5. Challenges of Translation

It is important to note the following points:

  1. hätte and its forms can be translated as “had” or “would have.”

  2. wäre and its forms can be translated as “were,” “would be” and “would have.”

  3. würde and its forms can be translated as “would” when used with other infinitives, “would become” by themselves; “would be” or “were” in the passive voice.

  4. Subjunctive II is also sometimes used to "soften" a request, question, or statement, simply making it more polite. Usually this translates fairly directly into English, but sometimes it will help you to notice this particular intention when translating.

  5. Sometimes the rules of English will require you to translate German subjunctive mood using the English subjunctive construction "were to (infinitive verb)":

    Wenn ich es heute kaufen würde, ginge der Preis morgen sicher noch tiefer.
    If I were to buy it today, the price would surely fall even further tomorrow.

  6. In “if – then” sentences, the verb is in final position in the “if” clause, the clauses are separated by a comma, and the “then” clause is the main sentence. Also, the words dann or so may be omitted from the “then” clause.

  7. You will also encounter “if – then” statements without wenn. Your clue will be that the verb appears in first position, which otherwise only occurs in questions or in commands:

    In indicative (normal) mood:

    Nimmt der Widerstand zu, (dann) mindert sich der Strom.
    If resistance increases, then current decreases.

    The equivalent sentence in subjunctive mood:

    Nähme der Widerstand zu, minderte sich der Strom.
    If resistance were to increase, current would decrease.

    More examples:

    Hätte ich viel Geld, (so) würde ich ein Haus kaufen.
    Had I a lot of money, then I would buy a house.
    [or:] If I had a lot of money, I would buy a house.

    Führe sie nur öfter Rad, brauchte sie weniger Blutdruckmedikamente.
    If she would just bike more often, she would need less blood-pressure medication.

Last revised on October 3, 2014.