Ich dachte, du hättest das letzte Woche gemacht.

English Translation

I thought you did that last week.

Why is that “hättest” and not “hattest”? Are we not in the indicative mood? Does it switch to Konjunktiv II because I’m describing a hypothetical situation?

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I love this. Questions like these make me think about things in my own language that I’ve never thought about before.

I’m actually not sure. I think it’s two things:
Telling your thoughts is kind of like reported speech?
And yes, the assumption turned out to be wrong, because it didn’t happen last week. This makes it a hypothetical statement.

In everyday speech you can drop the Konjunktiv II and use the “normal” present perfect that germans often prefer over the simple past:
Ich dachte, du hast das letzte Woche schon gemacht.
That corresponds more directly to the english “did”.

I wouldn’t use “hattest” here. That would be like english “had done” and does not match the “did”.

One interesting thought: English “did”, too, can not only be interpreted as past indicative, but also as past subjunctive?


For the English subjunctive, I would prefer “had done” instead of “did”:

I thought you had done that last week.

That matches how you would use it in a pure hypothetical statement:

If you had done that last week, we wouldn’t have to do it today.

That’s why my first guess in German was “hattest”. But of course, in modern English, it’s very common to use indicative instead of subjunctive, so it’s equally correct to say:

I thought you did it last week.

And even like this, though it feels technically incorrect to me:

If you did it last week, we wouldn’t have to do it today.

That particular phrasing sets my teeth on edge, but you could easily get away with it in modern English.


For the sake of clarity, I believe that had done and did are in the indicative mood.

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For me the clue is the point at the end of the sentence:

“Ich dachte, du hättest das letzte Woche gemacht.”
(You didn’t, this is a reproach, unreal)
“ich dachte, du hast das letzte Woche gemacht?”
(I thought so, now I’am unsure, may still be real)

However, in everyday speech, the distinction will be blurred and question vs. reproach will more easily come across by intonation. Next time my wife tells me so, I will try to listen to her grammar :smiley:.


English subjunctive mood is weird. The only explicit form change that I can think of is with the verb “to be” (eg. “I wish I were rich” instead of “I wish I was rich”). In the past tense, this gets weirder, and the line between indicative and subjunctive is blurred because of a lack of explicit subjunctive word forms. “I wish I had been rich” still feels very subjunctive-ish to me, even though “I had been rich” is clearly indicative form. Maybe this is why many modern English speakers will just forget about subjunctive entirely and use indicative instead when describing hypotheticals, even when an explicit subjunctive form is available (eg. “It is important that he be on time” versus “it is important that he is on time”).

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I have to side with my favourite English grammarians on the subject (Huddleston and Pullum, The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 1,843 pages).

English has gradually lost its inflectional system. The past tense of the subjunctive mood has not survived. It is gone, superseded, extinct. The English speakers could not be arsed to learn it and keep it alive. Bless them! Makes our present lives easier!

The past tense of the indicative mood has taken over and overridden nearly everything. There is no mythical subjunctive in past tense under the bonnet: it is simply gone, with the sole exception of were.

The status of were is now so exceptional that modern grammarians have created a new mood to describe its unique function: irrealis. It has no tense.

Simplification is great for a foreign language learner, but obviously, the sentence below sounds like a Barbarian, grammatical abomination to my native ears. Defaulting to the most primitive, tense-less infinitive form!

  • They insisted that she be present.

Obviously, proper, still civilised European languages do not do that:

  • Ils ont insisté pour qu’elle fût présente.
  • Hanno insistito che lei fosse presente.
  • Insistieron en que ella estuviera presente.
  • Sie bestanden darauf, dass sie anwesend wäre.

Just kidding!

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