Haben and Sein Conjugation: When to Use the Two Verbs in Different Tenses

Haben, sein, haben and sein, haben or sein?

To be or not to be? In German, haben and sein conjugation is what can make a difference between sounding like a native, or sounding like someone just learning the language.

These two verbs aren’t only made to express basic concepts but also to form tenses and moods. Lucky for you, Spring German (a project I co-founded) made videos on both of them.

For haben, check this:

For sein, check this:

If you’re struggling to understand how to use these verbs, this article is for you.

By the end, you’ll understand everything about haben and sein conjugation!

1. Using haben in present perfect and ownership

The verb “haben” is mainly used to form the present perfect tense (Perfekt) with transitive verbs.

In this tense, “haben” is used as the auxiliary verb, followed by the past participle of the main verb.

Take a look these sentences:

  • Ich habe gegessen. [I have eaten.]
  • Sie hat einen Brief geschrieben. [She has written a letter.]
  • Wir haben die Stadt besucht. [We have visited the city.]

In these examples, “haben” is used as the helping verb to make the present perfect tense.

Haben” isn’t just an auxiliary verb; it’s also used as the main verb to express possession or ownership in German.

In this context, it stands alone without the need for a past participle:

  • Ich habe ein Auto. [I have a car.]
  • Wir haben zwei Katzen. [We have two cats.]
  • Sie hat viele Bücher. [She has many books.]
haben and sein conjugation usage illustrated with a library

2. Using sein in present perfect and to indicate existence

While “haben” is used with transitive verbs in the present perfect tense, the verb “sein” is used together with intransitive verbs to form the same tense – Perfekt.

Here are some examples:

  • Ich bin gegangen. [I have gone/walked.]
  • Er ist heute nicht in die Schule gegangen. [He has not gone to school today.]
  • Wir sind nach Berlin gereist. [We have traveled to Berlin.]

It’s also the main verb when expressing a state of being or existence:

  • Ich bin müde. [I am tired.]
  • Das Buch ist interessant. [The book is interesting.]
  • Sie sind Studenten. [They are students.]

In these examples, “sein” directly expresses the state or condition of the subject.

3. Haben and sein conjugation: transitive vs intransitive verbs

The choice between using “haben” or “sein” in the present perfect tense depends on the verb: is it transitive or intransitive?

Transitive verbs take a direct object, while intransitive verbs do not. To know this, and to learn how you can differentiate these two use cases, you have to know the correct haben and sein conjugations, too.

Haben conjugation

PronounConjugation (haben)

Sein conjugation

PronounConjugation (sein)

4. Transitive and intransitive verbs

Identifying if a verb is transitive or intransitive is the most important step to determine which verb to use: haben or sein.

haben and sein conjugation illustrated with intransitive verb

So, it’s best to check and learn some of the most common verbs that go together with haben. These are the most common transitive verbs.

Transitive verbs (use “haben”)

essento eat
trinkento drink
lesento read
schreibento write
sehento see
hörento hear
kaufento buy
verkaufento sell
liebento love
hassento hate
machento make
bauento build
findento find
suchento search
benutzento use

And these ones are for intransitive verbs.

Intransitive verbs (use “sein”)

gehento go
kommento come
fahrento travel/ride
laufento run/walk
fallento fall
sterbento die
bleibento stay
schlafento sleep
passierento happen
ankommento arrive
aufstehento get up
ausgehento go out
einschlafento fall asleep
aufwachento wake up
zurückkommento return

One more important thing: some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive – of course, depending on the context.

Check the next table to learn how you can spot the difference!

VerbTransitive UsageIntransitive Usage
fahrenIch habe das Auto gefahren. (I drove the car.)Ich bin nach Berlin gefahren. (I traveled to Berlin.)
laufenIch habe den Marathon gelaufen. (I ran the marathon.)Das Kind ist gelaufen. (The child walked/ran.)
tanzenSie hat einen Tanz getanzt. (She danced a dance.)Sie ist auf der Bühne getanzt. (She danced on the stage.)
arbeitenIch habe die Arbeit erledigt. (I did the work.)Ich habe heute gearbeitet. (I worked today.)
spielenWir haben Fußball gespielt. (We played soccer.)Die Kinder haben im Garten gespielt. (The children played in the garden.)
reisenHast du die Reise genossen? (Did you enjoy the trip?)Wir sind nach Italien gereist. (We traveled to Italy.)
schwimmenSie hat die Strecke geschwommen. (She swam the distance.)Er ist heute Morgen geschwommen. (He swam this morning.)
fliegenDer Pilot hat das Flugzeug geflogen. (The pilot flew the plane.)Wir sind nach New York geflogen. (We flew to New York.)

5. Practice haben and sein conjugation with a worksheet

Fill in the blanks with the correct form of haben or sein!

Do you need more time or examples to practice? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Click the button now, and gain access to our Full Practice Worksheet Library!

6. Haben and sein conjugations in all tenses with Conversation Based Chunking

Let’s not lie: haben and sein conjugation is essential for mastering fluency in German.

These verbs are used for different purposes. One is used together with transitive verbs, the other one is with intransitive verbs.

Effortless Conversations blog has dedicated articles on haben conjugation and sein conjugation to help you learn the differences. You can check those one by one, then come back here to analyse the German sentences and chunks listed here.

With Conversation Based Chunking, you can learn to spot transitive and intransitive verbs, which determine whether to use “haben” or “sein.” This method exposes you to real conversations and examples.

Curious to learn more about Conversation Based Chunking? Sign up now, get access to our Full Practice Worksheet Library, get a weekly study program and understand how you can use chunking!

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