Writing and Understanding the Subjunctive I in German
Subjunctive I: The Rarest Mood in German
The subjunctive II (konjuktiv II), which is discussed in the first article in this series, expresses wishes and unfulfilled conditions. The subjunctive I expresses doubt about what someone else is saying, or has said. In German, this is called indirekte Rede, or "indirect speech." Generally, you will only come across subjunctive I in journalistic reporting.
Here's an example in English: You're reading an interview of a college football coach, who has promised to stay at the same small program that he's developed into a power, even though one of the perennial national powers wants him to come work for them. In English, it would read like this:
Coach Abercrombie said that he is staying around next year.
In English, there's no indication that the writer doubts what the coach has said. You'd have to look for clues in the sentences around this one to get the writer's opinion about the coach's veracity.
But in German, It's Different
In German, here is how the sentence would read in the indicative mood.
Der Trainer wird nächstes Jahr mit derselben Mannschaft bleiben.
But in the interview, it would read differently:
Der Trainer sagt, er werde nächstes Jahr mit derselben Mannschaft bleiben.
The helping verb here suggests doubt on the writer's part that the coach will actually stay.
Great, Something Else to Learn to Conjugate
Well, 90% of the time you run across subjunctive I, it will be in the third person. Unless you're going to be working for a German media outlet, you won't need to learn to write it. But here's how it works. For ANY verb, take the infinitive, remove the -n, and then do it like this:
ich gehe, du gehest, er/sie/es gehe, wir gehen, ihr gehet, sie gehen, Sie gehen
So if you want to write, "She says she's going to school today," but you're not sure she's really going, it would look like this:
Sie sagt, sie gehe heute in die Schule.
If you want to write, "She says that you're eating here today," but you want to imply that she doubts whether the person you're talking to is coming, it would look like this:
Sie sagt, du essest heute hier.
But What about "To be"?
Actually, it looks different in subjunctive I, but sein actually follows the same rules as other verbs in subjunctive I, except for third person singular. It's conjugated like this:
ich seie, du seiest, er sei, wir seien, ihr seiet, sie seien, Sie seien
But the Plurals Look Just Like Indicative
True. So, when the subject is first-person or third-person plural, you would use the subjunctive II forms to express subjunctive I.
For example, "He says that they are coming this evening."
According to the rule for subjunctive I, this would look identical to the indicative:
Er sagt, sie kommen heute Abend.
So you revert to the subjunctive II form. The context will tell the reader what's going on:
Er sagt, sie kämmen heute Abend.
English: Use 100 grams of sugar...
German: Man nehme 100 Gram Zucker...
English: There will be a hole on the left side...
German: Es sei ein Loch an der linken Seite...