Wishes, sarcasm, and linguistic imagery in German — More Konjunktiv II

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Wishes, sarcasm, and linguistic imagery in German — More Konjunktiv II

The other week we looked at how to use the German Konjuntiv II form for being polite and expressing unreal conditional clauses. This week I want to look at a few other ways that we can use conditionals. If you apply these you’ll also be able to add a touch of sarcasm to your spoken German, which if used correctly, will help you improve your German clout.

“As if / like” clauses

These are conditionals in which a fact, usually someone’s behaviour or an object’s appearance, is stated and a hypothetical or sarcastic cause is given. Think of office comedies and you’ll get a good idea of how you can apply these. The “as if” is built using “als ob”. Read more about als here. In some cases you can also use “als wenn”.

  •  Markus tut, als ob er die Antwort wüsste. (Markus is acting like he would know the answer.)
  • Die Kinder tun, als ob sie kein Wort verstanden hätten. (The children are acting as if they wouldn’t understand a word.)
  • Die Berliner sprechen, als ob sie Steine im Mund hätten. (Berliners speak like they would have stones in their mouth.)
  • Franziska sieht aus, als ob sie zu lange in der Sonne gelegen hätte. (Franziska looks as if she’s been lying in the sun too long.)
  • Fritz tut, als hätte er das Pulver erfunden. (Fritz acts like he invented gunpowder) (= as if he were a rocket scientist.)

*Note: if you leave the “ob” out, then the verb comes after “als”.


In German we can express wishes in the subjunctive. Unlike in English though, the verbs expressing the desire are also in the subjunctive.

  • Ich wünschte, ich könnte fliegen. (I wish I could fly.)
  • Ich wollte, er würde den Mund halten. (I wish he’d keep his mouth shut.)
  • Margareta wünschte, er würde sie um ihre Hand bitten. (Margareta wishes he would ask for her hand in marriage.)

Implying wishes

More often then not we’re a little lazy and indirect about our wishes and they come out as statements that need to be read by the listener. For instance: You’re a woman and you see a handbag in the window of a shop that you would like, so you say that it would be perfect for you to your husband instead of telling him directly that you want it.

  • Das wäre eine Handtasche für mich! (That would be a handbag for me!)
  • Man müsste jung sein! (Oh, to be young!)

“If only”

When you get postcards (Ansichtskarten) or letters (Briefe) one of the things you surely love to read is the phrase “If only you were here!” It implies that you’re missed. This can be done in German with “Wenn … nur…!” sentences. When we use the Konjunktiv II form of haben (hätten) we often leave the “wenn” away and start the clause with the conjugated form of hätten.

  • Wenn du nur hier wärest! (If only you were here!)
  • Wenn ich nur ihren Namen wüsste! (If I only knew her name!)
  • Wenn er nur anrufen würde! (If only he would call!)
  • Hätten sie nur die richtige Grösse! (If only they had the right size!)

Contradiction of a previous claim:

This has surely happened to you before: Someone claims that you’ve said something that you haven’t or at least don’t believe you’ve said. You’ll need to contradict them. Generally we throw the contradiction out as a question, so it starts with a question word (interrogative). You’ll also notice that this is one of the German ways for expressing the English phrase “supposed to”.

  • Wann hätte ich so was gesagt? (When am I supposed to have said that?)
  • Wie sollte er es gefunden haben? (How is he supposed to have found it?)
  • Schön wäre es! (That would be nice [if it were true].)
  • Nicht dass ich wüsste. (Not that I’m aware of.)

Linguistic illustrations:

Though German is a very precise language, Germans also know how to use language to illustrate things that have happened. When you go to make these analogies, they usually start with an introductory clause and are followed by either a second independent clause or a subordinating clause starting with dass. Read more about dass here.

  • Ich dachte, ich wäre im Kino. (I thought I must be at the movies.) (Must have been dreaming. i.e. the situation was ridiculous.)
  • Wir hatten Angst, dass er vor Wut platzen würde. (We were afraid he would explode with anger.)

Expressing doubt

Put yourself back in the office: One of your employees has come in late to work again with the standard excuse of his alarm clock not going off. During your coffee break you talk to another employee about this, suggesting your doubt. You can do this by using the general subjunctive in indirect discourse. For these sentences, dass constructions are generally very helpful.

  • Er sagt, dass sein Wecker nicht geklingelt hätte. (He says that his alarm didn’t go off.)
  • Sie behauptet, dass sie die ganze Zeit zu Hause gewesen wäre. (She claims that she was home the whole time.)
  • Der Hund hätte Ihre Arbeit gefressen? ([Are you saying that] The dog ate your paper?)

So there you have it, 7 other ways that you can use the Konjuntiv II in German for expressing wishes, being sarcastic and adding imagery to your language. I want to point out her though, that if you are trying to be sarcastic, a great deal lies in the tone of voice and not just the grammatical structure.

  1. SPark9625SPark962512-21-2013

    Could I know how often contradictory claims or expressing doubt using Konjunktiv II are used? For example, in the following sentence “Er sagt, dass sein Wecker nicht geklingelt hätte.”, instead of hätte, if I said hatte, did I say it wrong? Same for “Wann hätte ich so was gesagt?”, I think I would (out of habit) say habe instead of hätte. Is this wrong? Or are they both correct, but have different meanings?

    I would in the long run want to improve my German as a language, but at the moment it seems like I really need to pass the TestDaF to apply for German Universities, so could I know if sticking to my ways are okay?

    • ChristianChristian12-25-2013

      Your questions are very good. Both sentences are correct. When you use the subjunctive (Konjunktiv 2) though in the first example you are insinuating that his claim is false (that it’s an excuse, but a lie). In the second example, the meaning is “At what point have I ever said such a thing?” “When would I have said that?” Whereas with habe the question literally asks for the exact time/instance you said that which you are accused of saying.

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