The German Subjunctive – Let’s Talk Konjunktiv! Posted by Sten on Jun 28, 2018 in Culture, Grammar, Language
On this blog, we have explained before how to use tenses in German. But we have not yet looked at a rather peculiar tense in German yet: the Konjunktiv (subjunctive mood)! It comes in two parts, Konjunktiv I and Konjunktiv II. Today, we look at number I! Let’s go!
What is the Konjunktiv?
Konjunktiv (subjunctive mood) is a word that comes from the latin coniungere, which means “to connect”. It is one of the three modes of a verb, next to the indicative (Indikativ) and the imperative (Imperativ). The subjunctive mood often tells you about possibilities. So it is about Möglichkeiten (possibilities), which is why it is also sometimes referred to as the Möglichkeitsform (possibility form).
We will use the verb stehen (to stand) as our example here. The regular, Indikativ präsens (present tense) looks like this:
ich stehe (I stand)
du stehst (you stand, sing.)
er/sie/es steht (he/she/it stands)
ihr steht (you stand, pl.)
wir stehen (we stand)
sie stehen (they stand)
When converting that to a Konjunktiv I präsens (present), it looks like this:
Ich stehe (I would stand)
du stehest (you would stand, sing.)
er/sie/es stehe (he/she/it would stand)
wir stehen (we would stand)
ihr stehet (you would stand, pl.)
sie stehen (they would stand).
As you may notice, many of these forms are the same as in the Indikativ präsens, but it has some weird ones too, like ihr stehet.
The Konjunktiv I also has a past tense and future tense.
Alright, but when do you use this now?
The Konjunktiv I is mainly used in the Indirekte Rede (indirect speech).
The Indirekte Rede can be explained as follows:
“Ich stehe im Garten” (I stand in the garden) – this is direkte Rede (direct speech). It is the normal, Indikativ präsens – no Konjunktiv necessary here!
Max sagt, er stehe im Garten (Max says, he stands in the garden) – this is indirekte Rede! Because it is what someone else said, and is also in the present, you use the Konjunktiv präsens here.
You will mostly hear the use of the Konjunktiv in this way in the Nachrichten (News). In normal conversations, you would rather hear this:
Max sagt, dass er im Garten steht (Max says that he stands in the garden).
While that isn’t technically grammatically correct, it is not wrong either. And it makes things a lot easier, because you can avoid the Konjunktiv, which is different for each word, and not always very predictable!
So a great advantage of the Konjunktiv is that you can easily disseminate hearsay and Behauptungen (claims). Take the Nachrichten, for example, where most Informationen (information) is provided by third parties:
Take the first news item that the news reader Jan Hofer presents. Simply by grammar, try to disseminate Fakt (fact) from Behauptung:
1- Die Hoffnungen auf eine Annäherung im Atomkonflikt mit Nordkorea haben einen Rückschlag erlitten.
2. US-Präsident Trump sagte das für den 12. Juni geplante Treffen mit den nord-koreanischen Staatschef Kim vorerst ab.
3. Grund sei, wie es in einem Brief an den Machthaber in Pjöngjang heißt, die offene Feindseligkeit Nordkoreas.
4. Trump betonte aber, dass er grundsätzlich zu einem weiteren Treffen mit Kim bereit sei.
Let me know in the comment which of the 4 is a fact and which is a claim, simply judging by grammar! Answers will be revealed in the second blog on Konjunktiv II.
Rezepte and other Anweisungen
What you will often see in recipes is, for example: Man nehme 5 Tomaten… (One takes 5 tomatoes…). These are Anweisungen (directions), for which the Konjunktiv can also be used. However, it is becoming increasingly rare. Nowadays, you will see rather something like the formal Imperativ (imperative) form: Nehmen Sie 5 Tomaten… (Take 5 tomatoes… (formal)), or Fahren Sie bis zum Ende der Straße (Drive until the end of the street (formal)).
There are some Redewendungen (idioms) that use the Konjunktiv as well, such as so sei es (So it will be), or seien wir mal ehrlich, … (let’s be honest here, …). You will encounter these now and then, and they are well-established. It is therefore likely to hear these in everyday conversation as well.
Have you used the Konjunktiv before? Do you have other examples that you like or perhaps that you struggle with? Does your language have it, too? Let me know in the comments below!
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