sei es drum

Using Subjunctive/Konjunktiv I in German

In this hugeass post I will explain how to use Subjunctive/Konjunktiv I in German, a very small but important thing to know! This is different to Subjunctive II (which is far more common than I) and English doesn’t really have such a distinct thing.

> What is it?

It is an example of a ‘mood’ in German - Indikativ, Imperativ, Konjunktiv I and Konjunktiv II are all the ‘moods’ in German.

> Yeah what? Explain how I use it!

There are two main uses - for reporting indirect speech and for forming third person commands. Before I explain these, I must note how you conjugate verbs in present tense in Konjunktiv I.

It’s veryyyy ;) complicated you remove -en and add these endings:

ich mache,du machest, er/sie/es/ mache, wir machen, ihr machet, sie machen


ich sei, du seiest, er/sie/es sei, wir seien, ihr seiet, sie seien

99.99999% of the time you are only going to use this in 3rd person sing. I would greatly advise not to use it in 1st sing + pl. 2nd pl. or 3rd pl. because it will be identical to the indicative mood.

Okay now on for usage!

> 1) Reported Speech/Indirect Discourse

This would primarily occur in written journalism, but of course not exclusively. Indirect discourse is where you restate what someone else has said without having to indicate quotation. You often use it to show your neutrality on a matter, so if a Politican had been caught up in a scandal and said:

Ich bin ein ehrlicher Mensch.
(I am an honest person = translation for all.)

Now we have three ways of restating this statement:

Er sagte, “Ich bin ein ehrlicher Mensch” - Indicative, using quotation.
Er sagte, er wäre ein ehrlicher Mensch - Konjunktiv II, showing disbelief.
Er sagte, er sei ein ehrlicher Mensch - Konjunktiv no quotation, neutrality 

There are some exceptions (lmao it’s German did you really expect no exceptions you fools) to this though;

i) If the person used Konjunktiv II you MUST keep it in that mood. So if someone had said “ich würde es kaufen, aber ich bin arm.” you keep würde in Konjunktiv II but change “ich bin” to I “er würde es kaufen, aber er sei arm”.

ii) If, by using Konjunktiv I, you would end with a verb that looks similar to the indicative - USE KONJUNKTIV II. This is why I advise you not to use it outside of 2nd/3rd person sing., because if you were to use sie“haben” (e.g.) then indicative; “sie haben nichts” and konjunktiv I “sie haben nichts” are identical. Instead you would use II “sie hätten nichts”.

iii) If you don’t want to be neutral and show doubt, as shown above you use Konjunktiv II not I - e.g. “er sei erhlich” (I) > “er wäre ehrlich” (II)

> 2) Forming 3rd Person Commands

This is what I’ve used Konjunktiv I for the most. Third person commands are not ones that really address an indivdual - so if you are not addressing people in particular, are not using du/ihr/sie and are using es = probably 3rd p command.

It might take you a while to get used to identifying and forming these commands, because they literally translate weirdly, but it’s possible. Here are examples:

Long live the king! - Es lebe der König!
Thank God! - Gott sei Dank! 
So be it! - Sei es (Sei’s) drum!
It shouldn’t matter to them! - Es solle ihnen egal!
Let the reader imagine a world without war! – Stelle man sich eine Welt ohne Krieg vor!

Probably the easiest 3rd person command to form/use is the “may” commands:

May she be happy! - Möge sie glücklich sein!
May you rot in hell! – Möge du in der Hölle schmuren! 
May God help you! – Möge dir Gott helfen!

3) Special other uses

i) The phrase “be it” is Konjunktiv I – “Sei es” – e.g. “Sei es ein Fieber oder die Grippe, ich werde krank.“ (Be it a fever or the flu, I am becoming ill.)

ii) One of the ways of saying “unless” in German is “es sei denn” = Konjunktiv I

iii) SOMETIMES people use als ob & als wenn (as if) with Kon. I instead of II - e.g. “Es sieht aus, als ob er niemand habe/hätte.“ (It looks as if he has no-one.)

iv) I am given to believe that sometimes Konjunktiv I is used in recipe books but I can’t confirm this.

> COOL!! I wanna know how to use it in other tenses!!!

If you ever use it in another tense without being some kind of journalist then I will be impressed;

-Past = Kon. I of haben/sein + past participle e.g. er sagte, er habe es gekauft.
-Future = Kon. I of werden + infinitive e.g. er sagte, er werde tanzen.
-Future Perfect (lmao if you ever ever EVER EVER EVERRRRRRR use this EVER) = Kon. I of werden + past participle + haben/sein e.g. er sagte, er werde es vor Freitag fertig gemacht haben.

When you use reported speech, you must keep the tense that the person spoke in. So if someone said “I am hungry” yesterday and you’re reporting today, you must report it as “he/she is hungry” not “he/she was hungry”… yes I know ok I KNOW I KNOW DON’T COMPLAIN.

I hope this helps and fyi if this doesn’t get like at least 10 notes I’m literally going to throw a chair this was the most awkward thing I’ve ever written cry.



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