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Expressing the Conditional in German

In both English and German, there are tenses and there are moods. We use the indicative mood to state facts, the imperative mood to give commands, and the subjunctive mood to reflect wishes or actions in unreal situations ("I wish I were taller" or "I would travel around the world."). Take a look at this past newsletter for information on the formation of the subjunctive (Konjunktiv) in German. The subjunctive is a key part of conditional sentences that describe levels of possibility, from events that are very likely to missed opportunities in the past. 

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Type 1 conditional sentences refer to cause-and-effect links, and events that are quite certain under particular circumstances. Because German sentences often use the present tense to imply the future, the basic structure is wenn or falls (see this newsletter) followed by the present tense, like in English, but then it can be followed by either the present tense or future constructed with werden. 

 

Wenn es so weitergehtwerden bis 2050 drei Viertel aller Alpengletscher verschwunden sein... mit gewaltigen Folgen.

If it continues this way, by 2050, three quarters of all the alpine glaciers will have disappeared ... with enormous consequences.

Captions 33-34, Alpenseen - Kühle Schönheiten - Part 7

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Type 2 conditional sentences refer to events that are less possible or likely, often hypothetical. Its structure in German is Wenn + Konjunktiv II + Konjunktiv II. 

 

Wenn immer Sommer wärewürde ich jeden Tag grillen.

If it were always summer, I would grill every day.

Caption 29, Konjugation - Das Verb „grillen“

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Wenn ich viel Geld hätte, würde ich nie wieder arbeiten gehen.

If had a lot of money, I would never go to work again.

Caption 23, Konjugation - Das Verb „gehen“

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Ich denke, wenn ich weniger arbeiten würdekönnte ich mich mehr konzentrieren.

I think that if I worked less I could concentrate better.

Captions 34-35, Berufsleben - Probleme mit Mitarbeitern

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Type 3 conditional sentences are used to talk about possibilities or events that never came to be. Here is where the structure gets a bit complicated. In its full form, the construction is Wenn + participle + Konjunktiv II + Konjunktiv II + participle.

 

Wenn wir eine Chance gehabt hätten, dann wären wir vorher gegangen, ja.

If we had had a chance, then we would've left before, yes.

Caption 34, Die Klasse - Berlin '61

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Ja, wenn Jannik fit gewesen wäre, dann wäre er nie runtergekracht.

Yes, if Jannik had been healthy, then he wouldn't have ever gone crashing down.

Caption 59, Großstadtrevier - Von Monstern und Mördern

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It is worth mentioning that you may often see "mixed types" of the conditional, in which a missed opportunity in the past (expressed using the participle) is portrayed as still affecting the present. Take a look at the following sentence: 

 

Also, wenn wir den Vertrag letzte Woche unterzeichnet hättenwären wir in der Lage, mit unserer ursprünglichen Vereinbarung fortzufahren? 

So, if we had signed the contract last week, we would be in a position to proceed with our original agreement?

Captions 36-37, Berufsleben - Probleme mit Mitarbeitern

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Further Learning
For more information on the different types of conditional sentences, take a look at this helpful website. Whenever you see key words like hättewäre, or würde on Yabla German, note the subjunctive mood and try to identify which type of conditional sentence it might be related to.

The Good Old Days

When we describe events in the past, we often use temporal adverbs to give a more specific sense of what exact time period we are talking about. Are we talking about events of yesterday or something that happened thirty years ago? In the German language, both the present perfect and the preterite tenses indicate a finished action or state, but more information is often required for clarity's sake.

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Generally, when we see in der Vergangenheit ("in the past") we know that it is not a matter of something that occurred in the recent past, but rather a long time ago.

 

Aus meiner Sicht: Ich fühle mich nicht schuldig für das, was in der Vergangenheit geschehen ist.

From my point of view, I don't feel guilty for that which happened in the past.

Caption 10, Konstantin - ein Freiwilliger in Israel

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We can also use damals and früher to indicate that something happened in the past. Both of these temporal adverbs indicate an action or state that has been concluded for a while. They can be translated as "back then" or "previously." 

 

Früher haben hier die amerikanischen Soldaten gewohnt.

Previously, the American soldiers lived here.

Caption 6, Berlin - der alte amerikanische Sektor

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Damals schwor ich mir, dass mir das nicht wieder passieren sollte.

Back then I swore that something like that wouldn't happen to me again.

Caption 49, TEDx - Der Supermarkt der Zukunft - Part 1

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Internet? Was ist das? Das kannten wir damals gar nicht.

Internet? What is that? We didn't know that at all back then.

Caption 35, Mittelalterlicher Markt - Mäuseroulette

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Sometimes, we want to emphasize that a state was constant or an action was repeated multiple times in the past. For this, we often use the phrase "used to" in English. Below, you can see how the word früher can function in a similar way in various contexts:

 

Weißt du noch, wie's früher war?

Do you still remember how it used to be?

Caption 8, Christina Stürmer - Wir leben den Moment

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Und du tanzt nich' mehr wie früher

And you don't dance like you used to anymore

Caption 4, AnnenMayKantereit - 21, 22, 23

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Ich ging früher im Urlaub immer reiten.

I used to always go horseback riding during vacation.

Caption 16, Konjugation - Das Verb „gehen“

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Further Learning
You can search for more examples with früher and damals on Yabla German or take a look at this website for a more extensive list of different types of adverbs. 

English Present Perfect vs. German Perfekt

Both English and German refer to past events using the simple past tense and the present perfect tense. The perfect past tense is called Perfekt in German, but it is important to understand that although the German Perfekt is considered the closest equivalent of present perfect in English in terms of its structure, in fact there are some notable differences in the ways each language uses this tense. 

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Both English present perfect and German Perfekt have in common that they are compound tenses, formed with an auxiliary or helping verb together with the past participle. This auxiliary verb is usually "to have" (haben) and sometimes, in German, "to be" (sein):
 

Meine Schwester und ich, wir haben zusammen sieben Tafeln Schokolade gegessen.

My sister and I, together we have eaten seven bars of chocolate.

Caption 15, Konjugation - Das Verb „essen“

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Wir sind zusammen in die Stadt gegangen.
We have gone to the city together.
Caption 12, Konjugation: Das Verb „gehen“


The main difference, however, is that the English present perfect refers to an action or state that begins in the past and continues into the present, whereas the German Perfekt is usually used to speak about completed states and actions, and is therefore rather the direct equivalent of the simple past tense. In fact, Perfekt is often called the "conversational past" because it is the primary spoken form of the past tense. In many cases where spoken English would use the simple past tense ("We already ate."), German would almost always use the Perfekt tense (Wir haben schon gegessen).

Alternately, the German Präsenz (present tense) can sometimes be best translated into the English present perfect: 
 

Und Gitarre spielt die Vierunddreißigjährige schon seit ihrem sechsten Lebensjahr.

And the thirty-four year old has played guitar since her sixth year of age.

Caption 12, Ann Doka & Band - New Country aus dem Rhein-Main-Gebiet

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Further Learning
Read this article about simple past vs. Perfekt and check out this item about the German Perfekt tense, then find some examples of the tense used in real conversations on Yabla German.

 

Summer Living in Germany

Summer has arrived, which in Germany means that life moves outside. The Biergärten are open, the Freibäder (open-air swimming pools) are busy with swimmers and sunbathers alike, and the smell of Bratwurst and barbecues fills the summer air.

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Not everyone has the luxury of having a garden attached to their house, which is why many Germans like to have a Schrebergarten (garden plot or allotment), often with a small hut or house built on it, which they visit for the day or for a vacation.

 

Ich hab' ja auch so 'nen kleinen Schrebergarten.

I also have such a little garden plot.

Caption 3, Ausbilder Schmidt - Klimabotschafter

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If you have neither a garden nor a Schrebergarten, there are many beautiful Seen (lakes) in Germany. Nothing beats a hot summer’s day of lazing by the water, swimming, and riding a pedal boat. Peter Fox sings all about the fun to be had at a German lake:

 

Und der Mond scheint hell auf mein Haus am See

And the moon shines brightly onto my house on the lake

Caption 31, Peter Fox - Haus am See

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When dinnertime comes around, Grillen (barbecuing) is the way to go. Since the laws are more relaxed in Germany, people barbecue in parks and on beaches without any trouble from the authorities, just as long as the litter gets disposed of! 

 

Wir grillen, die Mamas kochen und wir saufen Schnaps

We barbecue, the mamas cook and we guzzle schnapps

Caption 29, Peter Fox - Haus am See

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See not only means "lake" but also “sea,” as in der Ostsee (the Baltic Sea). However, the most common word for sea is das Meer

 

Du wirst bestimmt irgendwo am Strand sein. -Ja, genau. Am Meer.

You will surely be somewhere at the beach. -Yes, exactly. At the sea.

Caption 50, Konjugation - Das Verb „sein“

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If you do go to the See or the Meer, you should know that there are two words for “swimming” in German, schwimmen and baden gehen, which literally translates as “to go bathing.” While schwimmen is something you would likely do in a Schwimmbecken (pool), baden gehen is mostly used for swimming in lakes or the sea:

 

Man kann baden gehen, man kann Freunde treffen draußen.

You can go swimming, you can meet friends outside.

Captions 15-16, Jahreszeiten - Der Sommer

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Of course summer isn’t all fun and games. If you are stuck in the city, it can get hot and sticky. Rappers Culcha Candela, while singing about how unbearable it can get, offer a solution.

 

Feuchtes Tuch auf 'm Kopp [Kopf]

Wet cloth on the head

Ick [ich] werd' sonst noch bekloppt vom Hitzeschock

Otherwise I'll just go nuts from heat shock

Captions 29-30, Culcha Candela - Sommer im Kiez

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Extremely popular all over Germany, Eisdielen or Eiscafé (ice cream parlors) are hives of activity during the summer months.

 

Kaum scheint die Sonne, zieht es die Schleckermäuler an die Eisdielen.

The sun is scarcely shining and it draws [those with a] sweet tooth to the ice-cream parlors.

Caption 1, Eis - Eiskalte Leidenschaft

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And of course, summer is the time to think about vacation, den Sommerurlaub or die Sommerferien. Der Urlaub is a vacation where you go away somewhere, but die Ferien means a break from school, college, or work. Both can bring good memories:

 

Ich ging früher im Urlaub immer reiten.

I used to always go horseback riding during vacation.

Wir gingen immer in den Sommerferien.

We always went during summer holidays.

Captions 16-19, Konjugation - Das Verb „gehen“

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Schöne Sommerferien!

 

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