Konjunktiv – the Subjunctive Mood in German Grammar

How to learn the German Subjunctive I and II

Introduction

The subjunctive is used to describe unreal situations such as wishes, hypothetical situations and unreal conditional sentences, or to repeat what people say in indirect speech.

Subjunctive I (Konjunktiv I)

The special subjunctive I is primarily used in newspaper articles and reports when statements are being repeated in indirect speech. The special subjunctive is also used in certain idiomatic phrases.

Example: Sie sagte, es sei bekannt, dass sie viel arbeite. She said it was known that she worked a lot.

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Usage

The subjunctive I is used to express: indirect speech
Example: Sie sagt, sie habe sich noch nie so jung gefühlt. She says she has never felt so young.


There are a few aspects to keep in mind when conjugating the subjunctive I:

  •  Only the verb "sein" is still used in all its subjunctive I forms:
    ich sei, du sei(e)st, er sei, wir seien, ihr seiet, sie seien.
    Example: Sie sagte, sie seien im Supermarkt. She said they were in the supermarket.

  • We usually use the subjunctive I only in the 3rd person singular (he/she/it/man) with all other verbs. We only need to remove the n from the infinitive. 
    Example: haben – er habe, schreiben – er schreibe
     

  • In the 2nd person (du/you), the only difference between the subjunctive I and the indicative is the e before the ending in the subjunctive.
    Example: du träumst – du träumest, ihr geht – ihr gehet

 

It is common to use the subjunctive II in the second person rather than the subjunctive I because it is easier to tell apart from the indicative.

  • In the 1st person singular (ich) and 1st and 3rd person plural (wir, sie), there is no difference between the subjunctive I and the indicative, so we have to use the subjunctive II in this situation.
    Example: „Sie gehen joggen.“ – Er sagt, sie gingen joggen. (subj. II)

Tenses in the Subjunctive I

We can use the subjunctive I in the presentpresent perfect, and future tenses.

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Subjunctive iI (Konjunktiv iI)

The general subjunctive, also: past subjunctive or subjunctive 2 (conjunctive II), is used to express hypothetical situations. It is also used in indirect speech and in courteous questions and statements.

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Usage
We use the subjunctive II for:

  • Unreal or a hypothetical wish or hope.

Example: Ich wünschte, ich hätte Urlaub. I wish I were on holiday.

  • Unreal statements and conditional sentences (see conditional sentences).

Example: ...und ich könnte in die Sonne fahren. Wenn ich im Urlaub wäre, läge ich den ganzen Tag am Strand. ...and I could go to the sun. If I were on holiday, I would lie on the beach all day.

 

  • Indirect speech when the subjunctive I cannot be used (see also indirect speech).

Example: Unsere Lehrerin sagt, wir müssten noch sehr viel lernen. Our teacher says we still have a lot to learn.

 

  • Polite or cautious questions or statements.

Example: Wärst du so freundlich, an die Tafel zu kommen? Would you be so kind as to come to the blackboard?

Conjugation of German verbs in subjunctive II
There are two types of the subjunctive II, one expresses situations in the present and the other situations in the past.

Situations in the present tense

  • To express situations in the present with the general subjunctive:

We add the subjunctive ending to the stem of the simple past (see table below, in the find column). Strong verbs are given an umlaut.
Example: finden (fand) – er fände  (to) find / I would find

  • Weak verbs and some mixed verbs look the same in the subjunctive II as they do in the indicative past tense. For this reason, we usually use would (would-form) with these verbs.

Example: ich wartete – ich würde warten  (to) wait / I would wait

 

  • In spoken German, the would + infinitive is preferred for many strong verbs.

Example: gehen – ich ginge/ich würde gehen  (to) go / I would go

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Situations in the past
When we want to indicate a situation in the past, we use the subjunctive forms of to be/have + past participle.

Example: ich wäre gegangen/ich hätte gesagt I would have gone/I would have said