Imperfect versus Perfect Tense in Luxembourgish

There are 2 forms of past in Luxembourgish – the perfect tense and the imperfect. Now you may say: Why should I bother with the past? I’d rather learn how to hold conversation and speak fluently!”
Well… yes, the present tense is useful. I’m sure you’re doing all kinds of things right now… like reading, sitting and ….
But this is NOTHING compared with what you have already done today or the past months. The thing is, you can study all kinds of things like cases or prepositions or genders  … you will NOT be able to hold even the easiest normal conversation if you don’t know anything about the past tense. 

This is true for pretty much any language. But it is even more true for spoken Luxembourgish.

In Luxembourgish we mostly use the Perfect tense for all the verbs as most of the Luxembourgish verbs do NOT have an Imperfect tense. For the very few verbs which have an Imperfect we ALWAYS use the Imparfait (Imperfect or simple past tense).

⇒Which form of Luxembourgish past to use does NOT depend on the content or information you want to get across. It rather depends on the actual verb.


We use the Imparfait with the following verbs

  1. hunn (to have) & sinn (to be)
  2. modal verbs (except mussen)
  3. some other verbs

1. sinn & hunn

            Present                     Perfect                        Imperfect

sinn:     ech sinn                        ech si gewiescht            ech war

Imperfect: ech war – du waars – hien / hatt / si war – mir waren – dir waart -si waren

hunn:   ech hunn                       ech hu gehat                  ech hat

Imperfect: ech hat – du has – hien / hatt / si hat – mir haten – dir hat -si haten

Sinn and hunn are (almost) always used in the imperfect tense in both spoken and in written Luxembourgish. Therefore it is important to learn right at the beginning of your learning journey these 2 verbs in the imperfect tense.

Beispiller (examples)

Ech war doheem. – I was at home.

Ech hat de Kapp wéi. – I had a headache.

Now of course you could use the Present Perfect and say “Ech sinn doheem gewiescht” or “Ech hu de Kapp wéi gehat” but it sounds very, very, very strange and no native speakers would say this in a conversation.

2. Modal Verbs

wëllen  (to want) – däerfen (to be allowed) – kënnen (to be able) – sollen (should)

Present                     Perfect                        Imperfect

ech wëll                     ech hu wëllen                    ech wollt

ech däerf                  ech hunn däerfen              ech duerft

ech kann                   ech hu kënnen                   ech konnt

ech soll                     ech hu sollen                      ech sollt

Remark: The modal verb mussen has no imperfect! You have to use it in the perfect tense.

Beispiller (examples)

Ech wollt en Hond. – I wanted a dog.

Ech duerft am Hotel net fëmmen.- I wasn’t allowed to smoke at the hotel.

Wéi ech jonk war, konnt ech kee Schach spillen. – When I was young, I couldn’t play chess.

Meng Fra sot, ech sollt méi Sport maachen. – My wife said, I should do more sports.

3. Other Verbs

wëssen  (to know) – stoen (to stand) – sëtzen (to be in a sitting position) – ginn (to become / exist) – leien (to lie down)

Present                     Perfect                        Imperfect

ech weess                     ech hu gewosst               ech wosst (wousst)

ech stinn                       ech hu gestanen              ech stoung

ech sëtzen                    ech hu gesiess                ech souz

ech ginn                        ech si ginn                        ech gouf

ech leien                       ech hu geleeën                ech louch


For the following 3 verbs native speakers use both the imperfect and the perfect tense

soen (to say) – kréien (to get, to receive) – denken (to think)

Present                     Perfect                        Imperfect

ech soen                       ech hu gesot                      ech sot

ech kréien                    ech hu kritt                         ech krut

ech denken                 ech hu geduecht                ech duecht

Learning tip:

Learn the few-imperfect-only-verbs (only 11!!)  as exceptions … so to better memorise them in conversations.

Let’s practice

Try to translate the following sentences into Luxembourgish:

  1. I wanted to go home early.
  2. I didn’t know that.
  3. I thought you would cook today.
  4. Where have you (plural) been on vacation?
  5. I sat more than one hour at the docter.
  6. I’ve already told you that twice.
  7. We’ve never been to Ireland.
  8. We used to have a dog.
  9. When he was young, he couldn’t swim.
  10. I lied down on the couch the whole Sunday.


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