Konjunktiv I

Konjunktiv I [Subjunctive I]

Use for Indirect Speech & Reporting Thoughts/Beliefs/Opinions
Forms-Present Tense Forms-Other Tenses
Replacement of Subjunctive I by Subjunctive II
Special Uses of Subjunctive I

Use for Indirect Speech & Reporting Thoughts/Beliefs/Opinions

1. Reported Speech (Indirect Discourse)

One can report speech either directly (repeating the person’s exact words) or indirectly. In the latter case, one usually uses Subjunctive I. Thus, if a woman says “Ich kann tanzen wenn ich will,” I can tell someone else what she said by saying either

Sie sagte: “Ich kann tanzen wenn ich will” She said, “I can dance if I want to”


Sie sagte, sie könne tanzen, wenn sie wolle She said she could dance if she wanted to

The former is direct speech; the latter is indirect speech, and uses Subjunctive I.

Imperatives are reported using solle or möge:

Er sagte ich solle/möge gehen [reporting the order “Geh!”]
He said I should go

2. Reporting Thoughts, Beliefs, Opinions

This is an extension of Subjunctive I’s basic function of reporting speech:

Er dachte, sie sei vom Mars
He thought she was from Mars

Er glaubte, sie werde ihn entführen
He believed she would abduct him

Forms- Present Tense

Remove the -en from the infinitive and add weak verb simple past endings:

ich habe wir haben
du habest ihr habet
er/sie/es habe sie/Sie haben


This is the simplest German tense to form. The only irregular verb is sein, which does not eat its cereal and is therefore irregular all the time. It omits the first and third person singular -e:

ich sei wir seien
du sei(e)st ihr seiet
er/sie/es sei sie/Sie seien

Forms- Other Tenses

Future: Subjunctive I of “werden” + infinitive.

Er sagt, er werde tanzen, wenn er wolle He says he will dance if he wants to
Sie sagt, sie werde ihre Freunde zurücklassen She says she will leave her friends behind

Past: Subjunctive I of “haben” or “sein” + past participle

Sie sagt, sie sei eingeschlafen [remember “einschlafen” is a change of state ==> conjugated with “sein,” not “haben”] She says she fell asleep
Er sagte, er habe von ihr geträumt He said he had dreamed of her

Note that there is only one past subjunctive tense to correspond to all three indicative past tenses (present perfect, simple past and past perfect). Thus the direct quotations

“Ich lachte”; “Ich habe gelacht”; “Ich hatte gelacht”

will all be represented in Subjunctive I as:

Er/sie sagt, er/sie habe gelacht

In German, unlike in English, the tense of the indirect discourse corresponds to the tense of the direct discourse (what the speaker actually said), regardless of when it is being reported. Let’s say I’m covering Madonna for a German audience. She says, “I’m hungry” (Present Tense)

I report “live”: Sie sagt (Present), sie sei (Pres. Subj. I) hungrig

or the next day:
Sie sagte (Past), sie sei (still Pres.
Subj. I) hungrig

If she says “I was hungry” (Past Tense):

I report “live”: Sie sagt (Present), sie sei hungrig gewesen (Past Subj. I)

or the next day:
Sie sagte (Past), sie sei hungrig gewesen (still Past Subj. I)

Replacement of Subjunctive I by Subjunctive II

1. Identity of Subjunctive I and Present Indicative

The first person singular and plural, and the third person plural forms of Present Subjunctive I are identical with the corresponding forms of the Present Indicative. Therefore, in order to avoid ambiguity, those forms of Subjunctive I are avoided, and Subjunctive II is used instead. As a result, Subjunctive I is used almost exclusively in the third person singular, and more generally with the verb sein, where its forms are distinctive.

2. Spoken German

In spoken German, both Subjunctives are becoming increasingly rare. Subjunctive I is replaced by the Indicative or otherwise by Subjunctive II most of the time, even when there is no ambiguity.

3. To Express Doubt

One may choose to report speech in Subjunctive II (even when there is no ambiguity) to indicate that one doubts the truth of the statement. For example, if Madonna and Billy Ray Cyrus both claim to be intelligent, one may report her statement in Subj. I, to indicate that it might be true, and his statement in Subj. II, to express one’s doubt about it:

Madonna sagt, sie sei intelligent.
Billy Ray Cyrus sagt, er wäre intelligent.

Special Uses of Subjunctive I

1. Third Person Requests, Suggestions, or Wishes

This use occurs particularly in formal writing, and in older texts

AB sei eine Gerade Let AB be a straight line
Sei AB eine Gerade Let AB be a straight line
Man nehme zwei Eier Take two eggs (standard cookbook phrase)
Man stelle sich eine Welt ohne Eier vor (Let the reader) Imagine a world without eggs
Stelle man sich eine Welt ohne Eier vor (Let the reader) Imagine a world without eggs
Möge es ihm gelingen May he be successful
Gebe Gott, daß …. May God grant that …

A special case of this is the phrase sei es, translated as be it

Sei es Zufall oder Notwendigkeit, jedenfalls existiert auf der Erde intelligentes Leben.
Be it chance or necessity; in any case intelligent life exists on earth.

Finally, one sometimes sees Subj. I used in this way after damit:

Damit Barney ganz tot sei, wurde er in kleine Stückchen zerhackt.
So that Barney should (would) be entirely dead, he was chopped up into little pieces.

2. Imaginary Comparisons (“As If”)

The conjunctions als ob and als wenn, both meaning as if, introduce comparisons that are imaginary rather than real. They can be followed by Subj. I or II.

Es sieht aus, als ob das Radium nicht weniger geworden sei/wäre.
It looks as if the radium had not become any less.

Als can be used by itself in this sense, in which case the word order is different:

Es scheint, als könne/könnte man schneller als mit Lichtgeschwindigkeit reisen.
It seems as if one could travel faster than the speed of light.

Occasionally, such unreal comparisons appear without als, als ob or als wenn:

Es hat den Anschein, das Elektron wisse/wüßte, wo es ist.
It appears as if the electron knew where it was.