect it does not convey any practically relevant information any more.
    Edit: as far as the broken leg, Bernd, please re-read the quotation "ich habe das Buch gelesen" vs. "ich las das Buch" above.
    I agree with your example of "ich habe das Buch gelesen", just not with the example "ich brach mir das Bein". If you take the semantic distinction between Perfekt and Präteritum seriously "ich habe mir das Bein gebrochen" implies that the leg is still broken. But this might not be what you want to express. Of course, we all know that a leg doesn't heal within two weeks. But for the sake of the arguments let's replace two weeks by 2 months. It is quite possible that the leg still hurts though it isn't broken any more after that time.


    I agree that this is not the most typical interpretation of the sentence but it is a possible one and hence you cannot call the Präteritum "plainly wrong". If you had written "unusual" I would have agreed with you.

     
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    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    If you take the semantic distinction between Perfekt and Präteritum seriously "ich habe mir das Bein gebrochen" implies that the leg is still broken.
    No, sorry, that's not correct - this is English grammar, NOT German. In English, past perfect tense (especially with -ing) means it's still going on. In German just that it has causal relevance for the present, and the example about the broken leg is excellent to demonstrate the difference: If it's no longer broken, but still hurts, German will use Perfekt (causal relevance for the speaker's present). English will not, as far as I know, since the leg is no more broken, just hurting.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    In German just that it has causal relevance for the present, and the example about the broken leg is excellent to demonstrate the difference: If it's no longer broken, but still hurts, German will use Perfekt (causal relevance for the speaker's present). English will not, as far as I know, since the leg is no more broken, just hurting.
    Hi Tifoso, I do not understand this. But I try:

    So you can say, for example:

    "Ich habe ein Brot gebacken. Es liegt jetzt hier."
    Causality is available that is why perfect is used.

    But you have to say:
    "Ich buk ein Brot. Heute gehe ich ins Kino." (No causality - that is why imperfect is used.)


    Or - to remove any possible (direct) causality:
    "Es schneite. Ich lache."
    "Niemand buk ein Brot. Heute gehe ich ins Kino." ("Niemand buk ein Brot" is a lie, so that cannot imply a causality.)


    Or - with causality:
    "Es hat geschneit. Ich lache." This implies that I laugh because it was snowing - so I have to use the perfect.

    I never used it this way.
     
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    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Perfect. That's what I mean, Hutschi (and what I taught some generations of students). In terms of style, we might qualify this further because of the second, strictly formal use of Perfekt: priority to a main clause or a context in present tense. So it would be, in any case, "nachdem ich ein Brot gebacken habe, gehe ich ins Kino" (no causal connection, but present tense in the main clause, and the temporal clause is prior to that); and even with main clauses only, if the entire text is in present tense, you'd use Perfekt for the interjected main clause describing something that happened earlier. But basically, as far as the sense conveyed by the use of Perfekt, it's precisely as you said in your latest example.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    "Nachdem ich ein Brot gebacken habe, gehe ich ins Kino."

    Here I also would use the perfect only (in the first part).
    It has a speciality. Even if the first part is perfect, the real time is future. In this case both parts are in the future in reality.

    I would not use: Nachdem ich ein Brot buk, gehe ich ins Kino.

    But:
    Nachdem ich ein Brot buk, bin ich ins Kino gegangen. (Both are in the past.)
     
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    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    ...and one more word to Bernd, with regard to an earlier of Hutschi's examples: If you'd really think that it's "unwise for a listener/reader to allow the choice of tense to influence one’s understanding of a sentence", this would mean not to allow (yourself and others) to understand Hutschi's example at all:
    "Ich habe gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen"
    vs.
    "Ich fing gerade an, ein Buch zu lesen (als es an der Tür klingelte, for example)"
    have TOTALLY different meanings, and to neglect them would very simply mean not to understand basic German. So it's not unwise to allow the use of Imperfekt or Perfekt to influence one's understanding of a sentence, on the contrary, it's indispensable. (Bearing in mind, however, the blurred lines mentioned above - not all German speakers/writers respect the rules, and the rules have become somewhat blurry themselves over time. But the basic difference is still there!)
    As the "ich habe gerade angefangen" - "ich fing gerade an" example shows, Perfekt is NOT always (and perhaps not even often) a tense describing the past - very often (in all the "causal relevance" cases, I think), it's describing the present!!! So it's hard to understand why anybody would use these tenses (in written language!) interchangeably, and honestly, I don't think anyone does. I think people only claim so because they're unable to explain the difference.
     

    ABBA Stanza

    Senior Member
    English (UK)
    Edit: I see that the thread has moved on quite a bit since I started formulating my ideas for this post, so it's referring to quotes made some time back now. Nevertheless, I hope people here will find my comments interesting and/or useful.

    So it's really no miracle to use Imperfekt and Perfekt properly in German. But those who nonetheless don't know how to: please don't add to the confusion of our non-natives here!
    If you guys will allow me to add my two cents' worth to the discussion ... (as a non-native, I think I'm entitled to confuse myself! :))

    On the general topic: There are simply too many speakers or writers who uses Perfekt and Präteritum interchangeably for it to make sense than listeners or readers pay attention to any semantic difference. Hence it has become impossible to convey any information by the choice of tense.
    Yes and no. When reporting recent events, the present perfect seems to me to be strongly favored. For example, it's commonplace to hear the Tagesschau begin with something like:

    Guten Abend meine Damen und Herren. Der Chef der Gewerkschaft Verdi hat die neuen Pläne der Bundesregierung zum Thema XYZ stark kritisiert.

    By contrast, it would be quite unusual (does it occur at all?) to hear the newsreader say:

    Guten Abend meine Damen und Herren. Der Chef der Gewerkschaft Verdi kritisierte stark die neuen Pläne der Bundesregierung zum Thema XYZ.

    As such, it (at least to me) just doesn't feel like a piece of current news if someone uses the simple past (i.e., Präteritum). For example, suppose I saw someone in the street where I live shouting:

    "Ein Feuer brach aus!"

    I'm not sure people around here would immediately understand what he was talking about. I'd probably think he was right. Indeed, we've even had two fires in our village in the last few years. However, if this person instead shouted

    "Ein Feuer ist ausgebrochen!",

    then it suddenly sounds like he's not talking about either of the two fires I mentioned above, but about a new fire that's just broken out. As such, people will quickly start taking action now.

    (Maybe it's different in North Germany. I can't say.)

    I am not against explaining these rules to non-native speakers. But it should be made clear that they are today just matters of style ...
    Yes, but there is some system to the style. It's not completely the case that everyone is choosing between the two alternatives independently, as they would do on deciding what is, say, their favourite color.

    For example, I work for an international company, with a good mixture of Germans from all parts of the country. Despite that, when talking to someone about the status of some current issue that is relevant to me, I've heard Germans say hundreds of times:

    Es hat sich erledigt.

    On the other hand (and don't ask me why, it's just an observation), I've yet to hear someone say (in this context) the equivalent using the simple past:

    Es erledigte sich.

    So, even if it is a just question of style, almost everyone is apparently choosing the same style in this case. So if a foreigner chooses the other style, he or she will stick out from the crowd.

    Again, my observations may simply be the result of living and working in South Germany. Having said that, I do watch TV from North Germany (e.g., the NDR Talkshow), and although the simple past is used more than it is around here (especially when a story is being told), I can't remember seeing anyone who persistently used the simple past throughout. Their usage of the simple past almost always seems to be well-balanced and natural.

    Cheers,
    Abba
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    No, sorry, that's not correct - this is English grammar, NOT German. In English, past perfect tense (especially with -ing) means it's still going on. In German just that it has causal relevance for the present, and the example about the broken leg is excellent to demonstrate the difference: If it's no longer broken, but still hurts, German will use Perfekt (causal relevance for the speaker's present). English will not, as far as I know, since the leg is no more broken, just hurting.
    In this case you could never use Präteritum because every past event may have a causal relevance for the present.

    *Klammer auf* Lass es mich mal so sagen: Ich komme aus einer Sprachregion (geboren in Hamburg, die Familie meines Vaters aus Schleswig-Holstein und die meiner Mutter aus Ostpreussen), in der die Unterscheidung auch noch umgangssprachlich verankert ist oder zumindest vor nicht allzu langer Zeit es noch war. Für mich hat "ich habe mir das Bein gebrochen" die Konnotation, das es noch gebrochen ist. Deine Erklärungen hören sich für mich so an, als seinen sie von etwas aus dem Ruder gelaufenen theoretischen Beschreibungen geleitet. Ich sehe zwar auch einen Unterschied zwischen dem (nord-) deutschen Perfekt und dem englischen present perfect, diese beziehen sich aber im Wesentlichen auf Fälle, wo wir Präsens benutzen würden, z.B. "I have been living... since/for..." = "Ich lebe/wohne ... seit ...". *Klammer zu*
     
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    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Even if the first part is perfect, the real time is future.
    Yes, same goes for the future, as well. Perfekt (in the case of formally/grammatically determined usage, as opposed to causally determined) is used to describe priority to present OR future tense.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    ABBA, everything you wrote is perfectly correct. All your examples have an immediate connection to the speaker's present (the fire is still burning, and the news announced on TV are the LATEST news, not the news of two months ago). In addition, bear in mind that I was writing about written language here, not about spoken language (not even spoken TV/radio language, which somehow holds a middle position between written and spoken).

    Bernd, ad Klammer auf: klar, wenn ich nur den Hauptsatz verwende "ich habe mir das Bein gebrochen", dann muss es noch gebrochen sein. Aber mit dem Zusatz "es tut noch immer weh" ist es meine Überzeugung, dass das Perfekt auch dann verwendet gehört, wenn das Bein inzwischen nicht mehr gebrochen ist. Und zwar meine feste Überzeugung; ich würde das, wäre ich Deutschlehrer, als Fehler anstreichen, wenn in so einer Situation jemand das Imperfekt verwendet. Aber vielleicht ist meine Position für diesen konkreten Fall ein bisserl (Austriazismus!) zu rigoros.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    "Ich habe gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen"
    vs.
    "Ich fing gerade an, ein Buch zu lesen (als es an der Tür klingelte, for example)"
    have TOTALLY different meanings
    I would use these excamples usually this way, too.

    But I would say:

    "Ich habe gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen - da klingelte es an der Tür."

    Is this contradictionary or wrong?

    PS: Ich komme aus einer Sprachregion, in der itzgründisch gesprochen wurde, das ist ein oberfränkischer Dialekt, lebe aber seit über 50 Jahren in Dresden. Allerdings habe ich den starken Einfluss meiner Eltern, die mit mir Hochdeutsch sprachen, allerdings unter dem Einfluss des zugrunde liegenden Dialekts. In der Dialektgegend wird fast nur Perfekt verwendet, weil im Dialekt die Endungen vom Imperfekt fast verschwunden sind.
     
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    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    But there is no causality. In a narrative way the narrator moves along the time line. "Ich habe gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen" is over. Now - independently, the bell rang.


    "Ich habe gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen - da hat es an der Tür geklingelt." This has another sense. It implies that both were at the same time.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Please re-read what I wrote above: there are two mandatory cases of Perfekt use - 1. causal relevance, 2. purely grammatical priority to a main clause (or a context) in present tense. Which latter is NOT the case in your example - the main clause is in Imperfekt. So the priority (IF priority is intended) has to be Plusquamperfekt: Ich hatte gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen - now it's over - da klingelte es an der Tür. The meaning is slightly different in Ich fing gerade an, ein Buch zu lesen, als es klingelte: the bell is ringing a few moments earlier in the latter example, so to speak.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    Ich fing gerade an, ein Buch zu lesen, als es klingelte. - Here I assume that both were at the same time. So there definitely seem to be differences in usage.
    Ich fing gerade an, ein Buch zu lesen. Da klingelte es. Here the bell rang a little bit later.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Aber mit dem Zusatz "es tut noch immer weh" ist es meine Überzeugung, dass das Perfekt auch dann verwendet gehört, wenn das Bein inzwischen nicht mehr gebrochen ist.
    Dagegen stäubt sich meine Intuition vehement. Ich verstehe Dein Argument gegen das Präteritum, auch wenn ich es nicht für zwingend halte. Wahrscheinlich würde ich intuitiv Plusquamperfekt verwenden, um den perfektischen Aspekt auszudrücken, wenn das Bein jetzt nicht mehr gebrochen ist.
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Guten Abend meine Damen und Herren. Der Chef der Gewerkschaft Verdi kritisierte stark die neuen Pläne der Bundesregierung zum Thema XYZ stark.
    This sound perfectly normal to me.
    Es hat sich erledigt.

    On the other hand (and don't ask me why, it's just an observation), I've yet to hear someone say (in this context) the equivalent using the simple past:

    Es erledigte sich.
    In cases like this one where only one form ever exists, there is nothing to differentiate and hence no information conveyed. In cases where both are possible any you hear or read Perfekt you never know if the original meaning is really intended or if the speaker/writer always uses Perfekt. Hence you will start paying attention to context to differentiate and you end up with a situation where either only one of the two forms ever is "schriftsprachlich korrekt" or where the difference doesn't matter. And this means that the difference between the two tenses does not convey any information any more.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    ABBA was correct when writing he still has to meet someone who says "Es erledigte sich" instead of "Es hat sich erledigt", of course - in every-day context, you'll perhaps never need the meaning that's conveyed by "Es erledigte sich". Which doesn't however, Bernd, mean it's wrong or there is no more information conveyed by the difference of the two tenses: "Es erledigte sich" is being used in accounts of past developments or events. Das Problem erledigte sich damals rasch ... no way of using Perfekt here!

    So let me draw a bottom line to this thread (my personal bottom line, of course - no intention here of speaking for anybody else, just an announcement that I intend to leave you in peace on this thread): the discussion has been very helpful for me because I think I'm now able to explain it much simpler and perhaps better than before. I'm attempting a definition now, which has the charm of explaining BOTH cases of mandatory Perfekt usage, the "causal" and the "purely grammatical" one; but since most of you will perhaps fiercely oppose it, let me first make the necessary qualifications: there are, as we said, quite a few exceptions, individually, regionally and for certain words/in certain phrases; and the use of Perfekt in spoken language has been broadly (and I think, satisfactory) discussed on this thread, so please bear in mind that I'm speaking exclusively of written standard language here. And yes, I'm going to simplify and overdo it a little bit in my definition attempt, but I think I'm going to make it clearer this way.

    Ok: German Perfekt and Präteritum are not at all synonymous. They don't even describe the same time. Präteritum/Imperfekt describes the past. Perfekt describes the present. Attention: it RECOUNTS something that happened before (i.e. in the past). But it DESCRIBES the present, and more specifically: it explains the developments that immediately led to the speaker's present situation - basically, it's answering "how come"-questions for the present, and only for the present (ok, no: also for the future, but this is perhaps neglectable for a first basic definition).

    "Ich habe gerade angefangen, ein Buch zu lesen" (which you might tell somebody who called you by phone) - this is pure present. You can't use it for something that happened yesterday.

    Whereas "Ich fing gerade an, ein Buch zu lesen, als mich Martha anrief" means this happened at some time in the past, two days ago or 14 years ago.

    This explains, as I said above very briefly, also the "non-causal" use of Perfekt, where it simply depends from a present tense main clause - "Nachdem ich das Brot gebacken habe, gehe ich ins Kino". Here again, it's explaining the present situation of the speaker, though not in a causal ("how come") sense but simply in a linear way - when he's finally going to the cinema, his current state is that he has baked a bread just before. (PS for Hutschi: the past version of this sentence cannot be "nachdem ich buk, bin ich gegangen" - wrong tenses in both parts of the sentence. Rather, it's "nachdem ich gebacken hatte, ging ich". We old Latinists are very strict about consecutio temporum. :D)

    And it also explains the rather surprising rule to be found on one of the websites I've been quoting above: guilt has to be stated in Perfekt - "er hat es getan", not "er tat es". The sentence is not about the moment he did it, but about the present moment (when he's perhaps being convicted, put in jail, whatever), and the Perfekt verb is just answering the "how come"-question - why is he in jail now? (That site just neglected that, of course, there is a past version, as well - but there, it has to be Plusquamperfekt, "er hatte es getan".)

    So to put it as briefly as possible (perhaps too briefly, but anyway ;)):

    Perfekt is not about the past. It's always about the present.
    Präteritum is never about the present. It's always about the past.

    I can hardly imagine a sharper contrast, so I have to insist that the difference between the two tenses conveys information - much more so than many (most?) other grammatical differences!

    For those who are REALLY interested in the question, I might add that German Perfekt is not as much related to Latin or Italian (or French? I don't understand much French) perfect or English past perfect tense as to ancient Greek perfect. In ancient Greek, perfect is ALWAYS to be translated as present tense, and it simply describes present conditions (while present tense describes present actions).

    Thank you all for your patience!
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    So to put it as briefly as possible (perhaps too briefly, but anyway ;)):

    Perfekt is not about the past. It's always about the present.
    Präteritum is never about the present. It's always about the past.
    I agree that this is the rule as some grammarians put it, and that indeed a significant, if small percentage of German native speakers uses tenses more or less consistently like this (of course I am too talking of standard language here, and mostly written standard language at that; if we were talking of spoken language - be it standard language or colloquial speech - probably only a very small percentage of native speakers would be consistent here).

    I don't think that we could easily establish how many native speakers really would use tenses in formal written standard language consistently like you described, but I think you have to agree that in Austria hardly anybody does (I'd even say that only a tiny percentage of German language teachers in Austria will do).
    And I think we also have established in this thread that even in Germany only a minority seems to agree on this rules.

    So if only a minority of German language speakers abide by this rule (language teachers included, prestige media and writers included), how could one possibly proclaim these rules as "correct German use"?
    If one would do so one would claim that most educated German native speakers don't know their standard language.

    We're right at the prescriptive/descriptive distinction again.

    Note, it is of course not the case that "once" all German native speakers had followed those rules, quite the contrary: in the 19th century Austrian writers, along with many writers from Southern German lands, made extensive use of Perfekt in literature.
    The use of Perfekt and Präteritum as completely different timeframes is not native to most German speaking regions and never was a thoroughly accepted norm of German standard language - it never came further than being promoted by some to become the norm for standard language (but never achieved this status, neither when looking at literature nor with other written language like Kanzleisprachen which were considered exemplary use of standard language in former times).

    So I don't see what use there is in claiming there were such a rule - as even many of those who should know their German (and whose use of standard language is considered exemplary) do not know this rule - or if they do are incapable of applying it correctly.

    To try and postulate this rule would mean to fall back into prescriptivism, which I am not willing to do.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    sokol, much as I respect your position, I don't share it (no big surprise, I guess). Let me just say that it's funny for me to come across as the prescriptivist here. So far in my life, I've always been the one (not just, but particularly in the context of grammar) who said "rules are there in order to be violated". Actually, much of the quality of literature is due to the violation of grammatical rules. But it's my deep conviction that when you're learning a language (including your own native language), you first need to learn the rules thoroughly, theoretical as they may be. And THEN you are in a position to violate them. Deliberately. Not just because you don't know better. Of course, nobody observes the Perfekt/Imperfekt or any other rule strictly. But the crucial difference is between those who deliberately don't observe them (because they know enough about language to create their own, modified set of rules) and those who can neither observe them nor violate them in the proper (transitive) sense of the word, just ignore them, because they've never learned enough about them. This is the difference between sophisticated and clumsy use of language.
    But actually, much as I'd love to continue this discussion since it's so interesting, it's leading far off-topic, and to the topic as such, I have really nothing to add, as I said before.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Let me just say that it's funny for me to come across as the prescriptivist here. So far in my life, I've always been the one (not just, but particularly in the context of grammar) who said "rules are there in order to be violated". Actually, much of the quality of literature is due to the violation of grammatical rules. But it's my deep conviction that when you're learning a language (including your own native language), you first need to learn the rules thoroughly, theoretical as they may be. And THEN you are in a position to violate them. Deliberately.
    Well, descritivists argue as follows: Rules change over time and they change because people start to use grammatical forms differently. Grammar book do not lead this development them they are constantly running behind it. Grammar rules merely describe in a systematic way what native speakers do anyway. If native speaker's widely accepted usage contradicts grammar rules then the rules are wrong, not what native speakers say.

    Your earlier statement that the Perfekt is about the present not about the past simply isn't reality any more. Some speakers, like you and me, still use it the old way but we are a rapidly shrinking minority. In my daughter's school (she is attending the German school in Geneva), they don't even bother explaining the difference any more, they just call it "lange und kurze Vergangenheit". She will probably learn the old rules when she gets a bit older (she is 11 now) but I bet it will be perceived by her generation as a "history lession" and nothing more.
     
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    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    In my daughter's school (she is attending the German school in Geneva), they don't even bother explaining the difference any more, they just call is "lange und kurze Vergangenheit".
    It is the same in Austrian schools - German school teachers don't even bother trying to explain the difference (and I bet most of them don't even think there is any: and I'm talking of secondary and higher education too).

    The explanation you get usually is that in formal language you are supposed to use Präteritum (and Plusquamperfekt if necessary, obviously; but not Perfekt), and that's it.
     

    Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    This change can´t be that new, can it?

    "Die ich rief, die Geister
    werd ich nun nicht los"
    (Der Zauberlehrling)

    A clear reference to the present and I wouldn´t call Goethe an intentional rules violator :D

    Since the tenses have been imposed artificially on the German language it´s a bit like back to the roots of ancient German(ic) which , as far as I know, just had two tenses (past and non past).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    This change can´t be that new, can it?

    "Die ich rief, die Geister
    werd ich nun nicht los"
    (Der Zauberlehrling)

    A clear reference to the present and I wouldn´t call Goethe an intentional rules violator :D
    I think this example just demonstrates that Tifoso's interpretation of "reference to the present" was too extensive.
    Since the tenses have been imposed artificially on the German language it´s a bit like back to the roots of ancient German(ic) which , as far as I know, just had two tenses (past and non past).
    Yes. Proto-Germanic certeinly only distinguished these two tenses. Though rooted in OHG constructs the use of Perfekt as a tense in its own rights started in MHG. Also in OHG it was most likely an imitation of Late Latin usage (you might be interested in reading this thread) but we don't know this for sure.
     
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    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Your earlier statement that the Perfekt is about the present not about the past simply isn't reality any more. Some speakers, like you and me, still use it the old way but we are a rapidly shrinking minority. In my daughter's school (she is attending the German school in Geneva), they don't even bother explaining the difference any more, they just call it "lange und kurze Vergangenheit". She will probably learn the old rules when she gets a bit older (she is 11 now) but I bet it will be perceived by her generation as a "history lession" and nothing more.
    Well, these lines are forcing me back into this discussion. What you are saying here is that your daughter will not be able to read German literature, because she's simply not going to understand it properly. The whole treasure of literature is written - attention - of course not STRICTLY the way I explained the use of Perfekt and Imperfekt, but definitely in a way that makes - PROPER - understanding of those texts impossible if you've never learned those rules. Ten minutes ago, I went to my bookshelf and took out three books of which I know that they are written in what I think is exemplary language; I opened two of them on a random page and read random passages, and checked the third one whether there is any comment there on our topic. These are the results, Perfekt in green, Imperfekt in red:

    1. Erwin Chargaff, Abscheu vor der Weltgeschichte, Stuttgart 1988, Seite 62: "Es ist wahrscheinlich zeit meines Lebens mein großer Fehler gewesen, mehr von den Menschen zu erwarten als ich das Recht hatte. Der kühle Skeptizismus eines Montaigne konnte nicht so leicht enttäuscht werden."

    2. Peter Bamm, Alexander oder die Verwandlung der Welt, Zürich 1965, Seite 158: "Alexander weihte dieses Bild (ein Porträt des Königs als Zeus, Anm. TB) dem Tempel der Artemis in Ephesos. Ein letzter Abglanz dieses Meisterwerks ist uns erhalten geblieben in einer römischen Darstellung Alexanders als Zeus, die im Hause der Vettier in Pompeii gefunden wurde. Alexander ließ dem Künstler für dieses Bild zwanzig Talente überreichen. Das ist das höchste Honorar, das je ein Maler für ein Bild erhalten hat."

    Your daughter will not be able to understand whether the Roman copy from Pompeii still exists or whether it has been destroyed, say, in WWII (which would mean to use Imperfekt "blieb erhalten"); or whether (according to Bamm's opinion, which I doubt btw) the remuneration was the highest until then or the highest ever. Before somebody doubts again that my interpretation of Perfekt and Imperfekt is correct, let me quote also the following sentence:
    "Nur die viertausend Goldflorins, für die König Franz I. von Frankreich von Leonardo da Vinci die Mona Lisa erwarb, lassen sich mit Alexanders Honorar für Apelles vergleichen." You see? The highest ever, hence Perfekt.

    3. The one where I hoped to find, and actually found, a comment on our topic here is one of the very best books for anyone trying to REALLY learn about the nuances of German language: Hans Weigel, Die Leiden der jungen Wörter, Zürich/München 1974, Seite 76:
    "Sokrates starb durch Gift. Aber er ist nicht umsonst gestorben.
    Der Redner redete und redete. Endlich sagte er: Ich habe gesprochen.
    Merken Sie sich, bitte, diese beiden Beispiele.
    Dann werden Sie besser wissen, wann Sie das Imperfekt und wann Sie das Perfekt anwenden sollen."

    The fact that historical books are written as they are written makes it simply impossible, for me, to accept fundamental changes of language use like the one most of you are claiming here has already happened (I'm not entirely convinced). Even if I was the last German speaker who knew the "old" rules, I'd still insist that knowledge of these rules (attention: I did NOT say strict observance of these rules!!) is indispensable for writing and reading proper German, and that nobody else does. It's impossible to bow to a majority here simply because the historical books are written as they are written.
    I'm not typically inclined to cultural catastrophism; but if the standard of language use is set by Hessischer Rundfunk, Deutsche Welle and your daughter's teachers, and if Bamm, Weigel or Chargaff could no longer be understood the way they intended to be, this would really mean the end of middle European civilization (this, and NOT minaret building in the Alps ;)).
     
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    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    ...and example no. 4 from my bookshelf, again a quotation from the first random page where I opened the book:

    "Weil ihnen Wien genügt hat, sind sie nichts geworden zum Unterschied von denen, denen Wien nicht genügt hat und die im entscheidenden Augenblick aus Wien weg in das Ausland gegangen sind, dachte ich auf dem Ohrensessel."

    This is not MHG literature; it's from Thomas Bernhard, Holzfällen, Frankfurt am Main 1984, p. 96. Bernhard died just 21 years ago, and yet I must conclude from this thread that both school teachers and school kids (and perhaps some members of this forum, as well?) are no longer able to explain or understand why and when he used Präteritum or Perfekt.
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    "Dachte ich" ist eine andere Erzählebene. Für uns stellt sie die Vergangenheit dar. Für den Moment des Denkens liegt dieses aber in der Gegenwart und der erste Teil mit den Perfektbestandteilen, über die gedacht wird, bezieht sich darauf.
    Im vorliegenden Fall sind die Vorgänge "genügt hat" aber bereits abgeschlossen, also vollendet. Wenn ich Imperfekt verwenden würde, wäre die Erzählzeit und die Zeit über die erzählt wird, nicht mehr abgegrenzt.
    Hier haben wir den Fall, dass Perfekt einen Vorgang als vollendet betrachtet. (In der Schule haben wir die Form noch als "vollendete Gegenwart" bezeichnet.)

    Wir müssen beachten, dass wir hier eine Metaebene (das Denken) und eine untergeordnete Ebene (das Gedachte) haben, die jeweils entsprechende Zeitformen brauchen.

    Es gibt also eine weitere Bedeutung:
    Vollendete Vorgänge (Perfekt=vollendete Gegenwart, Plusquamperfekt=vollendete Vergangenheit) und laufende Vorgänge (Gegenwart, einfache Vergangenheit) . - Diese Abgrenzung wird aber nur in entsprechendem Kontext in der Praxis durchgeführt.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Das ist selbstverständlich ebenfalls eine mögliche Art, die Regel zu formulieren (mir persönlich erscheint sie etwas kompliziert, aber jeder steht halt auf einer anderen Leitung, sozusagen). Es funktioniert aber auch nach "meiner" Regel ganz einfach: Das Perfekt steht ja dann, wenn die (Vorgeschichte der) Gegenwart des Sprechers erklärt wird. Und da, was er damals auf dem Ohrensessel dachte, für seine (damalige) Gegenwart relevant war (auf präzise der Zeitebene, auf der er, auf dem Ohrensessel, dachte, waren die anderen erfolgreich oder Versager), steht eben das Perfekt.
     
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    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    "Weil ihnen Wien genügte, sind sie nichts geworden zum Unterschied von denen, denen Wien nicht genügte und die im entscheidenden Augenblick aus Wien weg in das Ausland gegangen sind, dachte ich auf dem Ohrensessel."
    So ist es für einen Norddeutschen meiner Generation idiomatisch. Ev. würde man das erste "genügte" durch Perfekt oder Präsens ersetzen. Ich weiß nicht, warum Du "dachte" rot hinterlegt hast. Hälst Du das für falsch? "Gedacht hat" statt "dachte" wäre unidiomatisch und würde als oberdeutscher Perfekt empfunden werden.
     
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    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Ich weiß nicht, warum Du "dachte" rot hinterlegt hast. Hälst Du das für falsch?
    Ganz einfach: weil ich in allen oben zitierten Beispielen das Perfekt grün und das Imperfekt rot gefärbt habe. Also nein, ich halte es nicht für falsch. (Hätte auch alle Imperfektformen blau färben können. :))
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Übrigens: Deine "norddeutsch-idiomatische" Variante ist selbstverständlich ebenfalls möglich und keineswegs ein Widerspruch zur Grundregel. Du gewichtest damit nur anders: Bei Dir wird betont, dass den Weggegangenen zum Zeitpunkt des Weggehens Wien nicht genügt hat (und den Dagebliebenen schon), während Thomas Bernhards Formulierung impliziert, dass ihnen Wien zum gegenwärtigen Zeitpunkt (also zum Zeitpunkt des Ohrensesselsitzens) immer noch nicht bzw. schon genügt. Beides ist selbstverständlich sprachlich einwandfrei in Ordnung, es bleibt ja dem jeweiligen Autor überlassen, auf welchen inhaltlichen Aspekt er fokussieren möchte. Aber mit nord- oder süddeutsch hat das nichts zu tun. Und über die Grundregel (Perfekt - Gegenwart, Imperfekt - Vergangenheit) sind wir uns ja, wie ich mit Freude sehe, einig, deshalb würdest auch Du sagen: "sind sie nichts geworden", denn das ist eindeutig (für den Ohrensesselsitzer) Gegenwart.
     
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    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    "Weil ihnen Wien genügt hat, sind sie nichts geworden zum Unterschied von denen, denen Wien nicht genügt hat und die im entscheidenden Augenblick aus Wien weg in das Ausland gegangen sind, dachte ich auf dem Ohrensessel."
    Das Beispiel ist eigentlich unpassend: denn der Satz in Perfekt entspricht einem Gedankengang während des im-Ohrensessel-sitzens - und entspricht somit, wenn man so will, einer direkten Rede.

    Auch ist es eine etwas starke Behauptung zu sagen, man würde die deutsche Literatur nicht verstehen, wenn man Perfekt und Präteritum nicht so verstehen würde, wie von dir beschrieben (und wie heutzutage nur noch von einer Minderheit gebraucht).

    Du vergisst, dass ein grosser Teil der deutschen Literatur überhaupt nie diese Regeln für Präteritum und Perfekt angewandt hat - oder nur inkonsistent, in manchen Fällen.
    Thomas Bernhard ist wohl einer der wenigen Österreicher, dem zugetraut werden könnte, Perfekt und Präteritum wirklich so gebraucht zu haben: ich hab schon lang keinen Bernhard mehr gelesen, aus der Erinnerung kann ich das nicht sagen; der obige Satz ist für mich jedenfalls kein Beweis. :)

    Viele andere österreichische Autoren haben jedoch niemals Perfekt und Präteritum konsequent als unterschiedliche Zeitformen behandelt; dasselbe gilt übrigens bestimmt auch für viele Autoren aus Deutschland (moderne ebenso wie ältere).

    Es will mir nicht in den Kopf, warum ausgerechnet ein Wiener wie du, der ohne Zweifel von Leuten umgeben ist, für die Perfekt und Präteritum lediglich stilistische Varianten derselben Zeitform sind, so vehement dafür eintritt, dass nur diese Norm die "Richtige" sein kann.

    (Die dabei noch nicht einmal in Deutschland gängig ist, sondern lediglich von einer Minderheit gebraucht wird. In Deutschland gibt's darüber hinaus übrigens auch noch andre Tendenzen, die das Zeitensystem weiter in Bewegung bringen - etwa der Gebrauch von Plusquamperfekt, wenn eigentlich Präteritum gefordert wäre, oft schon in deutschen Nachrichtensendungen zu hören.)

    Ich will's aber jetzt dabei belassen und nicht weiter zu argumentieren versuchen.
     

    Tifoso Bonisolli

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Du vergisst, dass ein grosser Teil der deutschen Literatur überhaupt nie diese Regeln für Präteritum und Perfekt angewandt hat - oder nur inkonsistent, in manchen Fällen.
    Na ja - ich habe aber tatsächlich einfach die erstbesten vier Bücher, die mir als "schön geschrieben" eingefallen sind, aus dem Regal genommen und keinerlei Recherche nach "passenden" Beispielen unternommen, ehrlich. Ich bezweifle also vehement, dass Dein "großer Teil" so groß ist, wie Du glaubst.

    Auch ist es eine etwas starke Behauptung zu sagen, man würde die deutsche Literatur nicht verstehen, wenn man Perfekt und Präteritum nicht so verstehen würde, wie von dir beschrieben (und wie heutzutage nur noch von einer Minderheit gebraucht).
    Das finde ich nicht - siehe das oben gebrachte Bamm-Zitat! Wenn Du Perfekt und Imperfekt nicht exakt so verstehst wie ich (und Bamm), dann kannst Du den Satz über das höchste Honorar (wenn wir jetzt von der Infomation, die im Folgesatz steckt, absehen - und bei entsprechender Recherche ließen natürlich unzählige Literatur-Beispiele OHNE Zusatzinformation finden!) einfach nicht interpretieren.

    Viele andere österreichische Autoren haben jedoch niemals Perfekt und Präteritum konsequent als unterschiedliche Zeitformen behandelt; dasselbe gilt übrigens bestimmt auch für viele Autoren aus Deutschland (moderne ebenso wie ältere).
    Von den vier Autoren meines "Zufallstests" sind drei Österreicher: Bernhard, Weigel und Chargaff. Ich halte also, einmal mehr, Dein "viele andere österreichische Autoren" nicht für erwiesen.

    Es will mir nicht in den Kopf, warum ausgerechnet ein Wiener wie du, der ohne Zweifel von Leuten umgeben ist, für die Perfekt und Präteritum lediglich stilistische Varianten derselben Zeitform sind, so vehement dafür eintritt, dass nur diese Norm die "Richtige" sein kann.
    Dass ich mich nicht auf die gesprochene Sprache beziehe, habe ich deutlich klargemacht. Selbstverständlich verwende in gesprochener Sprache auch ich, als Wiener, als absolut einzige Imperfektform "war". Sonst habe ich bestimmt noch nie ein Imperfekt in den Mund genommen, außer beim Vorlesen oder im Grammatikunterricht. Aber was ändert das an der (und zwar auch an meiner!) Schriftsprache?
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    Dass ich mich nicht auf die gesprochene Sprache beziehe, habe ich deutlich klargemacht. Selbstverständlich verwende in gesprochener Sprache auch ich, als Wiener, als absolut einzige Imperfektform "war". Sonst habe ich bestimmt noch nie ein Imperfekt in den Mund genommen, außer beim Vorlesen oder im Grammatikunterricht. Aber was ändert das an der (und zwar auch an meiner!) Schriftsprache?
    Dies erklärt natürlich einiges. Wir Deutschen unterscheiden nicht derart zwischen Schriftsprache und gesprochener Sprache wie Österreicher oder Schweizer. Ein sehr grosser Prozentsatz der Bevölkerung spricht auch im Alltag Standardsprache. Der Unterschied besteht für uns im Wesentlichen darin, dass wir schriftlich einige besonders hemdsärmelige Ausdrücke vermeiden. Der Versuch bestimmte Formen entgegen der Entwicklung der gesprochenen Sprache schriftlich auf Dauer aufrecht zu erhalten empfänden die meisten Deutschen als Don Quixoterie und wäre auf Dauer zum Scheitern verurteilt. Und dass ausgerechnet Österreicher und Schweizer das Fortdauern der Präteritum/Perfekt-Unterscheidung in der deutschen Schriftsprache auf Dauer sichern sollten, erscheint mir mehr als unwahrscheinlich.

    Es wird aber sicher auch weiterhin Autoren geben, die auf die Unterscheidung wert legen und die Formen auch elegant verwenden werden (es wäre auch Schade, wenn nicht). Sollten diese sich aber so ausdrücken, dass der Sinn des geschriebenen ohne genaue Kenntnis der alten Bedeutungen sich nicht erschliesst, so müssten sie damit leben, nicht richtig verstanden zu werden. In der Praxis wird dies aber nur sehr selten ein wirkliches Problem darstellen. Auch bei Deinem Bamm-Zitat würde ich das Folgende um kein Jota anders verstehen, als das Original:
    Alexander weihte dieses Bild (ein Porträt des Königs als Zeus, Anm. TB) dem Tempel der Artemis in Ephesos. Ein letzter Abglanz dieses Meisterwerks blieb uns erhalten in einer römischen Darstellung Alexanders als Zeus, die im Hause der Vettier in Pompeii gefunden wurde. Alexander ließ dem Künstler für dieses Bild zwanzig Talente überreichen. Das ist das höchste Honorar, das je ein Maler für ein Bild erhielt.
     

    Alaedious

    Senior Member
    American English
    Hello everyone!

    Another question comes to my mind concerning the expression of past habits. To express the idea: "I used to smoke too much (when I was twenty)" would you say "Ich rauchte zu viel" or "Ich habe zu viel geraucht" or both or some other way? Perhaps with the help of certain adverbs?

    Thanks for your help again!

    Alaedious
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    Without additional phrases or context I would use "Ich habe zu viel geraucht". This has the connotation that I finished smoking too much - if you do not add " und ich rauche immer noch zu viel."

    "Ich rauchte zu viel" sounds incomplete to me. It is not wrong, but I would use it only in special context:

    "Damals rauchte ich (immer) zu viel."
    This does not exclude: "Damals habe ich (immer) zu viel geraucht".

    Note the Plusquamperfekt (Vorvergangenheit):
    Ich hatte zu viel geraucht und bekam deshalb Krebs. (I had finished smoking when the cancer started.)
    vs. Ich rauchte immer zu viel und bekam deshalb Krebs. The smoking may have continued.

    Ich habe immer zuviel geraucht und deshalb Krebs bekommen. (Cancer was a result of smoking.)

    Ich rauchte immer zuviel und habe deshalb Krebs bekommen. (I do not see a difference in the meaning between the last two sentences, but I think, Tifoso does.)
     

    Alaedious

    Senior Member
    American English
    Ok, thank you Hutschi!

    Martin Durrell's "Hammer's German: Grammar and Usage" suggests that habitual past actions is one of the contexts in which spoken north (Standard) German sometimes (but not systematically) uses the Präteritum. The example he gives is:

    Ich habe gewusst, dass sein Vater trank.
    I knew his father used to drink.

    This is my favorite grammar book so far, but the problem with all the English-German grammar books I have is that they lead you to believe the Präteritum is used in the spoken language in the entire German-speaking world for the past progressive and for recording a state (Die Rechnung lag auf dem Balkon), or a habitual or repeated action in the past (Bei uns in der alten Heimat dauerten die Sommerferien länger als hier), since they don't give any examples like the ones I've been asking about in this posting. Das heisst: one can say BOTH:

    "Ich habe gewusst, dass sein Vater trank" and
    "Ich habe gewusst, dass sein Vater (damals) getrunken hat."

    "Damals habe ich zu viel geraucht" and "Damals rauchte ich zu viel."

    ...basically depending on which part of the German-speaking world you come from.

    And that:

    "Ich bin mit dem Rad in die Schule gefahren, aber ich bin gar nicht bis zur Schule gekommen" can translate as both:
    "I rode my bike to school" or "I was riding my bike to school", depending on what the speaker wishes to say.

    Please correct me if I make mistakes! I am just a beginner and I'm here to learn! ;)
     
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