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The subjunctive in German grammar

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The subjunctive in German grammar

INDEX OF CONTENTS

  • When is the subjunctive I used?
  • How is the subjunctive I formed?
  • Subjunctive I
  • When do you use the subjunctive II?
  • How is the subjunctive II formed?
  • Subjunctive II (present) potential form

We use the subjunctive in German for situations that are not real, but only possible, when we imagine or wish something , we also find subjunctive in the main sentence of unreal conditional sentences or when we repeat a statement in an indirect speech.

We will try to give you an explanation of the difference between subjunctive I and subjunctive II in formation and their use.

When is the subjunctive I used?

We use the subjunctive I to:

  • Er sagt, er habe sich noch nie so jung gefühlt.
    (He says he has never felt so young.)

How is the I subjunctive formed?

Only the verb sein is still used in all forms in the subjunctive I:

  • Ich bin, du bist, er ist, wir sind, du bist, si sind
    I am, you are, he is, we are, you are, they are

Example:

  • Sagte, sie waren im Kino
    He said they were at the movies.

With all other verbs, we generally just use the subj. I in the third person singular (he / she / is / man). To do this, we just have to remove the n from the infinitive. (Modal verbs are still common in the 1st and 3rd person singular).

Example:

  • haben – er habe (to have – has)
  • schreiben – er schreibe (write –write)
  • müssen – ich müsse, er müsse (duty, must and must)

In the second person (you / she), the subjunctive I and the indicative are only differentiated by the e in the subjunctive I. Therefore, we often prefer the subjunctive II, this makes it easier to distinguish the form of the indicative.

Example:

  • du träumst – du träumest
    you dream – you dream
  • ihr geht – ihr gehet
    you go – you go

For the 1st person singular (I) and the 1st / 3rd Person plural (we, they) it does not differ from the indicative of the subjunctive I. Therefore, we have to use the subjunctive II for these people.

Example:

  • “Sie gehen joggen” – Er sagt, sie gingen joggen. (Konj. II)
    “They go jogging” – He says they went jogging. (Conj. II)

Example of German verb tenses in subjunctive I.

We can form the subjunctive in present, perfect and future. In the following overview there is an example of verbs for each tense that form the perfect with have / be.

Subjunctive I

  • Präsens, er gehe, er sage.
    Present tense, he goes, he says.
  • Perfekt er, sei gegangen, er habe gesagt
    Perfect, gone , said
  • Futur I, er werde gehen, er werde sagen.
    Future, he will go, say
  • Futur II, er werde gegangen sein, er werde gesagt haben.
    Future II, would have gone, would have said
  • Konjunktiv II
    Future (Konjunktiv II)

We use the subjunctive when we speak of something that is currently not possible . We also use the subjunctive II in indirect speech or with particularly polite questions / statements.

When do you use the subjunctive II?

In German we use subjunctive II for: (unreal) wishes and hopes

Example:

  • Ich wünschte, ich hätte Ferien.
    Wish I was on vacation.

Unreal statements / conditional sentences (see conditional sentence)

Example:

  • Wenn ich im Urlaub wäre, läge ich den ganzen Tag am Strand.
    If I was on vacation I would be at the beach all day.

Indirect speech, if the subjunctive I is not possible.

Example:

  • Unser Lehrer sagt, wir müssten noch viel lernen.
    Our teacher says we still have a lot to learn.

Particularly polite or cautious questions / statements

Example:

  • Wärst du so freundlich, an die Tafel zu kommen?
    Would you be so kind as to come to the meeting?

How is the subjunctive II formed?

There are two forms of the subjunctive II, depending on whether it is a situation in the present or in the past.

For present situations

For situations in the present , we add the subjunctive ending to the root of the past tense (see the table below, find the column). Strong verbs with a / o / u receive an umlaut.

Example:

  • finden (fand) – er fände
    (find (found) – he would find)

In the following overview you will find the conjugation of sein / haben, as well as the ending of other verbs in the subjunctive II for the present. Also, the form would is conjugated in the table, which we often use as a substitute for the subjunctive.

Subj. II (present) potential form

1. Singular Person ich fände ich wäre ich hätte ich würde…
2. Singular Person du fändest du wär (e) st du hättest du würdest …
3. Singular Person er fände er wäre er hätte er würde …
1. Person Plural wir fänden wir wären wir hätten wir würden…
2. Person Plural ihr fändet ihr wär (e) t ihr hättet ihr würdet …

Potential form instead of subj. II

Weak verbs and some mixed verbs do not differ from the indicative past tense in the subjunctive II. This is why we generally rewrite these verbs as we would.

Example:

  • ich wartete – ich würde warten
    I expected – I expected

For situations in the past we use the subj. II of sein / haben + past participle.

Example:

  • ich wäre gegangen / ich hätte gesagt
    I would have gone / said

In the following overview you will find an example of conjugation in the subjunctive II for the past tense for verbs that require sein or have.

Subjunctive II (past tense) gehen sagen (go say)

1. Singular Person ich wäre gegangen ich hätte gesagt
2. Singular Person du wär (e) st gegangen du hättest gesagt
3. Singular Person er wäre gegangen er hätte gesagt
1. Person Plural wir wären gegangen wir hätten gesagt
2. Person Plural ihr wär (e) t gegangen ihr hättet gesagt
3. Person Plural sie wären gegangen sie hätten gesagt

Do not forget! These are all the calls soon available to obtain your official German qualification.

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