The imperfect tense of the verb is generally translated as either "I played", "I was playing" or "I did play". Note that there is no way of distinguishing between these ideas in German; they are all formed in the same way. To form this form of the verb, take the stem of the verb (for regular verbs) or the imperfect form of the verb (for irregular verbs; this form is the second principal part), and add the following endings.
- Areas of North Germany use this tense as a legitimate past tense when spoken; however, most German-speaking regions consider the imperfect predominantly a written tense, and it can sound clumsy and even comical when spoken. For this reason, the tense is extremely rare in the du and ihr forms. The imperfect tense is the main past tense used when writing a book or a newspaper; it is very rare to find the perfect tense. The two tenses are, however, interchangeable in letter-writing.
- As in the perfect tense, verbs such as arbeiten and reden gain an extra -e- in the imperfect, this time in all forms:
- ich arbeitete, ich redete etc.