I'm yet to get to German subjunctive but your post intrigued me so much, could you tell me more about this German awesomeness? :3
This… is gonna be long.
Okay, so in German, we have two forms of the subjunctive, creatively called Konjunktiv I (the present tense) and Konjunktiv II (the past tense). Konjunktiv II is much better known because it’s also what we use for the conditional, so I’ll start with that one before going on to what I meant before.
So first of all: forming it. You take the imperfect forms, if there’s a possibility to stick an umlaut on, you do so, and you add in an -e(-) as part of the ending if there wasn’t one already. Eg:
war - wäre warst - wärest war - wäre waren - wären wart - wäret waren - wären Here you see the added umlaut as well as some e’s
hatte - hätte hattest - hättest hatte - hätte hatten - hätten hattet - hättet hatten - hätten Here there were no e’s to add, but we have the umlaut
ging - ginge gingst - gingest ging - ginge gingen - gingen gingt - ginget gingen - gingen Here there are no umlauts, but you see the extra e’s still
Many weak verbs have no difference in form, eg passte could be indicative or subjunctive. With some exceptions, the only verbs that are really used in Konjunktiv II are auxiliaries or modals (so sein, haben, werden, müssen, wollen*, sollen*, wissen, dürfen, können, mögen..). Wollen and sollen don’t take umlauts, and some of these verbs have forms you may have already seen (ich möchte, ich könnte for example). Werden (würde, würdest, würde, würden, würdet, würden) is used as an auxiliary for most other verbs, eg ich würde passen instead of ich passte and ich würde gehen instead of ich ginge.
The main use of the imperfect subjunctive / Konjunktiv II is for the conditional or for hypothetical situations etc. For example:
Wenn ich reich wäre, würde ich nie wieder arbeiten. If I were rich, I’d never work again. Wenn ich die Zeit hätte, würde ich gern mitkommen. If I had the time, I’d gladly come along. Wenn ich Auto fahren könnte, müsste ich nicht den Bus nehmen. If I could drive a car, I wouldn’t have to take the bus.
Onto the present / Konjunktiv I then. First we’ll talk about forming it, then I’ll explain its uses. This also works with extra e’s - you take the stem of the infinitive (ie remove the -en), and add the endings -e, -est, -e, -en, -et, -en. So we get:
leben lebest lebe leben lebet leben You’ll notice that the ich, wir, and sie forms are all the same as the indicative, as they already had the e.
gehe gehest gehe gehen gehet gehen
But what’s important is that almost all irregularities (except for sein, which I’ll get to) leave when you do this - you really do just take the stem, regardless of the verb.
habe habest* (not like hast) habe haben habet haben Here again the ich, wir, and sie forms are still the same.
könne (not like kann) könnest (not like kannst) könne können könnet können Here you’ll see that the ich form is also different because it’s not longer irregular like it used to be, though wir and sie are still the same
As I said, the one verb which has its own forms is sein, which goes sei, seiest, sei, seien, seiet, seien.
The most important thing that the present subjunctive is used for is reported speech. If you’re relaying somebody else’s words, you kind of “take a step back” from it, and so people can see that what you’re saying is not what you think, or even necessarily true, but what someone else has said. You’ll see it all the time in newspapers and any journalistic writing, really. (I’m looking for good example sentences and so many of them are relationship advice hahaha)
Er sagt, ich sei seine Traumfrau (oder: Er sagt, dass ich seine Traumfrau sei). He said that I’m his dream woman. Sie sagte mir auf Englisch, sie könne kein Deutsch (oder: .. dass sie kein Deutsch könne). She told me in English that she couldn’t speak German. Er sagte, er habe das schon gemacht (oder: Er sagte, dass er das schon gemacht habe. He said he already did it / had already done it.
It’s almost exclusively used in the 3rd person (sometimes in the 1st but not really ever in the 2nd). Because it communicates the idea of reported speech, you can use it without a clear “speech” word (sagen, behaupten, laut etc) and it means it can sort of take the idea of “supposedly/supposed to” or “apparently”. (NB - it also has a small use in like “wishes”, in parallel to other languages, so sentences like “long live… (Germany, the king etc)” or “thank god!/god be praised!” (es lebe… (Deutschland, der König usw) / Gott sei dank!) would also take this)
Finally, although it’s the present subjunctive that is normally used for reported speech, if the form is the same (so normally for the plural), you would replace it with the past. For example, in the sentence Die Leute sagen, sie haben kein Geld (The people say they have no money), haben could be indicative or subjunctive, so you’d see it put into the Konjunktiv II instead to make sure it’s clear - Die Leute sagen, sie hätten kein Geld.
This is a very long post and yet I feel like I’ve covered an awful lot in a very short space of time. Let me know if there’s anything I messed up or anything else you want further clarified!
Hi, I wanted to make this ask for months, but was afraid to, but now I feel like I can do this. Is it easy to learn German, I stared the basics not too long ago and the gendered nouns are a huge pain imo. Any tips to remember which form of 'the' to use?
hi! first of all, you don’t need to be afraid, to ask anything – i’m glad you have the courage to now. this is going to be under a read more, because i think it will be a long post, i’ll give you all my knowledge about my language. i’m so happy you’re learning german!!
so, for any german learners, this is for you: tips from a native speaker!