German Verbs: The Subjunctive
der Konjunktiv


German Verbs > Future > Subjunctive I > Subjunctive II

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The German Conditional and Subjunctive
As in English, German has the indicative mood (a statement of fact) and the subjunctive mood (expressing doubt, politeness or possibility). The subjunctive is a mood, not a tense. Subjunctive forms can be found in various tenses. The subjunctive is used more in German than in English. Examples of the subjunctive in English:

  • If I were you...
  • Be that as it may.
  • That would be crazy.

The German subjunctive is divided into two versions known as the “present subjunctive” and the “past subjunctive.” But that can lead to confusion because each form can be in any verb tense. I prefer to use the terms Konjunktiv I (Subjunctive I, based on the present tense) and Konjunktiv II (Subjunctive II, based on the past tense).

Of these two, the most important for students to learn actively is the Konjunktiv II. However, the Konjunktiv I is seen in print as the so-called “quotative,” and you should be able to recognize it in reading.

Subjunctive IKonjunktiv I
Except for sein (to be), most of the time the Konjunktiv I is unique only in the third-person singular (and the du form, which is almost never used). Although verb conjugations often show all of the other Subjunctive I forms, they are rarely used, since they are identical to the indicative forms. The Subjunctive I is used to indirectly quote someone (indirekte Rede) and is thus also known as the “quotative.” It is rarely used in conversation. Here are examples for the verb machen (to do, make). Only the forms in red are normally used.
  ich mache   I (am said to) do/make
  du machest   you (are said to) do/make
  sie mache
  she (is said to) do/make
  wir machen   we (are said to) do/make
  ihr machet   you (are said to) do/make
  sie machen   they (are said to) do/make
  Sie machen   you (are said to) do/make
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The Subjunctive I for all verbs
Almost all German verbs form the unique third-person Subjunctive I form in the same way, using the first-person (ich) form. See the examples below.

Subjunctive IKonjunktiv I
 er arbeite  he works (is said to work)
 er baue  he builds
 sie denke  she thinks
 er fürchte  he fears
 es gebe  there is
 er koche  he cooks
 sie meine  she says (is of the opinion)
 er protestiere  he protests
 es schmerze  it hurts
 es zeige  it indicates/shows
 The Subjunctive I of the verb sein is a rare exception, being uniquely subjunctive in all persons.
 ich sei  I am (said to be)
 du seist  you are
 er sei  he is
 wir seien  we are
 ihr seiet  you (guys) are
 sie seien  they are
 Sie seien  you are
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EXAMPLES: The Subjunctive I - Quotative (indirekte Rede)
Below are a few examples of how the Subjunctive I is used, mostly in news reports, magazines, books, etc.

Der Lehrer sagte ihm, er müsse mehr lernen.
The teacher told him that he must study more.

Wir sagten ihm, wir hätten das schon gesehen.
We told him we had already seen that.
(Subjunctive II used because the Subjunctive I form would look
the same as the indicative.

Die Dame erklärte, sie habe das nicht verstanden.
The lady explained that she didn’t understood that.

Er sagte, er brauche frische Luft.
He said he needs fresh air.

EXAMPLES: The Subjunctive I - Directions / Instructions
Below are two examples of how the Subjunctive I is used in recipes, instruction manuals, and in technical writing.

Hier sei nur vermerkt, dass uns dieses Experiment nie einwandfrei gelungen ist.
Here we note that we have never been able to carry out this experiment free of problems.

Man nehme eine Prise Salz...
Take a dash/pinch of salt...

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