Using “gehen” – A quick guide

Written By: Emanuel Updated: February 20, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of the epic series

A quick practical guide to important German verbs

Or AQPGTIGV for short.
Yo yo yo, what’s up peeps, AQPGTIGV-time. Ya’ll ain’t ready for this!!!
Coffee is a hell of drink.
And you know what’s also a hell of a thing?
My new flexible height desk from FlexiSpot.
Yes, I may not have a TikTok, but I’m still an influencer :).
So, the folks over at FlexiSpot asked me if I was interested in trying out one of their standing desks, and I absolutely love it. I have some back problems, so it’s really great to be able to switch between sitting and standing. And the desk looks great and it feels like quality work, not just some random cheap garbage you can get on Amazon.
I have the EW8-BB if you’re wondering.
FlexiSpot is running a winter sale at the moment till the end of February so if you’re looking for flexible height desk or a chair, this might be interesting for you. Here are the links:

I think they also have stores in the US and Canada, so just check if you’re living across the pont.

But now let’s get to the article.
Many of you probably already know this series. In each episode,  we take one of the most important German verbs and go over all the common structures and phrasings that you’ll need in daily life.
And the crucial part is, it’s not just in theory, but in actual real practice, because you… yes you, right there in front of the screen… you will have to SPEAK.

I am using an speech grading AI developed by EF languages which will give you feedback on your pronunciation, and while it’s not perfect and can NOT replace a native speaker, it’s still a really great way to learn because learning in theory is one thing, but actually speaking is another. And especially with these basic structures and sentences it’s great to get some actual mileage in, and not just theory.

Today, we’ll take a look at

gehen 

And what we’ll learn is of course the conjugation and how to use it in past and present, thereby reviewing these concepts.
And we’ll also see how Germans use that weird little hin and we’ll learn a side meaning of gehen, that’s really really important in daily life.

So if you’re ready to jump in then let’s go.

How it works

Quick primer on how it works, for those who are new or need a refresher.
I’ll give you a sentence in English, which you will then have to SAY in German.
Of course you can note then down somewhere before, but the goal is that you can make them up on the fly, after you’ve done this practice a few times.

To start the recording just press the button and press it again to stop.
You’ll then get feedback how your pronunciation was.
You can try again as often as you like, you can listen to your recording by using the play button on the left next to the result and you can delete a version by clicking the red X.
And you can also hear me say it in “my version”.
Let’s give it a try, with our “verb du jour” gehen:

gehen
gehen

Some of the examples also have a hint, that’ll help with cases or gender or if there’s new vocab. Just click on the light bulb to see it. But not all of them will have a hint, so make sure to have your memory activated :).

If the button is not working, you might have blocked mic-access for the site. To change that, click on the little lock icon next to the website address.
And the distance you have to the phone or mic has a HUGE influence on the recording quality and hence on the grade, so if you get poor results, just try to get closer.

Cool, so now we’re all set, and let’s start with the two basic meanings.

gehen – the basics

Gehen is of course the German brother of to go.
The core idea is the same in both languages, but there are some important differences in when the verbs are used. We’ll look at those in a minute but let’s do a couple of simple sentences first.

Gehen in present tense is completely regular, so there are no stem changes or other surprises.
Go ahead, give it a try :)

I go, you go, he goes
ich gehe, du gehst, er geht

hint
ich  -e, du   -st, er  -t

My version:


And the plural forms

“we go, you (all) go, they go.
wir gehen, ihr geht, sie gehen

hint
wir  -en, ihr -t, sie -en

My version:


Great.
And now, let’s make a simple sentence.

“I go home.
Ich gehe nach Hause.

hint
nach Hause

My version:


This is as basic as it gets, so let’s make it a bit longer.

“Thomas goes to the park.”
Thomas geht in den Park.

hint
in den Park

My version:


And now let’s make it even longer and give Thomas a companion and add with Mariamit Maria.
Which of course raises the question WHERE to add her.
And the answer is… put her BEFORE the park. So it’s the opposite way to English.

You might of course now wonder WHY that is. Well, it’s kind of a general trend in German sentence structure and we can’t really go into this too much here, but in short, the location is the most important bit for the verb gehen, and in German, the more important something is for the verb, the LATER it’ll come in the sentence, whereas in English it stays close to the verb.

So… time to actually make the sentence

“Thomas goes to the park with Maria.”
Thomas geht mit Maria in den Park.

hint
mit Maria

My version:


Cool.

This is pretty long already, but we want even more.
So let’s add some time information and say that he’ll go to German class with Maria tomorrow.
Some of you are probably thinking: “Wait… he will go… isn’t that future tense? I haven’t learned that yet.”

And you’re right that it is set in the future BUT (and this is important)

German does NOT use its future tense all that much!

Especially in spoken German, people use the present, whenever context makes it clear that we’re talking about the future. And using the actual future tense can sound quite stiff and scripted. So using present isn’t only an option… it’s kind of a need.
And that goes for any verb, by the way; not just for gehen.

So… whenever you want to say a sentence that’s with will in English, like “I’ll do that.” or “You will go.” – you absolutely should use good old simple present in German.

Let’s practice and start simple

I’ll go home.
Ich gehe nach Hause.

My version:


Did you feel an itch to do something special? Well, that’s normal, but learn to ignore it. The present tense is really the way to go.

Now let’s get back to the example we had earlier :

Thomas will go to the park tomorrow.
Thomas geht morgen in den Park.

hint
morgen

My version:


And let’s switch it up a bit and also throw in some more info

We’ll go to the park with Maria tomorrow.
Wir gehen morgen mit Maria in den Park.

My version:


Perfect.
And while we’re at it, let’s play around with the word order a bit and move the time information to the front.
And keep in mind… in German, the verb will STAY in the second slot, so you have to make some “adjustments™”

Tomorrow, we’ll go to the park with Maria.
Morgen gehen wir mit Maria in den Park.

hint
Morgen…

My version:


And let’s try one that’s completely new

On Friday, I’ll go to the cinema with my brother.
Am Freitag gehe ich mit meinem Bruder ins Kino.

hint
Am Freitag…. mit meinem Bruder ins Kino

My version:


And now, let’s hop on over and do some questions.

Using “gehen in Questions

They key difference between German and English when it comes to questions is that German does NOT use a helper verb the way English uses to do. Instead, it just always moves the verb to the front for yes or no questions, or puts a question word before it.

  • Do you eat Sushi?
  • Isst du Sushi?
  • Why do you eat Sushi?
  • Warum isst du Sushi?

These sound very strange if you translate them word for word. I mean… “Eat you Sushi?”… what’s that supposed to be. But English does it, too. “Are you at home?”, “Can you speak German?” This is the same structure. German just uses it for ALL its verbs while English only for an elite group. Maybe that’s Verbism actually. English needs to be careful not to get cancelled.

Seriously though, time to get active.

Are you going to the park?
Gehst du in den Park?

My version:

And a bit longer

Are you going to the park with your brother?
Gehst du mit deinem Bruder in den Park?

hint
mit deinem Bruder

My version:


And a bit longerererer and trickier

“Are you going to go to the park with Maria tomorrow?
Gehst du morgen mit Maria in den Park?

My version:


And now let’s threw in a question word

Why are you going to go to the park with Maria tomorrow?
Warum gehst du morgen mit Maria in den Park?

hint
warum

My version:


Awesome!
Even if you can’t hold all of it in your head right now, don’t worry… just do the exercise a few more times and it’ll start flowing naturally.

Now, maybe the most important question word  for gehen is of course where.
And here, German is a little tricky. Because the German word for where, wo,  can by itself ONLY ask for a currently fixed location.
With gehen, however, we want to know a destination. We don’t want to know “at what location” someone is performing the act of going. We want to know what the DESTINATION is of the act of going.
One of the most common ways to express that is by adding hin to the sentence. You’ll encounter this a lot in your German learning career, and the earlier you get used to it, the better.

The hin is kind of a free spirit, and we have two options to place it. One is to attach to wo, and say wohin. But the more common one is treating it as a verb prefix, and that means we have to put it… exactly… at the end.

Let’s give it a try.

Where are you going?
Wo gehst du hin?

hint
… hin?

My version:


And a bit longer

Where are you going to go on Monday?
Wo gehst du am Montag hin?

hint
am Montag

My version:


And once again a bit longer

Where will you go with Maria tomorrow?
Wo gehst du morgen mit Maria hin?

My version:


Cool.
Let’s do one more

When will you go home?
Wann gehst du nach Hause?

My version:


And now, I think it’s time… for some past tense :)

gehen – The Past Tense

If you have some experience with German past tense already, you’ll know that the helper verb for the spoken past is haben for most verbs, but some go with sein. These are the verbs that are about changing one’s state or location, and that’s exactly what we’re doing when we’re going somewhere.
So of course, gehen goes with sein.

Here’s an example:

  • Thomas ist nach Hause gegangen.

And now it’s your turn.

I went home.
Ich bin nach Hause gegangen.

My version:


Another one

I have gone home.
Ich bin nach Hause gegangen.

hint
past is past ;)

My version:


Did that throw you off :)?
Remember, the version of past that you use in English has very little to do with what’s going on in German.

Let’s make it a bit longer.

I went home early yesterday.
Ich bin gestern früh nach Hause gegangen.

hint
früh

My version:


And now, do you dare do a side sentence :)?
What you need to do is basically move the verb that’s on position two to the very end.
Let’s be bold and give it a shot right away

I said, that I went home early yesterday.
Ich habe gesagt, dass ich gestern früh nach Hause gegangen bin.

hint
Ich habe gesagt, dass… bin.

My version:


Nice!
Let’s maybe do a different sentence:

Thomas went to the park with his brother yesterday.
Thomas ist gestern mit seinem Bruder in den Park gegangen.

hint
mit seinem Bruder

My version:


And again, let’s be bold and try a side sentence.

“I said that Thomas went to the park with his brother yesterday.
Ich habe gesagt, dass Thomas gestern mit seinem Bruder in den Park gegangen ist.

hint
Ich habe gesagt … ist.

My version:


Again, if you have trouble keeping all the elements in your head – that means you’re a normal, sane human being who is nota native speaker of German. I bet two thirds of people reading this have trouble with it, but hey… let’s do a little poll real quick and find out :)

Do you have trouble keeping all the parts in your head?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Sweet.
Now let’s do some questions in past tense. And remember… just like for the present tense, also in past you do NOT use a helper like in English but just the actual verb instead.

Did you go home?
Bist du nach Hause gegangen?

hint
Bist …

My version:


and a bit longer

Did you go home early yesterday?
Bist du gestern früh nach Hause gegangen?

hint
… gestern..

My version:


And now let’s throw in a question word, and throw in a modification for good measure.

Why did Thomas go home so early yesterday?
Warum ist Thomas gestern so früh nach Hause gegangen?

hint
Warum… so früh…

My version:


So far so good.
And now, are you ready for where?
Then let’s do it.
Remember how we needed hin in present tense as an indicator of a destination?
Well, of course we also need it in past tense. And remember how we put it at the end, just like a verb prefix?
Well, we’ll keep treating it that way because that’s pretty much what it is.
The verb is hingehen and the ge-form is hingegangen.
You know what… maybe it’s a bit too cocky, but let’s  try without an example

Where did you go yesterday?
Wo bist du gestern hingegangen?

hint
… hingegangen.

My version:


It’s not a problem if you didn’t get it right. What matters is that you understand why.
And that you get the next one right

Where did you go after the concert yesterday?
Wo bist du gestern nach dem Konzert hingegangen?

hint
… nach dem Konzert…

My version:


And let’s challenge our mental short term RAM memory again

Where did Thomas go with Maria after the concert yesterday?
Wo ist Thomas gestern nach dem Konzert mit Maria hingegangen?

hint
… gestern nach dem Konzert…

My version:


If you could do that without writing it down before… congratulations, you’re B1 now :)

Seriously, I’ve said it multiple times, but I’ll say it again: the goal of these is not that you come and ace them all at the first try. If you do that, then you don’t really need this.
The goal is that you work your way through it and do the exercise a few times within a couple of weeks to really get used to the phrasings. That’ll increase your chances that they come out automatically when you’re out in the wild.

All right, so now we have quite a few building blocks already, but there’s one more thing we need to talk about … beacuse all the examples we had so far were about going in the sense of actually going to a location.

But that’s not all gehen is used for.

So let’s now go over at its other uses and practice those a bit, as well.

“gehen” as “working out”

The first one is gehen in the sense of  working out or being possible.
It’s super common in daily life for short statements that some plan or idea works or doesn’t work.
Like… suppose your friend asks you if you can help them move the couch on Monday, and you want to reply that it works. In German you’d say.

  • Yeah, that works.
  • Ja, das geht.

And now let’s do the same in the negative. Which in German simply means that we add in a nicht, because German doesn’t use helper phrasings like “doesn’t” or “won’t”.

No, that won’t work.
Nein, das geht nicht.

hint
no future tense ;)

My version:


And now let’s try it with questions. Like, suppose you suggest to your friend to meet tomorrow at six, and you want to ask if that’s possible.

Does that work?
Geht das?

hint
two words only ;)

My version:


Yes, it’s THAT short :).
And now, because your friend say no, let’s find out why…

Why is that not possible?
Warum geht das nicht?

My version:


This gehen is pretty much always used with das or es. So you wouldn’t really use it with a noun like der Plan for instance.
The only exception to this is when you talk about a device not functioning. Like your phone for instance.

My cellphone doesn’t work.
Mein Handy geht nicht.

hint
Mein Handy

My version:


And because the phone does it regularly, let’s throw in some anger :)

My sh*t cellphone isn’t working again.
Mein Scheißhandy geht wieder nicht.

hint
…Scheißhandy… wieder…

My version:


And now let’s do that in past tense.
And there’s actually a difference to what we already learning because these figurative uses of gehen go with the written past, the preterit, even in spoken German. Which for gehen is ging

  • Das ging nicht.
  • That didn’t work.

This is pretty important actually, because saying “Das ist nicht gegangen.” sounds very very weird. Like… as if something actually didn’t “go”, as in “walk”.
There are only a few verbs where you do need the preterit, but gehen is definitely one of them, and the same goes for most of its prefix versions. So yeah… let’s give it a try.

Suppose your friend is asking you why you didn’t reply to their messages. You could say this:

My cellphone wasn’t working.
Mein Handy ging nicht.

My version:


And let’s do one more, one that’s a bit longer… do use the hint, if you need it :)

I wanted to come to your party, but it wasn’t possible/ I couldn’t.
Ich wollte zu deiner Party kommen, aber es ging nicht.

hint
Ich wollte zu deiner Party kommen, aber

My version:


Perfect.
And now last but not least, let’s look at the

gehen for “how are you”

English uses to go quite a bit to express how things are.

  • How’s it going?  (general)
  • How’s it going with the project? (specific)

And German uses gehen like that as well, but it’s more limited. Because in German it’s ONLY used in the general sense (example one).
For stuff like example number two, German uses laufen, which we’ll cover in a separate article.

So yeah…it’s actually best to think of this gehen as the counterpart for to do, in phrasings like this one:

  • How are you (doing)?
  • Wie geht es/geht’s (dir)?
    (in spoken German, “geht es” is pretty much always shortened to geht’s unless you want to sound really really serious.)

In German you basically say “How is it going” with an optional dir , which is kind of like “to you” or “for you”.
Without the dir, the question sounds very casual and chatty, while having the dir there makes it sound more serious and empathetic.
So Wie geht’s? is perfect for meeting friends or coworkers or whatever. Wie geht’s dir? is more suited for sitting down with your friend who just got dumped by their partner.

It’s not really a difficult phrasing, but let’s give it some practice anyway.

How are you doing?” (casual)
Wie geht’s?

My version:


***

How are you doing?” (more serious)
Wie geht’s dir?

My version:

And for the reply, you can of course just say an adjective like gut or nicht gut. But the full phrase would be

  • To me, it is going [adjective].

So… let’s put this into German.

I’m doing good.
Mir geht’s gut.

hint
mir

My version:


You can of course say:

  • Es geht mir gut.

But that sounds a bit stiff.

Cool.
Let’s maybe do one with a third person.

How’s Thomas?
Wie geht’s Thomas?

My version:


Names get no case, so we’re good here.
And let’s do a reply:

Thomas is doing great.
Thomas geht’s sehr gut.

hint
use sehr

My version:


And let’s try the same but with a pronoun and a negation.

He’s not feeling well.
Ihm geht’s nicht gut.

hint
Ihm…

My version:

And let’s also ask about Maria real quick.

How’s she doing?
Wie geht’s ihr?

hint
ihr

My version:


And last but not least, let’s do one with the past tense. And just like for the use that was about functioning, we acually need the written past/preterit here.
So if your boss asks you why you weren’t at the company party yesterday, you could say this:

I wasn’t feeling well.
Mir ging es nicht gut.

hint
ging

My version:

And I think that’s it for today!! This was our practical tour of the important phrasings and structures with the verb gehen and if you can master these, you’ll do pretty good in daily life.

As I said, it’s best to come back to this exercise and do it again. It’s probably a bit overwhelming for one session. But do it a few times over a few weeks should be enough to make them sink into your brain :).

I really hope you enjoyed this. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or suggestions.
Have a great week and I’ll see you next time :)

More exercises like this:

5 31 votes
Article Rating

German in your inbox

Sign up to my epic newsletter and get notified whenever I post something new :)
(roughly once per week)

No Spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.