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Konjunktive und indirekte Rede
(Subjunctives and Indirect Speech)

As in many languages, familiarity with the forms of verb inflection is prerequisite to understanding the topic of subjunctives and indirect speech. Thus one may be familiar with the inflections table of the regular verbs, which is one of fundamental import. The table's Tempus (i.e. tense) coordination applies strictly, yet only for the Indikativ forms. Tempus coordination for the Konjunktiv forms follows the rules discussed in this page and is decoupled from the formal Tempus associations in the table. See also Tempus decoupling under Würde forms, in this page.

Attempts to gain an understanding of this topic from interpreting English grammar equivalents would seem to be limited to some conversational elements of German. There are only three rules mandating use of the subjunctive in the English language. By comparison, we can count at least 12 application rules in the German grammar. The English grammar does use a conditional, though only in minimal form, whereas the German grammar uses no conditional. There are many pitfalls, when one tries to interprete just what is equivalent, and what is not, between the two grammars. We believe users of this grammar, translators and interpreters in particular, may consider helpful a summary of pertinent grammatical rules in the English grammar. See near the end of this page or click at the Table of Contents, below.

Our following presentation is confined to a set of several self consistent rules that seem to comprehensively cover at least 90 % of all applications of the subjunctive in current German use and style.

Table of Contents of this page
Application Rules for Indikativ, Konjunktiv I
Application Rules for Konjunktiv II
Application Rules for Konjunktiv II würde Form
Application Rules for Indirekte RedeEnglish Grammar Rules for Subjunctive and Conditional

Application Rules Indikativ

  1. Indikativ forms can almost always be used instead of Konjunktiv I or II, when (a) the essence is made clear. Example: Papa, du hast mir versprochen, du kaufst mir ein neues Rad. Er sagt, daß er kommen wird (not: er sagt er wird kommen). And, (b), with certain Modaladverbien, Modalverben, or modal verb groups that can tilt the mood towards the subjunctive. These are sicherlich, meiner (unserer, eurer, ihrer) Meinung nach, meines Erachtens, ich vermute, kann, muß. Examples: Er ist sicherlich zu Hause, Sie wird vielleicht kommen. Zweifellos war es das beste, die Fahrt abzubrechen. Er vermutet, daß es regnen wird. Es wird schon wieder schneien.
  2. Indikativ should be used in conditional phrases when stating a reality. That is statements about something real, formulating a feasible condition or something doable. Both clauses of a conditional sentence must be in the same Modus. See also below (Sec. 2, Konjunktiv II).

Application Rules Konjunktiv I
As far as percent usage is concerned, the Konjunktiv forms are used much less than the Indikativ forms. Konjunktiv forms are mandated, however, in many applications. Failure to use the Konjunktiv changes the meaning, as can easily be verified. Following are the mandatory Konjunktiv I applications, not including those in the indirect speech.

Application Rules for Konjunktiv II

  1. Though the Konjunktiv II forms of irregular verbs do exist, one can use their würde form for improved style. See Würde Form, below! The würde form seems to be preferred in all but the most frequently used irregular verbs, which, of course, include the auxiliary verbs and modular verbs. In oral communication, the würde form is always accepted, except for the auxiliary and modal verbs. For more on this topic, go to Irregular Konjunktiv II forms, which includes an applications listing of the irregular verbs.
  2. Use Konjunktiv II to express matters one only imagines, though they have not occured and actually cannot occur. One only imagines them to be real. When expressing this in a conditional sentence, both of its clauses must have the same Modus. Examples real (a) versus imaginary (b):
  3. Konjunktiv II Coordination

    Indikativ quotation of facts The corresponding
    Konjunktiv II formulation
    Expression in Präsens, Futur I or II

    "Es heilt."
    "Es wird heilen."
    "Es wird geheilt haben."
    Use the Verb or Modalverb in Konjunktiv II

    Es heilte
    Es würde heilen
    Es würde geheilt haben
    Expression in the past

    "Es heilte."
    "Es mußte heilen."
    Use haben/sein in Konjunktiv II + either Partizip II,
    or Modalverb in Ersatzinifinitiv form

    Es hätte geheilt.
    Es hätte heilen müssen.

  4. When Konjunktiv I (Präsens) and Indicativ Präsens are identical in form, then the Konjunktiv II, or a Modalverb + Infinitiv, is used; however, only wenn there is no Konjunktiv II in a connecting clause or alreadey clear reference to a Konjunktiv II. Examples: Ich habe nicht geglaubt, daß er die Rechnung bezahlen würde. Wir gingen ins Theater, wenn mein Freund mitkäme. ("Wir gingen" being an ambiguous form, "mitkommen" is cast in Konjunktiv II). Wir würden ins Theater gehen, wenn uns mein Freund besucht.
  5. In irreal conditional phrases; particularly in a clause with the conjunction wenn. Examples: Der arme Mann! Wenn ihm doch jemand was schenken wollte! Mit einem besseren Diplom könnten Sie bei unserer Firma arbeiten. Wenn er gewinnen würde, könnte er es tun. Auch wenn man mir 1000 Mark anbieten würde, verkaufte ich es nicht.
  6. In phrases with an irreal desire, with or without wenn, and frequently with doch. Examples: Wenn doch mein Vater käme! Wenn ich diesen Fehler doch nicht gemacht hätte!
  7. In dependent phrases with an irreal comparison, after any of the conjunctions als, als ob, als wenn. Example: Er gibt so viel Geld aus, als wäre er ein Millionär.
  8. In dependent phrases, upon the negating conjunction ohne daß . Example: Es wird schon lange daran gearbeitet, ohne daß man einen Fortschritt sehen könnte. (= For a long time already, one has been working on it, although one can see no progress). Note the drastic change in meaning when this is put in indicative form: Es wird schon lange daran gearbeitet, ohne einen Fortschritt zu sehen. (= For a long time already, one has been working on it, not seeing any progress.)
  9. Note, a comparison is started with als daß, when depending upon an adjective or adverb. Then it uses Konjunktiv II. Example: Ich habe zu wenig Geld, als daß ich ein Haus kaufen könnte.
  10. In polite requests addressed to 2.Person Singular or Plural, frequently phrased in würde form. Examples: Hätten Sie die Liebenswürdigkeit, bald hierher zu kommen? Würden Sie bitte den Auftrag so bald wie möglich erfüllen. Wir wären Ihnen zu Dank verpflichtet, wenn Sie die Zahlungsfrist genau beachten wollen.

Würde Form

Modus Change Note: Modus change is legal when reflecting a reality. Example: Wenn wir hier übernachten müßten, dann werden wir sehr früh aufbrechen.

Indirekte Rede (Indirect Speech)
Indirekte Rede is the most frequent application of Konjunktiv I and II. A shift from direct - i.e. quoting - speech to indirect speech offers several alternatives, in which the Tempus changes according to certain rules. For an example, following are Konjunktiv versions that relate to the direct speech statement: Karl behaupted "davon habe ich nichts gewußt."

Following are the rules.

Go to Verb Inflections
Go to Auxiliary Verbs and Modal Verbs
Return to the IHGG Home Page

Created: 13.04.98
Last modified: 17.06.98
Author: H.Vogel email: hvogel@travlang.com
Site maintained by: H.Vogel

Copyright (c)H.Vogel at The Travlang Company, 1998.

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