The Subjunctive 2

What is the Subjunctive 2?

The subjunctive is one of 3 moods in German (indicative, imperative, subjunctive). Every verb in every sentence falls into one of these three categories. The most common (by far!) is the indicative mood.

In German, there is the subjunctive 1 and the subjunctive 2. The subjunctive 2 is used to express theoretical, hypothetical, and imaginary / impossible things. It can also be used to make questions, statements, suggestions, and advice more polite.

Comparison with the Indicative Mood

The indicative describes the real world.

  • „Ich bin ein Millionär.“

The subjunctive 2 describes the imaginary world: wishes, dreams, hypotheticals, etc.

  • „Ich wäre so gern ein Millionär.“

Uses of the Subjunctive 2 (A2 level)

As a polite request:

  • „Ich hätte gern noch ein Bier.“
    (= höfliche Bitte/Bestellung in einem Restaurant.)
  • Würdest du bitte das Fenster zumachen? Mir ist kalt!“
    (= höfliche Frage/Bitte, ob jemand etwas tun kann.)

As a wish / dream:

  • „Ich hätte gern eine hübsche Freundin.“
    (= Wunsch)
  • „Ich wünschte mir, ich wäre jetzt in der Karibik.“
    (= Traum)

As a suggestion or advice:

  • „Wir könnten heute Abend ins Kino gehen.“
    (= Vorschlag für die Abendplanung)
  • „Du solltest für deine Prüfung morgen lernen.“
    (= Ratschlag, Hinweis, Tipp)

Uses of the Subjunctive 2 (B1+)

It's also used for imaginary conditions, assumptions, unreal comparisons and unreal wishes.

As unreal conditions:

Things that won't likely happen in the real world

  • „Auch wenn ich reich wäre, würde ich den Ring nicht kaufen.“
    (= Ich bin nicht reich. ⇒ irreal / keine Realität ⇒ Subjunctive 2)
  • „Wenn du mehr Sport gemacht hättest, wärst du nicht so dick.“
    (= Vergangenheit kann man nicht ändern ⇒ irreal / keine Realität ⇒ Subjunctive 2)

Unreal dreams and wishes:

The opposite of what's really true. Often used with "bloß," "doch," or "nur":

  • „Ach, wenn ich nur nicht so dick wäre!“
    (= Ich werde nicht von heute auf morgen schlank ⇒ irreal / keine Realität ⇒ Subjunctive 2)
  • „Ach, wenn ich doch keinen Alkohol getrunken hätte.“
    (= Wunsch etwas in der Vergangenheit zu ändern ⇒ irreal / keine Realität ⇒ Subjunctive 2)

Unreal comparisons:

Comparisons that aren't true, like in English with "as if..." They usually include "als ob" or "als wenn."

  • „Ich fühle mich, als ob ich krank wäre.“
    (= In der Realität bin ich nicht krank ⇒ irreal / keine Realität ⇒ Subjunctive 2)
  • „Sie tut so, als ob sie mich nicht kennen würde.“
    (= nicht real, da sie mich eigtl. kennt, aber wohl nicht mag. ⇒ Subjunctive 2)

Subjunctive 2 in the Simple Present

  1. Put the verb in the simple past
  2. Change the vowels "a," "o," "u" to "ä," "ö," "ü"
  3. Add an "e" to the end in first and third person singular (if one is not already there)

Conjugations of the Most Important Verbs

Konjugation Konjunktiv 2

Sollen doesn't get the "ö" in the subjunctive 2.

Subjunctive 2 in the Past

Follow these steps:

1. Put the verb in the perfect tense - "Ich habe das Spiel gesehen."

2. Change the helping verb to the subjunctive 2 - "Ich hätte das Spiel gesehen.“

The past participle stays the same.

There is no simple past form of the subjunctive 2.

Use in Normal Speech

Normally, only the modal verbs, "sein," "haben," and "werden" get their own subjunctive 2 form.

For all other verbs the conjugated version of "würden" (as helping verb) + infinitive of the main verb is used.

  • ⇒ „Ich ginge heute ins Kino.“ (rarely used)
  • ⇒ „Ich würde heute ins Kino gehen.“

This second way to form the subjunctive 2 is the more common version and corresponds to the English "would" + verb. You could theoretically use this version with the modal verbs, "sein," and "haben," but it isn’t common and doesn’t sound natural at all.

Word Order with the Subjunctive 2

Main Clause First:

If the main clause is in front of the subordinate clause, everything is like normal: the conjugated verb in the main clause is in position 2, and the conjugated verb in the subordinate clause goes to the end.

Subordinate Clause First:

If the subordinate clause is in front of the main clause we have two options. If we use the conjunction "wenn," everything is normal (The verb goes to the end in the subordinate clause, and the verb in the main clause comes right after the comma).

In spoken language, we use this second variation: without "wenn" the verb goes to the first position. If the main clause is front of the subordinate clause, we can not drop "wenn."

The 2nd version is usually used in situations like this:

Anna: „Mama, ich bin durch die Deutschprüfung gefallen.“

Annas Mama: Hättest du mal mehr gelernt.“

Anna's mom is saying that Anna should have studied for the test. This version is used to say that someone should have done something different in the past (The main clause is dropped because it’s obvious).

Why? It’s shorter than...

  • „Wenn du mehr gelernt hättest, wärst du nicht durch die Deutschprüfung gefallen.“

Related Topics:

The basis of the construction of the subjunctive 2 is the simple past.

You can only talk about the past with the perfect tense.