addition to the various tenses, verbs can exist in
stating possibilities, conjectures, "what if,"
what someone else said, thought or believed
II expresses hypothetical and "counterfactual"
statements ("what if," "I wish,"
"I would," "I could" etc.). Normally,
if someone speaks about "the subjunctive,"
they mean Subjunctive II.
I is used to report indirect speech,
i.e. what someone else said (and, by extension, what
s/he thought, believed, etc.)
we expect you to learn five tenses of the indicative (Present,
Perfect [two-word past tense], Narrative Past [one-word past
tense], Past Perfect [what had happened before something
else in the past] and Future, you only need to distinguish
between two tenses of Subjunctive II: Present subjunctive
[what someone would do] and past subjunctive
[what someone would have done].
will not concern ourselves here with the imperative,
but it is important that you understand the difference between
the indicative and subjunctive moods. You will not be tested
(in German 221/231 or below) on Subjunctive I, but a brief
description is given here to help you recognize it.
Indicative: what is happening, what happened, what will happen.
Gives the facts.
in all the basic tenses:
[a.k.a. Präsens]: what happens, what is happening
gehe: I go, I am going
Past [a.k.a. Imperfect, Präteritum, Simple Past...]:
what happened (formal)
word: Ich ging: I went, I was going [formal]
[a.k.a. Present Perfect; Conversational Past]: what happened
+ past participle: Ich bin gegangen: I went, I was going
Perfect [a.k.a. Plusquamperfekt]: what had happened
before something else in the past happened: only rarely used;
especially with bevor and nachdem!
+ past participle: Ich war gegangen: I had gone [before
I did some other thing]
what will happen [definitely, not hypothetically; use
werde/wirst/wird... not würde, würdest...]
[conjugated] + infinitive: Ich werde gehen: I will go
would happen, what would have happened, what you wish would
happen , what you wish would have happened--the "counterfactual"
mood. Gives wishes and hypotheticals, not the facts.
someone just says "subjunctive," they usually mean Subjunctive
II, not Subjunctive I
note for those of you who have learned Spanish, French, Italian,
Portuguese, or Rumanian: In these languages, you will
have learned about the Conditional and the Subjunctive
moods. German Subjunctive II corresponds much more closely
to the Conditional mood in these languages (used for
saying what you would do or would have done) than to the Subjunctive
mood, which is used in
these languages primarily in conjunction with certain
verbs expressing beliefs, desires and uncertainties (and corresponds
to some extent to the Subjunctive I in German in this
II exists in only two tenses: present and past,
but there are two ways to form the present subjunctive, one
formal (one-word form based on simple past of the verb), one
informal (würde + infinitive). ==> Whereas you are
used to having just one option for the present tense and two
options for the past tense (formal--narrative past [one word];
informal--perfect [two words]) in the indicative, in the subjunctive
you have two options for the present tense (one-word form,
or würde + infinitive) and only one option for the past
(based on perfect tense ==> hätte/wäre + past participle)
Subjunctive II : what would happen; what you would
do; what you wish would happen now or in the future
word [formal]: Ich ginge: I would go; Ich sagte: I would
1: The one-word subjunctive is based on the
simple past indicative, so the one-word subjunctive and
the simple past indicative verb forms will generally look
very similar. For irregular (strong) verbs, the subjunctive
differs from the simple past in its endings (-e, -est,
-e etc.) and in having an umlaut if possible. For weak
verbs, the subjunctive and simple past are identical.
For mixed verbs (irregular weak verbs like kennen,
brennen, rennen, nennen etc.), the
subjunctive is usually formed with würde + infinitive
[exceptions: hätte, wüßte]
2: For the modals, the one-word subjunctive has an
umlaut if the infinitive has one: könnte, dürfte,
möchte and müßte, but sollte and konnte.
+ infinitive [informal ==> more common]: Ich
würde gehen: I would go; Ich würde sagen: I would
It is usually entirely up to you whether you choose
the one-word form or the würde + infinitive form.
But for haben, sein and the modal verbs, use the one-word
ich würde haben (I would
have); ich wäre ich würde sein
(I would be); ich könnte ich würde können
(I would be able to) etc.
Subjunctive II : what would have happened, what you would
have done, what you wish had happened [for hypothetical statements
about things that are now over]
"I wish I were a dog" sounds like past tense [I were],
but it's not: you're wishing you were a dog now!
This happens because the English subjunctive is formed on
the basis of the past tense [or alternatively as would +
infinitive] just like the German subjunctive is formed on
the basis of the simple past! So the German for this would
be "Ich wünschte, ich wäre ein Hund" using present
+ past participle: Ich wäre gegangen: I would have
gone; Ich hätte gesagt: I would have said
the indicative forms: Ich bin gegangen; Ich habe gesagt--just
change sein to wäre and haben to
there is only one past subjunctive, the subjunctive form
corresponding to indicative simple past will still be the
same: ich ging and ich bin gegangen
[I went] ==> ich wäre gegangen [I would have
gone]; ich sagte and ich habe gesagt
[I said] ==> ich hätte gesagt.
here for a more detailed explanation of Subjunctive II
I is used to state what someone else says/has said or thinks/thought.
Like Subjunctive II, Subjunctive I only has one past tense
(but there is a future). All verb forms are based very closely
on the infinitive ==> there's no exceptions to memorize
when you learn Subjunctive I! Subjunctive I often looks very
similar to the present or perfect indicative--the difference
is only really obvious in the third person singular, where
Subjunctive I has a characteristic -e ending instead
of the -t you would expect from present indicative.
This is how you can tell that someone is being quoted, even
if there is no "Sie/Er sagt..."
Sie sagt, sie gehe: she says she goes [reporting "Ich
Sie sagt, sie sei gegangen: she says she went [reporting
"Ich ging" or "Ich bin gegangen"]
Sie sagt, sie werde gehen: she says she will go [reporting
"Ich werde gehen"]
Imperatives: Sie sagt, ich solle gehen: she says
I should go [reporting "Geh!" or "Gehen Sie!"]
we are not requiring you to know Subjunctive I for tests in
here for a more detailed explanation of Subjunctive I