Deutsch 101-326 an der Universität Michigan
 


Home
Kursseiten
Grammatik
Vokabeln
German on the Web
Sprechen
Schreiben
Lesen
Hören
Learning Strategies


German Dept.
LRC
Max Kade House
German Club

PONS online dict.
L.E.O. online dict.
dict.cc
Duden
Wortschatz Deutsch
Contact/Feedback

 

 

 
Konjunktiv II [Subjunctive II]

Diagnostic Exercises

You will be asked 20 questions. IF YOU GET A QUESTION WRONG, KEEP TRYING UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT. THE PROGRAM WILL ONLY CALCULATE YOUR SCORE IF YOU HAVE ANSWERED ALL THE QUESTIONS. Incorrect guesses will reduce your score. When you are finished, click "Submit" if you are satisfied with your score. Remember you need a score of at least 80% in order to get a "check" for this assignment.

Practice Exercises
Uses of Subjunctive II: Contrary-to-fact Statements Other uses of Subjunctive II
Present Subjunctive Forms Past Subjunctive Forms
Subjunctive with Modals Common Pitfalls


Summary

  • Use Subjunctive II for contrary-to-fact statements: what you would do or would have done, but really aren't doing/really didn't do. It's ideal for spineless, wishy washy, Pisces-type losers. Use it also for wishes and polite requests (more Pisces stuff...).  Click here for more details and examples. If you're a Pisces, you probably won't be offended by the silly little jokes on this page about what Pisces people are like, but if you're a Scorpio and you're in love with a Pisces and this makes you mad, you should know that I'm a Pisces and that I'm just kidding. My therapist is helping me love myself the way I am.
  • Present subjunctive can be formed in two ways: "würde + infinitive" or a one-word form based on the simple past form of the verb.

  •  
    ich würde gehen
    ich ginge
    I would go


    The two forms mean the same, but the one-word form is considered more formal and is falling into disuse.  For haben, sein and the modal verbs, however, the one-word form is preferable, and we will require you to use it on tests.  For all other verbs, use whichever form you prefer, but stick to "würde + infinitive" if you're in doubt.  Click here for more details and examples.

  • There is only one way to form the past subjunctive.  It is based on the perfect tense of the verb:

  •  
    Infinitiv Perfekt Konjunktiv II Englisch
    essen ich habe gegessen ich hätte gegessen I would have eaten
    rennen ich bin gerannt ich wäre gerannt I would have run


    To form past subjunctive, just change "haben" to "hätte" and "sein" to "wäre."  Click here for more details and examples.

  • Present subjunctive with a modal verb is just what you would expect:

  •  
    Manni sollte die Tasche nicht vergessen. Manni should not forget the bag.
    Dann müsste Lola nicht rennen. Then Lola would not have to run.


    To form the past subjunctive with a modal verb, you need to use a double infinitive.  The auxiliary verb will always be "hätte," even if the main verb is a verb of motion or describes a change of state:
     

    Manni hätte die Tasche nicht vergessen sollen. Manni should not have forgotten the bag.
    Dann hätte Lola nicht rennen müssen. Then Lola would not have had to run.


    Click here for more details and examples.

  • Common mistakes that indicate you have not understood the subjunctive are using "würde" (which is used to form the present subjunctive) with a past participle of a verb (which is used to form the past subjunctive), or using "hätte" or "wäre" (which are used to form the past subjunctive) with the infinitive of the verb (which is used to form the present subjunctive):

  •  
    Falsch
    Richtig
    Ich würde gegangen.
    Ich wäre gehen.
    Ich würde gehen. [=I would go]
    Ich wäre gegangen. [=I would have gone]

     
  • Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Rumanian have Conditional and Subjunctive moods. German Subjunctive II corresponds much more closely to the Conditional mood in these languages (used for saying what you would do or would have done) than to the Subjunctive mood, which is used in these languages primarily in conjunction with certain verbs expressing beliefs, desires and uncertainties (and corresponds to some extent to the Subjunctive I in German in this respect).
     
  • Pisces are sweet, lovable people who might smoke.  Don't let anyone hurt their feelings.
Zurück nach oben

Practice Exercises

Konjunktiv oder Indikativ? Get a feel for the Subjunctive by deciding if these statements are subjunctive or not. Note: We had a bit of fun writing the detailed feedback for this exercise. Of course we hope you'll find it helpful and perhaps amusing, but if you find it annoying or confusing, please just ignore the detailed feedback and focus on the basic "right" and "wrong" feedback. There are 31 items here, so that should give you plenty of practice.

Was würde Emeril Lagasse machen? Practice using "würde + infinitive" to form present subjunctive statements about how the famous Food Network chef would make hot dogs.

Emeril Lagasse im Märchen More present subjunctive practice using Emeril Lagasse: this time, say what he would do in various fairy tales.

Präsens oder Vergangenheit? Practice distinguishing present and past subjunctive:

Richtig oder falsch? Which of these sentences contains the common mistakes described on this page? [Mixing present and past subjunctive (würde & past participle, or hätte/wäre + infinitive) or failing to use a double infinitive for a past subjunctive statement involving a modal verb]

Das Studentenleben Choose the correct present or past subjunctive form. Half of the items involve modal verbs. Going through these should really help you understand the distinction between present and past subjunctive, and should help you understand how to use modal verbs in the present and past subjunctive.

Sätze formen Write logical sentences in the past or present subjunctive based on the prompts.

Zurück nach oben

Uses of Subjunctive II: Contrary-to-fact Statements

Technically, the subjunctive is a "mood," not a "tense"--odd terminology, but fun: sometimes you're in the mood for the facts ==> you use the regular, indicative mood, other times you're in the mood for what would be, for wishing, for "if only" statements ==> you use the subjunctive mood.  Just as the indicative mood has various tenses, the subjunctive mood has a present tense and a past tense.

You use the subjunctive mood when you want to talk about how things would, could or should be, how things would, could or should have been--the point being, however, that these are contrary-to-fact ("counterfactual") statements, i.e. this is not how things actually are or were.  Here are some examples:
 

Indicative
Subjunctive
I eat SPAM every day. I would eat SPAM every day (if I was crazy...).  ==> I don't actually eat SPAM every day.
Ich esse SPAM jeden Tag. Ich würde jeden Tag SPAM essen.
I did my homework on time. I would have done my homework on time (if I hadn't met the man/woman of my dreams in the library yesterday).
==> I didn't actually do my homework on time.
Ich habe meine Hausaufgaben pünktlich gemacht. Ich hätte meine Hausaufgaben pünktlich gemacht.
I handed my homework in later. I would have handed my homework in later (if my ex hadn't gotten mad and burned my room because supposedly we're still dating and not allowed to see other people).
==> I didn't actually hand my homework in later.
Ich habe meine Hausaufgaben später abgegeben. Ich hätte meine Hausaufgaben später abgegeben.
I do my homework every day. I would do my homework every day (but my love life gets in the way).
==> I don't actually do my homework every day.
Ich mache meine Hausaufgaben jeden Tag. Ich würde meine Hausaufgaben jeden Tag machen.
I don't obsess about hypothetical romances. I wouldn't obsess about hypothetical romances (but I have issues).
==> I do actually obsess about hypothetical romances.
Ich denke nicht zwanghaft [=obsessively] an hypothetische Romanzen. Ich würde nicht zwanghaft [=obsessively] an hypothetische Romanzen denken.
I'm not supposed to make mean generalizations about Pisces.
[It's a fact that I am not supposed to do this.  I may break this rule, but it's a fact that the rule exists.]
I shouldn't make mean generalizations about Pisces (but I'm a Pisces, so I like astrology...).
==> I do actually make mean generalizations about Pisces.
Ich soll keine gemeinen Verallgemeinerungen über Fische machen. Ich sollte keine gemeinen Verallgemeinerungen über Fische machen.

Wenn-statements

Generally, wenn-statements are counterfactual: "If X was the case, then Y would be the case" (but X is not the case) ==> generally, they require subjunctive:
 

Wenn ich reich wäre, würde ich einen Opel Speedster kaufen.

If I were rich, I would buy an Opel Speedster [but I'm not rich, so I can't afford it].

In case "If I were rich..." sounds odd to you, note that in colloquial English, one would say "If I was rich..."

Wenn ich Salieri gekannt hätte, hätte ich ihn über Mozart gefragt. If I had known Salieri, I would have asked him about Mozart [but I didn't know him, so I couldn't ask him].
Wenn ich mehr Zeit hätte, würde ich mehr Beispiele schreiben. If I had more time, I would write more examples [but I don't, so I won't, and you don't need more examples anyway, right?]

In "if"-statements about future events, the choice between indicative and subjunctive is sometimes dependent on how you perceive a situation:
 

Indicative
Subjunctive
If you build it, they will come.
[The person making this statement thinks it's quite likely that you will build it.]
(Click here to find out more about "it"...)
If you built it, they would come.
[The person making this statement doesn't think it's likely that you will actually build it.]
(The movie would not have worked this way...)
Wenn du es baust, werden sie kommen. Wenn du es bauen würdest, würden sie kommen.
If you start treating me like a real person and don't interrupt me whenever you feel like it and cook dinner for me once in a while, then we can keep dating.
[The person making this statement (is probably a Pisces and is living in a dream world where s/he) thinks it's quite likely that the egotistical loser s/he is dating will actually suddenly start treating him/her with respect and stop thinking of himself/herself as the center of the universe.]
If you started treating me like a real person and didn't interrupt me whenever you feel like it and cooked dinner for me once in a while, then we could keep dating.
[The person making this statement realizes it's very unlikely that these things will happen, and expects the relationship to end.  Probably a wise perspective.  Of course you never know.  You really love someone, maybe you need to have the faith that they can change, and then maybe they will.  But then, I'm a Pisces...]
If you delete all this extraneous &*%$ about relationships, the students will have a chance of understanding the subjunctive.
[The person making this statement thinks it's quite likely that Hartmut will listen and get rid of the extraneous &*%$.]
If you deleted all this extraneous &*%$ about relationships, the students would have a chance of understanding the subjunctive.
[The person making this statement thinks it's quite unlikely that Hartmut will listen and get rid of the extraneous &*%$.]

A Note on "Would" in the sense of "Used to"

In English, "would" is sometimes used used to indicate that you did something habitually, as in "When I was little, I would cry whenever I heard the ice cream man."  This use of "would" is not subjunctive: you're saying what you actually habitually did.  To translate such a statement, just use the regular past tense: "Als ich ein Kind war, habe ich immer geweint, wenn ich den Eiswagen gehört habe."  Contrast this with the subjunctive statement "If I heard the ice cream man, I would cry" [but I'm not hearing him, so I'm not crying]: "Wenn ich den Eiswagen hören würde, würde ich weinen."

Zurück nach oben

Other uses of Subjunctive II

Wishes

These fit in well with the above, since when you wish for something, what you're wishing for isn't a fact.  Common ways to express wishes are:
 
Ich wünschte,...
[Note that this is actually the subjunctive of "wünschen."  This seems wrong, since you are actually making the wish ==> it would be logical to use the indicative.  But it has become standard even in formal language to use the subjunctive here. This oddity seems to come from the same linguistic impulse that generates the common children's error in English of saying e.g. "I wished I had a teddy bear" instead of "I wish I had a teddy bear"]
I wish...
Wenn ...nur
[Place the "nur" early in the sentence, but generally after the subject, direct object and any pronouns.]
If only...
  • Es wäre toll, wenn...
  • Es wäre schön, wenn...
  • It would be great if...
  • It would be nice if...


Here are some examples.  Note the verb position in each case: verb second after "Ich wünschte," verb final after "Wenn...nur" and "Es wäre toll/schön, wenn...."
 

  • Ich wünschte, die Backstreet Boys würden verschwinden.
  • Ich wünschte, es gäbe keine Boy-Bands.
  • Ich wünschte, ich könnte ein Backstreet Boy sein.
  • I wish the BS Boys would disappear.
  • I wish there were no Boy Bands.
  • I wish I could be a BS Boy.
     
  • Wenn die BS Boys nur verschwinden würden.
  • Wenn es nur keine Boy-Bands gäbe.
  • Wenn ich nur ein BS-Boy sein könnte.
  • If only the BS Boys would disappear.
  • If only there were no Boy Bands.
  • If only I could be a BS Boy.
  • Es wäre toll, wenn die Backstreet Boys verschwinden würden.
  • Es wäre schön, wenn es keine Boy-Bands gäbe.
  • Es wäre toll, wenn ich  ein BS-Boy sein könnte.
  • It would be great if the BS Boys would disappear.
  • It would be nice if there were no Boy Bands.
  • It would be great if I could be a BS Boy.
     
     

For the second sentence in each of the above examples, note that "es gäbe" is the subjunctive of "es gibt" [=there is/are] ==> means "there would be."

Polite requests

As in English, Subjunctive II can be used to soften requests and make them more polite [=höflich ==> please learn this word, since you'll hear it repeatedly while we cover subjunctive in class!]:
 
Less polite (indicative)
More polite (subjunctive)
Bringen Sie mir bitte eine Cola. Würden Sie mir bitte eine Cola bringen?
Ich will eine Cola. Ich möchte eine Cola/Ich hätte gern eine Cola.
Können Sie mir helfen? [=Can you help me?] Könnten Sie mir helfen? [=Could you help me?]
Geben Sie mir Ihr erstgeborenes Kind. Würden Sie mir bitte Ihr erstgeborenes Kind geben?

Zurück nach oben

Present Subjunctive Forms

Present subjunctive can be formed in two ways: "würde + infinitive" or a one-word form based on the simple past form of the verb.
 
ich würde gehen
ich ginge
I would go
ich würde tanzen
ich tanzte
I would dance

Forming the One-Word Form

For weak (regular) verbs, the one-word form is identical to the simple past (consequently, it is very often replaced by "würde + infinitive" in order to avoid misunderstandings:
 
Simple Past (danced)
Subjunctive II (would dance)
ich tanzte ich tanzte
du tanztest du tanztest
er/sie/es tanzte er/sie/es tanzte
wir tanzten wir tanzten
ihr tanztet ihr tanztet
sie/Sie tanzten sie/Sie tanzten


For strong (irregular) verbs, the one-word form consists of the simple past stem with an umlaut added if possible, and with the same pattern of endings used for weak verbs:
 

Simple Past (went/saw/ran/drove)
Subjunctive II (would go/see/run/drive)
ich ging/sah/lief/fuhr ich ginge/sähe/liefe/führe
du gingst/sahst/liefst/fuhrst du ging(e)st/säh(e)st/lief(e)st/führ(e)st
er/sie/es ging/sah/lief/fuhr er/sie/es ginge/sähe/liefe/führe
wir gingen/sahen/liefen/fuhren wir gingen/sähen/liefen/führen
ihr gingt/saht/lieft/fuhrt ihr ging(e)t/säh(e)t/lief(e)t/führ(e)t
sie/Sie gingen/sahen/liefen/fuhren sie/Sie gingen/sähen/liefen/führen


There are some exceptions to these rules, notably the mixed verbs, some of which have vowel changes, some of which don't (denken ==> dächte, bringen ==> brächte, wissen ==> wüsste, but nennen ==> nennte, rennen ==> rennte etc.), and some strong verbs with unpredictable vowel changes that occur only in Subjunctive II.  However, irregular subjunctives of this sort have almost completely disappeared from ordinary usage ==> we will not go into these.  The only ones of which you should be aware because they might occur in texts you might read, or occasionally in speech, are:
 

wissen wüsste
bringen brächte
denken dächte
stehen stünde
sterben stürbe


We don't expect you to be able to produce these forms on tests: just use "würde + infinitive," which will in any case be better, except perhaps for "wissen"--see below.

Würde + infinitive versus the one-word form:

The two forms mean the same, but the one-word form is considered more formal and is falling into disuse.  For haben, sein and the modal verbs, however, the one-word form is preferable, and we will require you to use it on tests.  For all other verbs, use whichever form you prefer, but stick to "würde + infinitive" if you're in doubt.  Here are some more details:

Verbs for which you should almost always use the one-word form:

haben ich hätte
sein ich wäre
können ich könnte
müssen ich müsste
dürfen ich dürfte
mögen ich möchte
sollen ich sollte
wollen ich wollte


Verbs for which the one-word form is often used:

brauchen ich bräuchte
finden ich fände
geben ich gäbe
gehen ich ginge
kommen ich käme
tun ich täte
wissen ich wüsste


For most other verbs, you can generally assume that the one-word form will sound quite formal.

Weak verbs

For weak verbs, the one-word form is identical to the simple past (sagen ==> ich sagte; lachen ==> ich lachte etc.).  This can often create ambiguity, so the "würde" form is used particularly frequently to avoid this.

Zurück nach oben

Past Subjunctive Forms

There is only one way to form the past subjunctive.  It is based on the perfect tense of the verb.  To form past subjunctive, just change "haben" to "hätte" and "sein" to "wäre":
 
Infinitiv Perfekt Konjunktiv II Englisch
essen ich habe gegessen ich hätte gegessen I would have eaten
tanzen ich habe getanzt ich hätte getanzt I would have danced
mitsingen ich habe mitgesungen ich hätte mitgesungen I would have sung along
feiern ich habe gefeiert ich hätte gefeiert I would have celebrated
verstehen ich habe verstanden ich hätte verstanden I would have understood
rennen ich bin gerannt ich wäre gerannt I would have run
springen ich bin gesprungen ich wäre gesprungen I would have jumped
explodieren ich bin explodiert ich wäre explodiert I would have exploded
aufwachen ich bin aufgewacht ich wäre aufgewacht I would have woken up


Click here to see a dumb joke involving past subjunctive

Zurück nach oben

Subjunctive with Modals

Present subjunctive with a modal verb is just what you would expect:
 
Manni sollte die Tasche nicht vergessen. Manni should not forget the bag.
Dann müsste Lola nicht rennen. Then Lola would not have to run.


To form the past subjunctive with a modal verb, you need to use a double infinitive.  The auxiliary verb will always be "hätte," even if the main verb is a verb of motion or describes a change of state:
 

Manni hätte die Tasche nicht vergessen sollen. Manni should not have forgotten the bag.
Dann hätte Lola nicht rennen müssen. Then Lola would not have had to run.

Students sometimes think that the double infinitive construction is hard, but actually the only hard part is remembering that you have to use it, since you only need infinitives and the auxiliary verb will always be hätte and not wäre. Here's a sample sentence from Lonka, age 2 3/4:

Mama, wenn wir heute kein Apfelmuesli gehabt hätten, hätte ich Eierpfannkuchen essen können. Mom, if we hadn't had Apfelmuesli today, I could have eaten [German-style] pancakes.

Past subjunctive with modals is most commonly used with können [==> I could have...], sollen [==> I should have...] and müssen [==> I would have had to... or I really should have...].  Here is a complete table of the possibilities:
 

Ich hätte lachen können I could have laughed
Ich hätte lachen sollen I should have laughed
Ich hätte lachen müssen I would have had to laugh 
or
I really should have laughed
Ich hätte lachen dürfen I would have been allowed to laugh
Ich hätte lachen wollen I would have wanted to laugh
Ich hätte lachen mögen [quite rarely used] I would have liked to laugh

"I could": Indicative vs. Subjunctive Revisited

The English "could" can denote indicative or subjunctive moods.  Here's how to tell the difference:

If could indicates something you might do in the future, it's subjunctive: "Ich könnte ein 'A' in diesem Kurs bekommen."  If it indicates something you were or were not able to do in the past, it's just the past tense of "können," not subjunctive: "Ich konnte letztes Semester ein 'A' in meinem Deutschkurs bekommen" [no umlaut on "konnte"].  For what you could have done in the past (but didn't), you need past subjunctive ==> the double infinitive construction: Ich hätte ein 'A' bekommen können, wenn ich mehr gelernt hätte."  More examples:
 

Ich konnte schlafen I could [was able to] sleep [==> I did sleep!]
Ich könnte schlafen I could [would be able to] sleep [something I might be able to do now or in the future]
Ich hätte schlafen können I could have slept [but didn't]
Ich konnte mein Fahrrad reparieren I could [was able to] repair my bike [==> I did repair it!]
Ich könnte mein Fahrrad reparieren I could [would be able to] repair my bike [something I might be able to do now or in the future]
Ich hätte mein Fahrrad reparieren können [quite rarely used] I could have repaired my bike [but didn't]

Zurück nach oben

Common Pitfalls

Mixing Present and Past Subjunctive

Common mistakes that indicate you have not understood the subjunctive are using "würde" (which is used to form the present subjunctive) with a past participle of a verb (which is used to form the past subjunctive), or using "hätte" or "wäre" (which are used to form the past subjunctive) with the infinitive of the verb (which is used to form the present subjunctive):
 
Falsch
Richtig
Ich würde gegangen.
Ich wäre gehen.
Ich würde gehen. [=I would go]
Ich wäre gegangen. [=I would have gone]


Comparison/Contrast with Spanish/French/Italian/Portuguese/Rumanian

In these languages, you will have learned about the Conditional and the Subjunctive moods. German Subjunctive II corresponds much more closely to the Conditional mood in these languages (used for saying what you would do or would have done) than to the Subjunctive mood, which is used in these languages primarily in conjunction with certain verbs expressing beliefs, desires and uncertainties (and corresponds to some extent to the Subjunctive I in German in this respect).

Zurück nach oben



   
 

Site Index | Site Questions or Notice Errors | © 2013