An Introduction to the German Subjunctive
Konjunktiv I und II
The German subjunctive mood (der Konjunktiv) comes in two varities: (1) Subjunctive I (present subjunctive) and (2) Subjunctive II (past subjunctive). Despite their nicknames, it is important to understand that the subjunctive (in English or German) is a verb mood, not a verb tense. Both the so-called "past" and "present" subjunctive forms can be used in various tenses in German. Later we'll explain the differences between the two German subjunctive moods.
What is the Konjunktiv?
What does the subjunctive actually do? You'll find subjunctive verb forms and expressions in almost any language, including English and German. The subjunctive mood is designed to convey a message. The message can vary, but the subjunctive is telling you that a statement is not just a plain fact (the "indictative" mood), that there may be some doubt, or something is contrary to reality. In English, when we say, "If I were you...," the verb form "were" is subjunctive and it conveys a message: I am not you, but... (The indicative form would be the rather unlikely "I am you.") Other examples of the subjunctive in English:
- "If we only had the money, we could..."
- "That would be a crazy thing to do."
- "God save the Queen!"
- "They insist that she go."
- "Be that as it may."
- "He said he would not do that."
Which of the two subjunctive forms is more important for students learning German? Both of course! But the Subjunctive II is used more in conversational German than Subjunctive I. In fact, the past subjunctive is very common in daily German. It is found in many common expressions (ich möchte..., I would like...) and is used to express doubt or politeness. But we'll discuss all that when we get to the Subjunctive II lesson. Let's start with number one, the somewhat easier Subjunctive I.
NEXT > The Subjunctive I