When do I use 'sein' and when do I use 'haben' in the past tense?

The rule for this is simple, although can be somewhat confusing when you first start learning German! The rule is: if there's movement from one place to another, use 'sein'. If there's not, use 'haben'.

Example: I played.

This example uses 'haben' - ich habe gespielt. This is because, while there may be movement involved (for example, if the sentence were 'I played football'), the movement isn't directed from one place to another.

Example: I flew.

This example uses 'sein' - ich bin geflogen. This is because the example uses movement from one place to another - whether the movement is specifically stated as being from one place to another or not. When you fly somewhere, it is flying from one place to another (for example, 'I flew from England to Germany'). This does not need to be included in the sentence; it is implied.

Example: I ate.

This example uses 'haben' - ich habe gegessen. This is because there is no movement from one place to another.

Example: I drove.

This example uses 'sein' - ich bin gefahren. This is because there is movement from one place to another.

Anita H. GCSE Biology tutor, A Level Biology tutor, GCSE German tutor...

11 months ago

Answered by Anita, a GCSE German tutor with MyTutor

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist


£30 /hr

Rachel H.

Degree: Physics and Astronomy with a Year Abroad (Bachelors) - Durham University

Subjects offered:German, Science+ 3 more


“Hey, I'm Rachel and I'm Physics graduate from Durham University. My best subjects at school were always science and maths but I also loved languages and art”

£18 /hr

Eleanor E.

Degree: German and History with a year abroad (Bachelors) - Kings, London University

Subjects offered:German


“German and History student with passion for literature, grammar and the modern period! :)”

Hannah R. GCSE English Literature tutor, GCSE French tutor, GCSE Germ...
£22 /hr

Hannah R.

Degree: History with a European Language (Bachelors) - University College London University

Subjects offered:German, History+ 5 more

English Literature
-Personal Statements-

“Past IB graduate and current UCL History & French student - reliable and experienced tutor!”

About the author

Anita H.

Currently unavailable: for regular students

Degree: Biological Sciences with Study in Continental Europe (German) (Bachelors) - Birmingham University

Subjects offered:German, Biology


“I'm a final year Biosciences/German student at the University of Birmingham. I've known I wanted to study Biology since I was in Year 6, in one form or another, and that passion has only grown stronger over the years I've been studyin...”

MyTutor guarantee

You may also like...

Posts by Anita

'ei' or 'ie'?

Describe how antibiotic resistance occurs.

What is osmosis and why does it occur?

When do I use 'sein' and when do I use 'haben' in the past tense?

Other GCSE German questions

What are the cases in German?

How can I get to grips with German word order?

Which statement is correct? A) The writer is planning a holiday. B) The writer was completely satisfied with the hotel. C) The hotel was not as good as the writer had hoped.

When can we use demonstrative pronouns?

View GCSE German tutors

We use cookies to improve your site experience. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss