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Subjunctive I and II in German grammar

What is the subjunctive?

conjunctive we use in German for situations that are not real, but only possible, e.g. B. when we imagine or wish something, we also find subjunctive in the main clause of unreal conditional clauses or when we repeat an utterance in indirect speech.

Learn in our explanation the difference between subjunctive I and subjunctive II in formation and use. You can test your knowledge in the exercises.

Subjunctive I

Subjunctive I is found mainly in newspaper texts and news when statements are reproduced in indirect speech. But the subjunctive I also occurs in some fixed expressions.

example

When do you use the subjunctive I?

We use the subjunctive I for:

  • some fixed twists
    Example:
    Long live the birthday child!
  • indirect speech (in colloquial language we often prefer indicative, see indirect speech)
    Example:
    He says he has never felt so young.

How do you form the subjunctive I?

  • Just the verb be is still common in the subjunctive I in all forms:
    I am, you are (e) st, he is, we are, you are, they are
    Example:
    He said they were in the cinema.
  • With all other verbs, we usually only use the subjunctive I in the 3rd person singular (he / she / it / man). To do this, we just have to remove the n from the infinitive. (The modal verbs are still common in the 1st and 3rd person singular.)
    Example:
    have - he has
    write - he write
    must - I must, he must
  • In the 2nd person (you / her) The only difference between the subjunctive I and the indicative is the e in the subjunctive I. This is why we often prefer the subjunctive II - this makes it easier to distinguish the form from the indicative.
    Example:
    you dream - you dream
    you go - you go
  • For the 1st person singular (I) and the 1st / 3rd Person plural (we She) The subjunctive I does not differ from the indicative. Therefore we have to use subjunctive II for these people. (Exception: Modal verbs - see above)
    Example:
    “They go jogging.” - He says they went jogging. (Conj. II)

Example of German tenses in the subjunctive I.

We can form the subjunctive I in the present, perfect and future tense. In the following overview there is an example of verbs for each tense that form the perfect with have / be.

Future

Future we use when we are talking about something that is currently not possible. We also use subjunctive II in indirect speech or with particularly polite questions / statements.

example

When do you use the subjunctive II?

We use subjunctive II in German for:

  • (unreal) wishes and hopes
    Example:
    I wish I was on vacation.
  • unreal statements / conditional sentences (see conditional sentence)
    Example:
    If I were on vacation I would be on the beach all day.
  • indirect speech, if subjunctive I is not possible (see also indirect speech)
    Example:
    Our teacher says we still have a lot to learn.
  • particularly polite or cautious inquiries / statements
    Example:
    Would you be so kind as to come to the board?

How do you form the subjunctive II?

There are two forms of the subjunctive II, depending on whether it is a situation in the present or in the past. (see conjugation of German verbs)

Subjunctive II for situations in the present

For situations in the present, we add the subjunctive ending to the past tense stem (see table below, column Find). Strong verbs with a / o / u receive an umlaut.

Example:
find (found) - he would find

In the following overview you will find the conjugation for to be / have as well as the ending for other verbs in the subjunctive II for the present. In addition, the would-Form conjugated, which we often use as a substitute for the subjunctive.

would-Form instead of subjunctive II

Weak and some mixed verbs do not differ from the indicative past tense in the subjunctive II. That is why we usually rewrite these verbs with would.

Example:
I waited - I would wait

In less formal situations, we also prefer the would form for many strong verbs (would + infinitive).

Example:
go - I would / I would go

Subjunctive II for past situations

For situations in the past we use the subjunctive II of to be / have + participle II.

Example:
I would have left / I would have said

In the following overview you will find a conjugation example in the subjunctive II for the past for verbs that be or. to have desire.