Verbs:Der Konjunktiv - Übersicht
The subjunctive mood (in contrast to the indicative mood - such as statements) is used for hypothetical statements (if, what if, if only...), politeness (especially with modal verbs), and reported, indirect speech.
Hypothetical statements (if, what if, if only...)
Politeness (especially with modal verbs)
Reported, indirect speech
There are two main types of subjunctive:
Konjunktiv II is used much more commonly, so that is where we begin.
Forming the subjunctive: Konjunktiv II
Konjunktiv II. can be used in the present tense or in the past, and with subjunctive forms of the verbs or with the würde + infinitive construction. It is formed from the simple past forms of the verbs (the 2nd form, hence Konjunktiv II).
1. Present tense: würde + infinitive
This is the easiest subjunctive form for native speakers of English, as it directly corresponds to the 'would + infinitive' construction. This construction is used with all regular verbs and with most irregular verbs as well (with a few exceptions, covered below).
2. Present tense subjunctive
The present tense subjunctive has the same meaning as the 'würde + infinitive' construction; it is used with high-frequency irregular verbs, such as haben (hätte), sein (wäre), wissen (wüsste), geben (gäbe), and the modal verbs.
3. Past tense subjunctive
The past tense of the subjunctive is formed with the participle form of the verb and either hätte or wäre, depending on the verb (i.e., verbs that take a direct object take hätte, intransitive verbs take ware).
When modal verbs are involved, the past tense subjunctive is formed with hätte, plus the modal verb and the original main verb both in their infinitive forms. In a subordinate clause, the word-order gets pretty exciting!
Forming the subjunctive: Konjunktiv I
Konjunktiv I can be used in the present tense or in the past. It is formed from the present forms of the verbs (the 1st form, hence the name Konjunktiv I). Konjunktiv I transforms an original (present or inferred) statement from a direct quote to an indirect report of that statement.
This structure is used typically only in formal writing in modern German; you'll read it in journal articles, but rarely will anybody say it in conversation or electronic communication! They use the regular present or past tenses instead. It is also only used to report what a third person has said (i.e., not for I said I would do it!). For first and second persons, use würde + infinitive or the Konjunktiv II forms of the verbs! In the following example, you can read the evil queen's original promise and then the way the seven dwarves (ok, only six) report it, using Konjunktiv I.
1. Present tense
The present tense Konjunktiv I is used when the original statement (the one that is quoted) is in the present or future tense.
2. Past tense
The past tense Konjunktiv I is used when the original statement (the one that is quoted) is in the simple past, present perfect (conversational past) or past perfect tense. Konjunktiv I in the past tense is formed by using habe or sei plus the participle form of the main verb (or two infinitives if a modal verb is present).