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The subjunctive (from late Latin modus coniūnctīvus , actually 'one of the sentence connection serving expressions' to Latin coniungere 'connect' , ' tie together') is one of the three modes of a verb in German alongside the indicative and the imperative . Since statements in the subjunctive often fall into the realm of the possible, it is also referred to as the possibility form. However, the subjunctive does not indicate that something is possible.

In German there are two types of subjunctive: the subjunctive I and the subjunctive II, which are each subdivided into the time stages of the present, the past and the future. The subjunctive I is mainly used in indirect speech , the subjunctive II among other things in conditional clauses . It is also used as a substitute for the subjunctive I in indirect speech when the form of the subjunctive I is identical to the form of the indicative present.

In some types of function, the indicative can also be used in standard German instead of a subjunctive .

Subjunctive I

The form of the German subjunctive I goes back to the Indo-European optative present, which has taken over the function of the subjunctive in the Germanic languages ​​(optative suffix * -yéh₁-, ending with * -ih₁-´, generalized according to German. * -Ī-; so always with the subjunctive II, in which this german. * -ī- takes place in the perfect stem; for thematic verbs the following applies: theme vowel * -o - / - ó- + optative suffix * -ih₁-> -o-yh₁ - / - ó- yh₁-, always with secondary endings). The subjunctive that can be found in other Indo-European follow-up languages ​​- thematically with -é level of the root - does not exist in Germanic.

Formation of the subjunctive I.

The forms of the subjunctive I are formed from the root of the basic form (the infinitive ):

The same personal endings are added to the stem (infinitive minus - (e) n: run, be n) that are added in the past tense of the weak verbs after -t- . The only exception is the verb sein , which has no ending in the 1st and 3rd person.

Below are the personal endings of the subjunctive I and the exemplary conjugation of sein , have , can , must , know , want and the regular verbs install and speak :

be to have can have to knowledge want to install talk
P / N Ending Ind. Conj. I Ind. Conj. I Ind. Conj. I Ind. Conj. I Ind. Conj. I Ind. Conj. I Ind. Conj. I Ind. Conj. I
I ~ e am be have have can could got to must White know want wool install install speech speech
you ~ est are be have have can could have to have to know know want want install install talk talk
he she it ~ e is be Has have can could got to must White know want wool Installed install talks speech
we ~ en are be to have to have can can have to have to knowledge knowledge want want to install to install talk talk
her ~ et are be have have can can have to have to know know want want Installed installed talks talks
she ~ en are be to have to have can can have to have to knowledge knowledge want want to install to install talk talk

Only a few verbs in the subjunctive I differ relatively strongly from their indicative present forms (such as to be , have , can , must , know or want ; plural occurs in the 1st and 3rd person - with the singular exception are / are - never a difference). In the case of speaking , a formally different form appears only in the 3rd person singular. A distinction is only made if the persons in the indicative present deviate from the regular subjunctive I formation - the subjunctive I itself is a consistently inflected grammatical category .

Further times and z. B. the process passive can be formed by putting the required auxiliary verbs "sein", "haben" or "werden" in the subjunctive I:

active Process passive
indicative Subjunctive I indicative Subjunctive I
Present You go He said you are leaving You are carried He said that you carried mayest
Perfect You 're gone He said that you went mayest You have been carried He said that you were born mayest
Future tense I. You will go He said that you go mayest You will be carried He said you will be carried
Future tense II You will be gone He said that you have gone mayest You will have been carried He said you would have been carried

Use of the subjunctive I.

Indirect speech

The subjunctive is - especially in the written language in the - indirect speech used. The linguistic utterance of a person can be conveyed indirectly by a reporter (indirect speech, more rarely: dependent speech, Latin oratio obliqua ). This mode makes it clear that it is not your own opinion or perception, your own question or your own wish that is reported, but the statement of a third party. Indirect speech is often used in minutes , reports or the like. In indirect speech, speech becomes dependent on verbs of saying, asking (also: indirect question) or wanting (also: indirect desire).

"My friend says he got married."
"For the purpose of the resolution as to whether action should be taken , he has to examine the necessity carefully." (Indirect question)
"The creditor applies to the bailiff that the foreclosure will be carried out ." (Indirect request)

In indirect speech, the form of the subjunctive I ( coniunctivus obliquus ) is usually used . If the forms of the indicative and the subjunctive I are the same, the forms of the subjunctive II are used to clarify the mediation of what is said. If the corresponding subjunctive II forms are identical to indicative forms, the corresponding subjunctive II form can be used with "would". An equality of form between the forms of the indicative and the subjunctive I always exists in standard German in the 1st and 3rd person plural (we / they) and mostly (with regular verbs always) in the 1st person singular (I). In German dialects, on the other hand, verb forms of the indicative and the subjunctive I can be different, which are the same in standard German: for example Swabian i hab (indicative) and i häb (subjunctive I) as forms of the first person singular of the verb haben (ich have) . Statements in indirect speech are most often given in the third person.

The past tense (perfect tense) of the subjunctive I is used to express the prematurity of the event, the present tense (present tense form) of the subjunctive I for expressing simultaneity, and the future tense of the subjunctive I to represent a posteriority. The subjunctive I in German does not take the tense form that the main clause has. The time of the statement by the third party is decisive as a reference point for the assessment of late, simultaneity and prematurity. The time of indirect reproduction is not to be taken into account.

There are therefore only three tenses available for the subjunctive I, which are explained below using examples.

Simultaneous occurrence and reproduction by the third party
  • Tom says: "I'm going to the cinema today." (= Direct speech)
Tom says he's going to the cinema today. (= indirect speech using a subjunctive I-form; because of the simultaneity of the event with the utterance of Tom, the tense of the subjunctive I is used, which is based on the indicative present)
  • Tom said yesterday: "I'm going to the cinema." (= Direct speech)
Tom said yesterday that he was going to the cinema . (= indirect speech using a subjunctive I-form; because of the simultaneity of events and utterances by Tom, the subjunctive I present tense is correct)
  • Tom reports: "We're going to school." (= Direct speech)
Tom reports that they are going to school . (= indirect speech using the subjunctive II form and "would", based on the past indicative; subjunctive I, based on the present indicative, would be "they go", since this is identical to the indicative form, one tries the subjunctive II -Form, this would be "they went", this also corresponds to the indicative, so you can choose the replacement form with "would")
Premature occurrence in relation to the reproduction by the third party
  • Tom says: "We went to the swimming pool yesterday." (= Direct speech)
"Tom says she in the pool yesterday were ." (= Indirect speech; a visit to the swimming pool was before the report Toms, so one uses a subjunctive I form that is based on Past continuous)
Timeliness of events in relation to reproduction by the third party
  • Tom reported: "Daniel will go to school in a moment." (= Direct speech)
"Tom reported that Daniel would go to school right away ." (= Indirect speech; going to school comes after Tom's report; therefore the subjunctive I future tense is correct)

Other uses

In addition, it forms the desired form (optative) of the 1st and 3rd person singular and plural, whereby the word order is often inverted:

"Long live the king!"
"Your kingdom come, your will be done."

Sometimes there is also an alternative sentence order :

"Love stay true to you!"
"May happiness accompany you!" (Here with the modal verb like )

Subjunctive I is also in use in the request form ( jussive ) to the 3rd person singular:

"Take half a pound of butter when you have it."


The subjunctive II denotes the unreality (the unreal ) and is mainly used in conditional sentence structures , in unreal consecutive clauses , in comparative clauses or is used as a substitute for the subjunctive I in indirect speech, if the form of the subjunctive I is identical to the indicative present tense . Other languages ​​use the optative of the perfect instead of the subjunctive II .

Formation of the subjunctive II

The present subjunctive is thus derived from the indicative past tense , which continues the basic perfect. (The optative suffix * -yéh₁-, starting with * -ih₁-´, follows the perfect form; this is generalized as phonetic> german. * -Ī-.). Strong verbs with a stem vowel capable of umlaut are therefore changed: to come → came → came, to sing → sang → sänge, bake → buk → büke, grow → grew → grow, lift → lift → lift; in the case of some of the strong verbs in the third row of ablaut this is used in Neuhochdt. continuous "a" of the simple past, which is still in the old high dt. had a “u” in the plural, usually replaced by “ü” or “ö” when forming the subjunctive II, for example: die → die → die, throw → throw → throw, begin → begin → start → win → win → win. The appropriate personal ending is then added to the word stem that has been modified in this way.

The personal endings of the subjunctive II are the same "hit" as in the subjunctive, exemplified conjugated using the strong verb (past tense met ~ , umlauted träf ~ ,) and the weak verb "Install" (past tense installed ~ ):

to meet to install
P / N Ending preterite Future Past tense / subjunctive II
I ~ e I met i would meet i installed
you ~ est you met you weary you installed
he she it ~ e he met he would meet he installed
we ~ en we met we met we installed
her ~ et you met you meet you installed
she ~ en they met they met they installed

The strong verb “to meet” has its own, umlauted inflection for the subjunctive II and is easy to distinguish from the simple past. In contrast, both forms of the regular verb “install” are completely identical; in this case, the "would-form" (see below) is usually used.

The formation of the past perfect, future I and future II corresponds to the rules of the indicative both in the active and in the process passive. The inflected auxiliary verb is placed in the subjunctive II instead of the main verb:

active Process passive
indicative Future indicative Future
preterite you went you went I was carried i would be carried
past continuous you were gone you would have left I was carried I would have been carried
Future tense I. you will go you would go I 'll be carried i would be carried
Future tense II you will be gone you would have left I 'll have been carried i would have been carried

The future tense I of the active is now mainly used to form the subjunctive II itself ("would-form").

Use of the subjunctive II


The subjunctive II is also called the irrealis . The subjunctive II is used to name impossible and improbable conditions or consequences of conditions or to express that a certain consequence will be eliminated from several possible consequences as a result of human decisions through the use of discretion. By formulating conditions and their consequences, it is also possible to express ideas and wishes that are unlikely to occur or are impossible, or the speaker's doubts about certain facts.

Condition that is impossible or very unlikely to occur

The unreal conditional sentence is often introduced with “if” or “if”. The subordinate clause establishes a condition, the (impossible or improbable) occurrence of which leads to something that is described in the main clause. It is used in both the main clause and the subordinate clause subjunctive II.

"If I were a bird would ' and two little wings would have' , 'flög I you."

The conjunction “if” or “if” can also be omitted, so that the sentence begins with the finite verb .

" If you had got up earlier, you would not have missed your appointment."

The subordinate clause can be omitted if the condition can be deduced from the context.

“I do n't fly .” (Context: “If I were in your place, I won't fly.”)

The same applies if the subordinate clause can be replaced by an infinitive, a prepositional construction or sentences with “otherwise” or “but”.

"It would be better not to fly." (Infinitive construction instead of: "It would be better if you did not fly.")
"In your place I will not fly." (Prepositional construction instead of: "If I were in your place, I will not fly.")
"He is now flying to America, but he has no vacation." (But construction instead of: "If he had vacation, he would now fly to America.")

The main clause can also be omitted if the sequence of conditions can be deduced from the context; the subordinate clause becomes a simple clause. The development of the sequence of conditions is possible for wishes whose occurrence is impossible or very unlikely.

" If I were a gifted artist!" (Instead of: "I would be very happy if I were a gifted artist.")
Improbable or impossible conditional consequences

Subjunctive II is also used when the specific condition-consequence relationship is improbable or impossible. The occurrence of a series of conditions can be improbable or impossible because the result is in itself unreal (unreal consequential clause) or because the person to whom the condition refers has a selection process among several possible consequences and a possible consequence is discretionary (likely) is eliminated. It is important that the condition on which the sequence of conditions is based is real.

a) Unreal corollary

In the case of the unreal consequential sentence, the consequence is impossible or improbable, although the occurrence of the condition is conceivable and the consequence is not due to the exercise of discretion.

"I drank so much that my head nearly exploded would be ."
"Nobody is so clever as to know everything ."

b) Discretionary elimination of a possible consequence

This group of cases exists when it is expected that a certain conceivable sequence of conditions among several conceivable consequences of conditions will not occur due to an improbable use of discretion. A discretionary elimination of a possible consequence is not conceivable in the case of scientific causal relationships, but only in the case of human decisions. If the person who can exercise the discretion admits that a certain discretionary decision is unlikely, one also speaks of grant rates.

"She is far too ambitious to give up ."
"Even if the perpetrator ( would ) be convicted , I do not forgive him." (Admission sentence )
Unreal comparative theorem
"I felt like was I alone on earth."
Hesitation or doubt about a question, assumption or statement
" Would it be possible? Can ' I can not remember how I wanted? "( Schiller , Wallenstein )

Courtesy form

The subjunctive II also serves as a form of politeness. On the one hand, it is used when making requests to other people:

Could you do this for me? instead of doing this for me! (Imperative) or can you do this for me? (Indicative as a question)
Would you have a moment? instead of Do you have a moment? (Indicative as a question)

On the other hand, the subjunctive II can function as a form of modesty in relation to itself:

I would like a beer. or I would like a beer. instead of I want a beer.
I would like to go to the cinema . instead of I want to go to the cinema .
I would suggest we sleep on it for another night. instead of I suggest we sleep on it another night.

The form of possibility serves here to formally mitigate the wish or the claim to fulfillment.

Subjunctive II in indirect speech

Substitute form for the subjunctive I.

If, in the case groups in which the subjunctive I is the correct subjunctive form, this corresponds to the present indicative, then the subjunctive I can be replaced by the subjunctive II in order to avoid confusion with the present indicative, which is particularly in the 1st person Singular as well as the 1st and 3rd person plural is often possible.

Expression of doubt about the content of the report

In some grammars there is also the rule that the subjunctive II is also used in indirect speech if the speaker has doubts about what he is reporting or considers it to be incorrect (implicit evaluation, distancing). Examples are:

  • "Paula said she had studied hard." (The speaker doesn't believe it, however).
  • "Rosa said that could not be changed." (The speaker is convinced otherwise).

In linguistics, however, this rule is controversial. Some linguists affirm such a function of the subjunctive II, at least where it replaces an existing unequivocal subjunctive I. Others reject this interpretation of the subjunctive II as baseless or see the use of the subjunctive I and II more depending on the language level or regional differences. In the spoken language, the use of the subjunctive II is much more frequent and in some cases even predominant, even when a clear form of the subjunctive I is available. Because of this fluctuating use of the subjunctive forms, a difference in meaning in the individual can hardly be determined and in any case not generally recognized. Studies have shown that in newspaper language, for example, the use of the subjunctive II for greater distancing in indirect speech cannot be proven. Ultimately, it is above all the context through which any distancing of the speaker from the report becomes clear.

Substitute form with "would" ("Subjunctive III")

If the subjunctive II form can lead to misunderstandings due to its identity with the forms of the indicative past tense, an auxiliary construction with “would” can be used. Logically, the use of the "would-subjunctive" is allowed in the formation of indirect speech if the subjunctive I is replaced by the subjunctive II because of its identity with the indicative present and the normal form of the subjunctive II derived from the past tense corresponds to the indicative past tense.

On closer inspection, these are the original future forms of the subjunctive II, which have changed their function, since the future in German is increasingly expressed with the present tense + lexic (tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in two years, etc.), too "Konjunktiv III" after Becher u. Bergenholtz (1985) and also Bausch (1979) (see also conditionalis ):

He said, "I'll be happy to do that."

becomes in indirect speech too

He said he'd be happy to do that. (Subjunctive I)


He said he would like to do that. (Subjunctive II, derived from the indicative past tense. Grammatically speaking, however, this form is not correct, but belongs in the area of ​​colloquial language, especially since it also involves a change in meaning, because now a wish is expressed, while in the correct form an intention for Is expressed.)

Formation of the forms of the "would subjunctive": Example: go

infinitive Indicative past tense Future
go he went he would go

Example: go

infinitive Indicative past perfect Future
go he had gone he would have left

Example: sing

infinitive Indicative past perfect Future
to sing he had sung he would have sung

Colloquial language

In colloquial language (with the exception of the Alemannic language area ) the subjunctive I is rarely used today. The indicative or subjunctive II often takes its place:

"He has said that he go to the theater going ."

instead of

"He said he was going to the theater ."

For the subjunctive II, the colloquial language usually uses the "would" form:

"He said he would go to the theater ."

instead of

"He said that the theater he was going ."

In the Bavarian dialects the subjunctive II is formed with the morpheme -àt-, e.g. B. findàt (found), frågàt (“asked” in the meaning of “would ask”) etc. However, there are also irregular shapes or irregular shapes with the addition of the morpheme -àt, e.g. B. gàng , fànd and gàngàt , fàndàt (go, find). In Standard German, on the other hand, the "would" subjunctive is increasingly displacing the subjunctive I and II and is therefore already combined by some to form a separate structural system of subjunctive III.

Subjunctive in other languages

The subjunctive as a mode occurs more or less recognizable in all Indo-European languages , but mostly has completely different functions. Some languages ​​also differentiate an optative from the actual subjunctive. Most languages, like German, have one or two special forms (such as subjunctive I and subjunctive II ). Some, especially older languages ​​( ancient Greek , Sanskrit ), but also the French language , have, in addition to indicative and subjunctive ( subjonctif ), other verb forms ( modes ) that enable further linguistic nuances.


In English , the subjunctive I is still in use in several forms. Examples are some fixed formulas like God save (instead of: saves) the Queen! for 'God protect (instead of: protect) the queen!' or the expression of a purpose as in He closed the window read anyone see him. 'He closed the window so no one could see him.' The most important application, however, is the expression of commands, suggestions or wishes. Example: She asked that he not be (instead of: is not) told. 'She asked not to be told (instead of: told).' The subjunctive II is used systematically in the form of words like might , would or could as well as in unreal “if-clauses”, for example in If he were (instead of: was) here (…) or It looked as though it were about to start raining.


While these forms have been partially lost in the Romance languages, they are still largely preserved in Latin . Over there:

  • Present subjunctive
  • Imperfect subjunctive
  • Subjunctive perfect
  • Subjunctive past perfect

The subjunctive of the two future tense forms the Latin in Coniugatio periphrastica through the participle future tense with the corresponding form of the auxiliary verb esse , or it replaces it: Instead of the subjunctive future I, the present subjunctive is chosen for a main tense and the present tense for a secondary tense Imperfect subjunctive, instead of the future subjunctive II in relation to a main tense the perfect subjunctive, in relation to a secondary tense the subjunctive past perfect.

The conjunctive is in Latin in main clauses as Iussiv , coniunctivus iussivus as opt , coniunctivus optativus as Hortativ , coniunctivus hortativus as Deliberativ , conjunctivus deliberativus , Dubitativ , coniunctivus dubitativus and as prohibitive , coniunctivus prohibitivus used in conditional sentence structures as Irrealis and as a potentiality , as well as in subordinate clauses that are introduced with the conjunctions ut , cum , ne and a few others, and in indirect interrogative clauses .


The subjunctive I.

The German subjunctive I has no direct equivalent in Spanish. In Spanish, the Consecutio temporum applies to indirect speech , that is, the selection of the tense in the subordinate clause depends on whether its statement with respect to that of the main clause is premature , simultaneous or late . This is shown in the following example. While the subjunctive I is used several times in German, the Spanish alternates between different tenses to clarify the sequence of events:

She told me she had long at the station waiting for , it was but no one came ; the next train doesn't come until 2 p.m. they will by then go shopping and then back to the station to return . Ella me explicó que había esperado mucho tiempo en la estación pero que nadie había llegado ; el próximo tren no iba a llegar sino hasta las 14 horas; ella iba hasta entonces a ir de compras y entonces volvería a la estación.

Despite a certain formal similarity, the Spanish subjuntivo del presente is in no way to be equated with the German subjunctive I; it is generally not used in indirect speech, but in a variety of other contexts in which the indicative would be in German (example: Hopefully it's not raining vs. Ojalá no llueva ).

The subjunctive II

The subjunctive II corresponds to the Spanish subjunctive (subjuntivo) and conditionalis (Spanish condicional ).

In unreal conditional clauses, one uses the subjunctive in the subordinate clause and the conditional in the main clause:

If the study by the state would be financed , took the students not to work on the side. Si los estudios fuesen / fueran financiados por el Estado los estudiantes no tendrían que trabajar a tiempo parcial.
When more money would have had , had he come along . Si él hubiese / hubiera tenido más dinero habría venido con nosotros.
If I had known, I would not have come . Si lo hubiese / hubiera sabido no habría venido

For non-real wishful and comparative clauses in Spanish, the imperfect in the subjunctive or the past perfect in the subjunctive ( condicional perfecto ) is usually used :

Would he at least courteous been ! ¡Si por lo menos hubiera sido amable!
If only we could forget you ! ¡Si tan sólo pudiéramos olvidarte !
He can whistle, as if a bird would . El sabe silbar como si fuera un pájaro
He pretends he doesn't know us . Él hace como si no nos conociera


  • Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen: Meaning and use of the subjunctive. In: Duden. The grammar. Edited by Angelika Wöllstein and the Duden editorial team. 9th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-411-04049-0 , pp. 527-553 ( ; incomplete).

Web links

Wiktionary: Subjunctive  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Werner Besch (Hrsg.): Sprachgeschichte: a handbook for the history of the German language and its research. Volume 2. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2003, p. 2511.
  2. ^ Peter Eisenberg: Grundriss der Deutschen Grammatik , p. 186.
  3. ^ Henning Petershagen: Swabian offensive - I häb . In: Südwest Presse, Schwäbische Donauzeitung , Ulm-Land issue, March 12, 2016 issue, p. 36.
  4. ^ Hadumod Bußmann : Lexikon der Sprachwissenschaft Kröner, Stuttgart 1990, p. 407.
  5. Unfulfilled Future II , on
  6. have [tr], on
  7. forgive. In: Dictionary Duden online. Bibliographisches Institut , 2016, accessed October 14, 2016 ( strong verb ).
  8. For example Gerhard Schoebe: Schoebe grammar compact. Oldenbourg, Munich 1997, p. 142.
    Elke Hentschel, Harald Weydt (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Deutschen Grammatik. 4th edition. Berlin / New York 2013, p. 106 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  9. For example Siegfried Jäger: The subjunctive in the German language of the present (= Today's German. Volume 1). Hueber, Munich 1971, p. 165.
  10. ^ A b c Hermann Gelhaus: Konjunktiv II. In: Duden. Grammar of contemporary German. Edited and edited by Günter Drosdowski. 5th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim 1995, ISBN 3-411-04045-9 , p. 164.
  11. ^ Peter Eisenberg: Outline of the German grammar. Metzler, Stuttgart 1986, p. 130 f.
  12. Anja Wilke: Speech reproduction in early modern witch trial files: A contribution to the history of the use of modes in German. De Gruyter, Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-11-019097-7 , pp. 57-66 (chapter speech reproduction in contemporary German , which offers an overview of the research situation ).
  13. ^ Karl-Ernst Sommerfeld : On the use of modes in indirect speech - rules and reality. In: German as a Foreign Language. 27, 1990, pp. 337–342, here p. 342.
    Michael Schecker: About the subjunctive in indirect speech. In: Baudot 2002, pp. 1–14, here p. 10.
  14. to the so-called "subjunctive substitute form" , "dignity form" or subjunctive III according to Becher u. Bergenholtz (1985) Henning Bergenholtz, Marlis Becher: Be or not be. Problems of mode use in offline speech. In: Nouveaux Cahiers d'Allemand, Volume 3, 1985, pp. 443-457.
  15. The subjunctive III (dignity form, subjunctive replacement form, conditional 1 + 2). (PDF; 96 kB)
  16. ^ Karl-Heinz Bausch: Modality and subjunctive use in the spoken standard German language: language system, language variation and language change in today's German. Part 1: Research situation, theoretical and empirical foundations, morphological analysis (= today's German. Row 1, Linguistic foundations. Volume 9.1). Hueber, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-19-006783-X .