37 comments on “Subjunctive 2 – würde, wäre or hätte

  1. So… the subjunctive 2, in German jargon it is called Konditional 2, works as follows:

    First the present tense… here an example in English to clarify what we are talking about:

    – I would go, if I had time.

    So… every verb in German has its own form for it… every verb. So for every verb there is a form that means “would verb”. Here are some examples:

    – haben – hätte
    – sein – wäre
    – können – könnte
    – wissen – wüsste
    – kommen – käme
    – gehen – ginge

    This form mostly often looks like the real past form + umlaut + ending of present tense. However, for the vast majority of verbs the real past form and the conditional form look alike… just as in English by the way:

    – kaufen – kaufte…

    This could be “bought” as well as “would buy”. That is a problem because it is unclear. So German has a second way to build the conditional 2 and that way uses the helper verb werden and puts that into conditional while it takes the original verb as an infinitive:

    – kaufen – würde kaufen (would buy)
    – nehmen – würde nehmen (would take)

    This can be done for EVERY verb. Even for the ones that have a unique form for conditional of their own:

    – sein – würde sein (would be)
    – haben – würde haben (would have)

    So we have the choice between 2 ways that mean EXACTLY the same.

    – Es wäre gut,… = Es würde gut sein … = it would be good.

    The decision which one is used depend on what the majority does and it is pretty much the same pattern as for the decision whether to use the spoken past or the written past.
    For helper verb, modals and the most common normal verb, that do have a unique form (verbs like sehen, gehen, nehmen, kommen and so on) people tend to use the real conditional. But the other one, the würde-conditional is not wrong. It just sounds weird. “Es würde gut sein” sounds pretty bad, because we’re not used to it. We’re use to “Es wäre gut”. But for many verbs both versions are being used. Generally the real conditional is better style so in books you will see a lot of that, while in spoken you’ll here würde this and würde that all the time.

    And now how does it work in past tense… again an example in English so we know what we are talking about:

    – It would have been good…

    Unlike some other language, German verbs have NO own form for that… thank god. So we have to use a helper verb to get the idea across. And the helper just so happens to be the one you would use for the spoken past… haben or sein.
    So you basically build the spoken past according to the book and then you exchange the helper with its real conditional form… that is with either hätte or wäre. And that’s it. So there is NO würde in past tense conditional… theoretically we can but it sounds really bad.

    Here an example in present tense:

    – Ich esse.
    – I eat.

    – Ich äße. (real conditional…not used here)
    – I would eat.

    – Ich würde essen (würde conditional… this is what people say)

    and in past:

    – Ich aß. (real past… not used here)
    – I ate.

    – Ich habe gegessen. (spoken past… this is what people say)
    – I ate.

    – Ich hätte gegessen. (past conditional… this is what people say)
    – I would have eaten.

    – Ich würde gegessen haben (past conditional using the würde-conditional of haben… possible but noone talks like that)
    – I would have eaten.

    So the system kind of parallels the system of past tense. There are 2 version which mean the same and it is only convention which is used in spoken.
    That is it in a nutshell. Hope that helps… and if there are more questions.. just keep on asking :)

  2. Adrian says:

    Dude, your response has accomplished what three text books have failed to do. You fuckin’ rock! The next beer is on me. :D

    …If any further questions come up on the topic, I’ll be sure to ask. Thanks!

  3. Briguy says:

    Hey, when spoken, which verbs are commonly used in the subjunctive two form and which verbs are commonly used in the real past form? I’v heard that this is regional, so there probably isn’t a definite list anywhere, but I’ve read a few lists that give, gehen, tun, machen, and of coarse the modal verbs. what are you’r opinions on this

    • It is really hard to give a definite answer to this but it really works like the past pretty much. Let’s take finden.
      You would use the real past if you mean finden in the abstract sense:

      – Ich fand den Film gut.

      And you would use the spoken if you literally find an item:

      – Ich habe den Schlüssel gefunden.

      If you mix that up, it sounds really strange.
      So in subjunctive 2, people would probably use fände more than würde finden because most instances will be the abstract finden

      – Ich fände es schön, wenn du….

      And now with the key-example:

      – Wenn ich meinen Schlüssel finden würde, könnten wir gehen.
      – Wenn ich meinen Schlüssel fände,…
      – If I found my keys we could go.

      To me, the fände-version sounds a bit like stage acting here. It is just really really high German in that mundane context.
      So… for verbs where you get to hear the real past form in spoken a lot… like gehen, sehen, kommen, etc… the real subjunctive is not uncommon either.
      That’s the best answer I can give you.
      But one thing…. machen takes würde in my opinion… because machen has not a unique subjunctive form.

      – Ich machte…

      can be “I made” and “I would make”

      So people use “würde machen” and “habe gemacht”.

  4. briguy says:

    vielen dank!!

  5. anupoma says:

    when we have to use wäre and when we can use würde?

    • So you use wäre as a conditional for sein (to be). I
      There are 2 different uses. The first use case are normal sentences that contain “sein”:

      – It would be nice…
      – Es wäre schön…

      In English this loosely translates to “would be”.

      The second scenario are sentences that talk about the past or the fictional past and that contain verbs that build their spoken past with “sein”…

      – I would have gone…
      – Ich wäre gegangen…

      – If I had gone…
      – Wenn ich gegangen wäre…

      There is not a one-to-one equivalent in English. What you do is, you build a normal past sentence in German using the spoken past (habe/bin ge-) and replace “habe” with “hätte” or “bin” with “wäre” and so on…
      Hope that helps a bit :)

  6. cudio says:

    thank u very much for your answers,n I have Question :)
    what is the diffrence between this two sentences:
    “Ich wäre fahren”,”ich würde fahren”
    und Vielen dank

    • “Ich wäre fahren” is wrong. If you mean “Ich wäre gefahren”, then the difference is that one is past and the other is present.

      – Ich würde fahren.
      – I would drive.

      – Ich wäre gefahren.
      – I would have driven.

      • Anonymous says:

        Meine haare sind kurz.es ware besser wenn ich lange haare hatte.

        Is the above sentence correct?

      • Yes and no… the umlaut is actually crucial. I guess you don’t have it on your keyboard but then you can/should just type it “ae” (for “ä”)

        – Es wäre besser, wenn ich lange Haare hätte.
        – It would be better if I had long hair.

        Without the umlaut, it looks like past tense. If that’s what you were going for it should be

        – Es war besser als ich lange Haare hatte.

        Hope that helps.

  7. cudio says:

    thanks alot,yes I misstyped it “gefahren”,thank you :D

  8. Sigrid says:

    I am still not sure when I must use “wuerde” and when I must use “waere” in the German Subjuntive? Is there a rule I can apply? Thank you! Sigrid

    • Well… you only use “wäre” if “sein” is involved in some way in the non-conditional version. You use “wuerde” in present tense, and in theory you can use it for every single verb. It’s not always idiomatic but it works

  9. eduardo says:

    Finally someone explained it to me! Ich bin sehr dankbar.

  10. mayur says:

    I wonder what would be the passive of the sentences in your first post?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hi, so does it mean that any sentence translated to “would be” or “would have been” in English will be “wäre and a straightforward “would”would mean “wuerde”.
    z.b. Ich wäre die ganze Zeit unterwegs–i would be travelling the entire time
    ich wuerde versuchen, besser Deutsch zu lernen- i would try to learn better Deutsch.

    Also why is wuerde only used with present tense?

  12. Anonymous says:

    thank you :)

  13. Osaretin. says:

    You are a great teacher with great wisdom.
    I need to digest this more before I come up with questions. I have a great relieve right now.
    I wish to connect with your webmail and other german materia if available.
    Thanks

  14. Osaretin says:

    Good day. Please I need clarification on the use of wäre and hätte. Can I use these words interchangeably ?

  15. Osaretin says:

    pls what is the differencebetween Ich wäre gegangen and Ich hätte gegangen

    – Wenn ich gegangen wäre and Wenn ich gegangen hätte

  16. asavari says:

    hi,
    1 Can you please tell me when to use welche und was fur ein in a sentence.
    2 When do we use bestimmte artikel and unbestimmte artikel

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