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The potentialis (late Latin potentialis , "after assets") is a verb mode that occurs in some languages and marks the occurrence of events as likely or possible.

German language

The German language has no independent paradigm for a potential. However, time can be a strong indicator of whether a subjunctive is to be understood as an unrealis or a potentialis:

  1. If I had gone into town today, I would have taken you. (Unrealis)
  2. If I take you to town tomorrow, I'll take you with me. (Potentials)

In (1) the event can no longer occur because it is in the past. Entry is therefore impossible and therefore the sentence is an unrealis of the past . In (2) it must be seen - without context - in principle as possible that the speaker will drive into the city in the future and then take the other person with him. Above all, the future is a strong indicator of potential here.

The demarcation can be determined by the question of whether there is a conceivable world in which a statement can be true or not. The events mentioned in (1) can no longer occur because they are in the past; there is therefore no imaginable world in which a statement formulated in the indicative about the occurrence of these events would be true . However, mentioned in (2) can happen yet, so there is a conceivable world in a statement about the occurrence of these events come true is .

Likewise, the potential can be expressed with different modal verbs , sometimes in combination with the subjunctive:

  • It may rain tomorrow. (Admission is assumed to be possible)
  • It could rain tomorrow. (Admission is assumed to be possible and likely)

Potentiality can also be expressed for the past with the help of the modal verb, provided it is used as an auxiliary verb for the perfect tense:

  • He might have solved the problem by now.

From the speaker's point of view - who does not yet know what actually happened - the occurrence of the event is still possible.


Unlike German, Turkish marks the difference between unrealis and potentialis:

  1. Lotoda kazan sam ev alırım. (If I win the lottery, I'll buy a house, potentialis)
  2. Lotoda kazan saydım ev alırdım. (If I had won the lottery I would have bought a house, unrealis)

In (1) winning the lottery is considered possible in principle, in (2) it did not occur and is therefore impossible. It should be noted that neither the unrealis nor the potentialis have their own time step.

Other languages

In Latin and Greek grammar, the potentialis is the name given to the semantic function of the subjunctive or the optative to represent a possible event. The Latin expresses this aspect i. A. in the use as “potentialis of the present” through the subjunctive perfect or subjunctive present tense (e.g. dixerit, “one could say” and not: “one may have said”).

In some languages ​​(e.g. Persian ) the potentialis has its own inflection forms.

Individual evidence

  1. Hadumod Bußmann : Lexicon of Linguistics (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 452). 2nd, completely revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-520-45202-2 .
  2. Matthias Wermke, Günther Drosdowski (ed.): Duden - The grammar . Dudenverlag, Mannheim 2006, ISBN 3-411-04047-5 , § 749 ff.
  3. Elke Hentschel, Petra M. Vogel (Ed.): Deutsche Morphologie , Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2009, ISBN 978-3-11-021261-7 , p. 235.
  4. Margarete I. Ersen-Rasch: Turkish grammar: for beginners and advanced learners . Hueber Verlag, Ismaning 2001, ISBN 3-19-005185-2 .