top of page

haben and sein – Auxiliary Verbs in German Grammar

How to use German haben und sein

Haben and sein are used to form tenses, e.g. the present perfect, the past perfect, and the future perfect. As they are irregular verbs, their conjugations need to be learnt by heart.

Learn the difference between the verbs haben and sein in German. Use our simple verb conjugation tables.

Auxiliary Verbs.jpg
Auxiliary Verbs (1).jpg

Quick Tip for Using "Haben" and "Sein" in German:

"Haben" (to have) and "Sein" (to be) are two of the most essential verbs in the German language, and they are used in various contexts.


Here's a quick tip on when to use each:

  • Haben (to have):

    • Use "haben" to express possession, ownership, or to indicate that someone possesses something.

      • Example: "Ich habe ein Auto." (I have a car.)

    • It's also used to form the Present Perfect tense (Perfekt) in combination with the past participle of verbs.

      • Example: "Ich habe gegessen." (I have eaten.)

  • Sein (to be):

    • Use "sein" to describe states, conditions, or to indicate someone's identity, profession, or nationality.

      • Example: "Ich bin müde." (I am tired.)

      • Example: "Er ist Arzt." (He is a doctor.)

    • "Sein" is also used to form the passive voice in German.

      • Example: "Das Buch wird von ihm gelesen." (The book is being read by him.)

Remember that "haben" and "sein" are irregular verbs, and their conjugation patterns don't follow the regular verb conjugation rules in German. It's crucial to memorise their forms in various tenses and contexts.


The verb sein is irregular and is conjugated in the following way:

Present tense

ich bin

du bist

er, sie, es ist

wir sind

ihr seid

sie, Sie sind

Ich bin zu spät.

Simple past

ich war

du warst

er, sie, es war

wir waren

ihr wart

sie, Sie waren

Ich war zu spät.

Past Participle


Ich bin zu spät gewesen.

When to use sein as an auxiliary verb

In the conjugation of the present, the past perfect and the future perfect, sein is used as an auxiliary verb with the following verbs:

  • intransitive verbs (verbs without a direct object) that express a movement and a change of place, for example: gehen (walk), laufen (run), fahren (drive), ...
    Example: Er ist gefahren. He drove.

  • intransitive verbs expressing a change of state, for example: aufwachen (to wake up), frieren (to freeze), sterben (to die), ...
    Example: Ich bin aufgewacht. I woke up.

  • other verbs: bleiben (stay), sein (be), werden (become), ...
    Example: Wir sind zu Hause gewesen. We have been at home.

Some of the Most Common Verbs with sein

Learn me! (1).jpg

When to use haben or sein
We use verbs of motion like laufen (jogging), klettern (climbing), schimmen (swimming), tauchen (diving) with the auxiliary verb sein (to be) when the focus is on a change of place.  If this is not the focus, we can use both haben and sein.

Example: Er ist durch den Wald gegangen.  Er ist/war jeden Tag gegangen. He walked through the forest.  He walked/was walking every day.

More Examples: Wir sind auf den Turm geklettert.  Wir sind/haben fünf Stunden geklettert. - We climbed the tower.  We climbed/have climbed for five hours.

Ich bin zur Insel geschwommen.  Ich bin/habe Bestzeit geschwommen. - I swam to the island.  I swam/have swum best time.


The verb tanzen (to dance) is an exception. If the focus is not on a change of place, we have to use haben (sein is not possible in this case).

Example:  Sie sind durch den Raum getanzt. They danced across the room.
Sie haben früher viel getanzt. They used to dance a lot.
Du hast gut getanzt. You danced well.

stehen, sitzen, liegen - stand, sit, lie down
Haben is the auxiliary verb for the verbs stehen, sitzen and liegen in the perfect tenses.

Er hat vor dem Haus gestanden. He stood in front of the house.
Du hast auf dem Stuhl gesessen. You were sitting on the chair.
Die Zeitungen haben auf dem Tisch gelegen. The newspapers were on the table.

German speakers in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland often ignore this rule and use the auxiliary sein.

bottom of page