Konjunktiv 2: Anwendung & Bildung – Präsens, Futur & Vergangenheit

In this lesson I will explain the Konjunktiv 2 in German. You will learn how to form the Konjunktiv 2 and when to use it. You will also learn how to use the Konjunktiv 2 in the Präsens (present tense), Futur (future tense), and Vergangenheit (past tense). If you are looking for a particular topic within the scope of the Konjunktiv 2 in German, you should take a look at the table of contents below the bunnies.

If you just started learning German, close this tab now. You are about to see a part of the rabbit hole that you are not supposed to see for a long time. If you think you can handle this topic, enjoy the image of the bunnies below, because that will be the most pleasant thing about this post.

Konjunktiv 2 Skit –
Sketch mit Konjunktiv 2

Konjunktiv 2 in German: What it is and why you are doing it WRONG!

Before we get into the weeds of the Konjunktiv 2, we need to dispel some rumors you may have heard about it. Since it is often pretty boring to just read these things, I have created a skit for that. You can watch the skit in the video above or read along in the script below.

Typical Konjunktiv 2 Examples –
Typische Beispiele im Konjunktiv 2

(Herr Lehrer) Guten Morgen, Schüler. Heute lernen wir den Konjunktiv 2. Der Konjunktiv 2 drückt Wünsche, Träume und Möglichkeiten aus. Zum Beispiel:
Good morning, students. Today we are learning the Konjunktiv 2. The Konjunktiv 2 expresses wishes, dreams and possibilities. For example:

Ich wünschte, ich wäre da.
I wish I were there.

Wenn ich reich wäre, könnte ich meinen Job kündigen.
If I were rich, I could quit my job.

Dieses Video könnte viral gehen.
This video could go viral.

Does the Konjunktiv 2 really express wishes? –
Drückt der Konjunktiv 2 wirklich Wünsche aus?

(Curious Antrim) Ok, verstehe, “Ich wünschte, ich wäre da.” ist ein Wunsch. Aber kann man das nicht auch so sagen: Ich wünsche mir, ich bin da. Der Konjunktiv 2 ist raus, aber der Wunsch bleibt. Das Verb “wünschen” drückt also den Wunsch aus, oder? 
Ok, I understand “I wish I were there.” is a wish. But can’t you also say it this way: I wish, I am there. The Konjunktiv 2 is gone, but the wish remains. The verb “wünschen” (to wish) expresses the wish, right?

Does the Konjunktiv 2 really express dreams? –
Drückt der Konjunktiv 2 wirklich Träume aus?

(Herr Lehrer) Ok, versuchen wir den zweiten Satz: Wenn ich reich wäre, könnte ich meinen Job kündigen. – If I were rich, I could quit my job. Hier drücke ich einen Traum aus…ach ja, wenn das Wörtchen “wenn” nicht wär…
Ok, let’s try the second sentence: If I were rich, I could quit my job. – Wenn ich reich wäre, könnte ich meinen Job kündigen. Here we are expressing a dream… oh, if it weren’t for that little word “wenn” (if).

(Curious Antrim) Hier könnte man aber auch sagen: Wenn ich reich bin, kann ich meinen Job kündigen. – If I am rich, I can quit my job. Wieder ist der Konjunktiv 2 weg, aber der Traum bleibt. Die Konjunktion “wenn” drückt eine Bedingung aus, nämlich dass Sie reich sind. Da Sie nicht wirklich reich sind, drückt der Satz einen Traum oder Wunsch aus.
Here we could say: If I am rich, I can quit my job. – Wenn ich reich bin, kann ich meinen Job kündigen. Again the Konjunktiv 2 is gone, but the dream remains. The conjunction “wenn” (if) expresses a condition, namely that you are rich. Because you aren’t really rich, the sentence expresses a dream or a wish.

Does Konjunktiv really express possibilities? –
Drückt der Konjunktiv 2 wirklich Möglichkeiten aus?

(Herr Lehrer) Gut, dann sehen wir mal was du zu dem letzten Satz sagst: Dieses Video könnte viral gehen. – This video could go viral. Das ist eine Möglichkeit oder Wahrscheinlichkeit, was dir lieber ist…
Fine, let’s see what you say to the last sentence: This video could go viral. – Dieses Video könnte viral gehen. That is a possibility or a probability, whichever you prefer.

(Curious Antrim) Ähm…*räusper*…Dieses Video kann viral gehen. Konjunktiv 2 nada, Möglichkeit noch da. Das Verb “können” drückt die Möglichkeit aus… oder Wahrscheinlichkeit, was Ihnen lieber ist. 
Um… *ehm*… This video can go viral. Konjunktiv 2 nada, possibility still there. The verb “können” (can) expresses the possibility… or probability, whichever you prefer.

(Herr Lehrer) Gut, das sind aber nur Einzelfälle, die du da gefunden hast.
Well, those are just isolated instances you have identified.

Hört auf mit diesem Wahnsinn!

(Real Antrim) No, they aren’t! The Konjunktiv 2 or Subjunctive 2 in German does not express wishes, dreams, and possibilities. It is ONLY used when you want to express something contrary to reality. Today I will explain what the Konjunktiv 2 really is and how you really use it. 

(Sarcastic Antrim) Took you long enough! You teased this video in March of last year

(Real Antrim) Then I should probably get to the point instead of wasting time arguing with you. 

When is the Konjunktiv 2 really used? –
Wann wird der Konjunktiv 2 wirklich benutzt?

As I mentioned in the intro, Konjunktiv 2 is simply used to express irreality or things that are contrary to reality. It shows you that whatever is expressed in the Konjunktiv 2 is not the way things are in reality. The Konjunktiv 2 can be used anytime that the indicative can be used (normal stuff you are probably used to) and conversely the indicative can be used where the Konjunktiv 2 is.

It is simply a question of “what do you want to express?” If you want to express that this event, action, or condition is not real, use Konjunktiv 2. If you want to express that this event, action or condition is real, will be real or even could be real, you use the indicative.

You don’t need to know whether something is actually real. It is just a matter of whether you want to express that reality or not. For example: Harry Potter is written almost exclusively in the indicative mood even though none of it is real. Sorry if I just ruined your dream of going to Hogwarts. 

Wishes, dreams and possibilities are all expressed through context and grammatical structures that are not directly expressed through the Konjunktiv 2. Wishes, most often, are expressed with the verb “wünschen”, which is just as often used in the indicative as it is the Konjunktiv 2. Dreams and possibilities are often expressed with the conjunction “wenn”. These, again, can be expressed either with the Konjunktiv 2 or without it. Let’s see some examples to drive this home. 

Wishes –

Ich wünschte, ich hätte eine Katze.
I wish I had a cat. 

This sentence shows a wish, but the only part of the sentence that is expressing the “wishing” aspect is the verb “wünschen”. The Konjunktiv 2 in the verb “haben” or more precisely “hätte” just shows us that I don’t in fact have a cat.

(Herr Lehrer) If the Konjunktiv 2 is used to express irreality, why is “wünschen” also written in the Konjunktiv 2? It isn’t “Were I to wish something, I’d wish I had a cat.” It is simply “I wish I had a cat.” 

This is actually just matching moods and tenses to make the sentence sound better. It is the same reason that you don’t often hear people mix the Perfekt with the Präteritum in the same sentence. It just sounds better that way even though the grammar says it shouldn’t necessarily be that way. 

The point is this: grammatical structures need to be clear in their purpose and make the person understood without a doubt or it loses its usefulness and consequently dies out. The Konjunktiv 2 is alive and well, which means it does have a purpose. The problem is that people assume the Konjunktiv 2 is showing the wish, dream or possibility, when in fact, other things in the sentence do that. The Konjunktiv 2’s only function is to express irreality. Nothing more. Nothing less. 

Dreams & Possibilities –
Träume und Möglichkeiten

You will often see the Konjunktiv 2 used with the conjunction “wenn”, as this introduces a condition. If that condition is not met, the situation needs to be expressed in the Konjunktiv 2, as it isn’t real. If the condition is met, you simply use the indicative like normal. For example: 

Wenn ich zu Hause wäre, würde ich mir die Schuhe ausziehen.
If I were at home, I would take off my shoes. 

Wenn ich zu Hause bin, ziehe ich mir die Schuhe aus.
If I am at home, I take off my shoes. 

In the first one, I am not at home and the Konjunktiv 2 points this out. In the second one, it indicates any occasion when I am at home, which is a real situation, which requires the indicative. Let’s try another. 

Wenn ich mehr Geld hätte, würde ich mehr Geld ausgeben.
If I had more money, I would spend more money. 

Wenn ich mehr Geld habe, gebe ich mehr Geld aus.
If I have more money, I spend more money. 

Again, the first one shows you that I don’t have more money, but the second shows that when the condition of having more money is met, I spend more of it. 

Politeness –

The Konjunktiv 2 is often used to show politeness. Because it illustrates something that is contrary to reality, it gives the listener the choice of doing the action or not. For example:

Würden Sie mir bitte eine Tasse Tee bringen?
Would you please bring me a cup of tea?

While the word “bitte” is actually what makes this sentence express politeness, it is aided by the Konjunktiv 2. The entire sentence is relegated to the hypothetical, which makes it less of a command and more of a request. This is the same reason that “möchten” is considered to be more polite than “wollen“, as it is the Konjunktiv 2 of “mögen”.

Irony & Sarcasm –
Ironie & Sarkasmus

You can be rude with any kind of sentence in any language. It simply depends upon how you phrase things and your intonation of the expression. In order to use the Konjunktiv 2 with irony and sarcasm, you simply form something as if it were a polite request, but add in some flair to make it sound like you are being mean or spiteful towards the other person.

Würdest du bitte im Betrieb spielen?
Would you please play in traffic?

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