Handout: Der Konjunktiv II (Subjunctive)

What is mood?
There are three "moods" which apply to verbs: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive. Although you may not realize it, you have already learned tenses in the indicative and imperative moods. To review:

Indicative: a verb is in the indicative mood when it is used to express a "real" situation in the past, present or future:

Ich bin hier.I am here.
Kam er gestern zur Schule?Did he come to school yesterday?
Morgen wird es regnen.It will rain tomorrow.

Imperative: a verb is in the imperative mood when it is used to express an order or a request.

Sei still!Be quiet!
Rufen Sie mich an!Call me!

What is the subjunctive mood?
A verb is in the subjunctive mood when it is used to express wishes, probabilities, or conditions which are contrary to fact. This form of the subjunctive is called Konjunktiv II in German.

Ich wünschte, dass ich da sein könnte.I wish I could be there.
Wenn ich nur da gewesen wäre!If only I had been there!
Wenn er hier wäre, würde er es uns helfen.If he were here, he would help us.

If you've learned another foreign language such as French or Spanish, please do not apply the rules for subjunctive use in those languages to German: they have very little in common. German Konjunktiv II could more properly be called the 'conditional', since that is its primary use. (Next year you will learn a different subjunctive tense that is used in other, relatively rare, situations.)

Forming the Konjunktiv II
The easiest form of the subjunctive in German is the würde-subjunctive, which is exactly equivalent to the English "would do" formation.

Ich würde die Museen in Berlin besuchen.I would visit the museums in Berlin.
Würdest du mir bitte helfen?Would you please help me?
Wenn er nur kommen würde!If only he would come!

You may notice that würde looks like the verb werden: indeed, it is based off of the simple past form of werden --> wurde --> würde. The full conjugation is as follows:

ich   würde            wir   würden       
du   würdest            ihr   würdet       
er/sie/es   würde            sie/Sie   würden       

All other verbs in German also have their own subjunctive forms -- like würde, they are based off of the simple past tense forms. In every case, these subjunctive forms mean exactly the same thing as "würde + infinitive." (Thus you can substitute the "würde + infinitive" form for the true subjunctive. However, in class and on the quiz we will be requiring you to use a handful of the true subjunctive forms, and you will certainly see and hear them in Germany.)

The subjunctive of regular (weak) verbs is identical to the simple past tense.

Wenn ich eine Zeitung kaufte, würde ich lesen.If I bought a newspaper, I would read.
Wenn du kochtest, würden wir nicht essen.If you cooked, we wouldn’t eat.
Es wäre schön, wenn ihr das Bett machtet.It would be nice if you made the bed.

The subjunctive of mixed verbs (like bringen, denken, and haben) takes the simple past tense form and adds an umlaut if the root vowel is a, o, or u.

Wenn ich nur mehr Geld hätte!If only I had more money!
Wenn ich so dächte, würdest du es wissen.If I thought that, you would know.

The subjunctive forms of modal verbs are similar to mixed and weak verbs, but show slight variations: namely, those modals that had an umlaut in their original infinitive forms show one in the subjunctive; if there was no umlaut in the infinitive (sollen and wollen), then there is none in the subjunctive. It's best just to memorize these forms:

Ich könnte gehen, wenn ...I could go, if ...
Ich müsste gehen, wenn ...I would have to go, if ...
Ich dürfte gehen, wenn ...I would be allowed to go, if ...
Ich möchte gehen, wenn ...I would like to go, if ...
Ich sollte gehen, wenn ...I should go, if ...
Ich wollte gehen, wenn ...I would want to go, if ...

The subjunctive of strong verbs is slightly more difficult. Like the others, it takes the simple past form, and then adds an umlaut if the root vowel is a, o, or u. In addition, it adds -e for the first and third person singular.

Ich ginge morgen, wenn ich Zeit hätte.I would go tomorrow, if I had time.
Ich käme zu spät.I would come too late.
Wenn ich nur reich wäre!If only I were rich!

The endings for the subjunctive of strong verbs are:

ich   wäre            wir   wären       
du   wärest            ihr   wäret       
er/sie/es   wäre            sie/Sie   wären       

Common Ways to Use the Subjunctive
a) IF-THEN CLAUSES and conditional statements. Using the conjunction wenn to mean "if", these sentences use the subjunctive in both clauses.

Wenn ich Zeit hätte, würde ich lesen.If I had time, I would read.
Wenn er spräche, würde ich nicht zuhören.If he spoke, I wouldn’t listen.
Wenn du dich beeilen würdest, könnten wir anfangen.If you hurried, we could start.
Ich würde kommen, wenn du mich einladen würdest.I would come if you invited me.

Note 1: While English cannot normally use "would + infinitive" in the if-clause, in German you can use the würde-form OR the true subjunctive form of the verb in both the "if" and the "then" clause. It is more common to see the würde-form in the "then" clause (like English), but both are grammatically correct.
Note 2: You will occasionally see these "if-then" statements without the conjunction wenn. For example: Hätte ich Zeit, käme ich mit (= "Had I time, I would come"). In that case, ellipsis occurs, so that the verb is placed first. (You aren't required to know this, but it will come up if you continue on to German 203.)

b) WISHES. The phrase "wenn ich nur" means "If only I ..." and needs the subjunctive. Also, the phrase "ich wünschte" means "I wish ..." and also requires the subjunctive.

Wenn ich nur Spanisch sprechen könnte!If only I could speak Spanish!
Wenn es nur regnen würde!If only it would rain.
Ich wünschte, ich hätte mehr Erfahrung.I wish I had more experience.
Wir wünschten, dass er kommen würde.We wish he would come.

c) CONTRARY TO FACT statements, irreality. When expressing what would happen, but is not actually happening, the subjunctive is needed. We almost always use "would" for this in English.

Ich würde meine Hausaufgaben machen, aber es ist schon Mitternacht.
I would do my homework, but it’s already midnight.
Er käme mit, aber er muss das Haus aufräumen.
He would come along, but he has to clean the house.

d) POLITE REQUESTS. This is a very common use of the subjunctive in both English and German. The subjunctive in these types of requests can be würde + infinitive, or a modal verb or hätte.

Würden Sie mir bitte helfen?Would you help me, please?
   (not: Helfen Sie mir bitte! = imperative)(not: Help me, please! = imperative)   
Könnten Sie mir sagen, wo die Post ist?Could you tell me where the post office is?
   (not: Können Sie mir sagen ... = indicative)(not: Can you tell me ... = indicative)   
Hätten Sie Zeit, mit mir zu sprechen?Might you have time to speak with me?
   (not: Haben Sie Zeit ... = indicative)(not: Do you have time ... = indicative)   
Ich möchte eine Tasse Kaffee.I would like a cup of coffee.
   (not: Ich will eine Tasse Kaffee = indicative)(not: I want a cup of coffee = indicative)