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What does "wäre" mean and how do you use it in German?

what-does-waere-mean-how-use-German

This episode will take the fear out of using wäre in German.

All it means is "would be," but would be has nothing to do with reality. It actually has to do with things which are unreal.

Something that isn't true now, but would be nice or would be nuts or would be fantastic.

This grammar topic is known as the "Konjunktiv II." We'll use only the present tense today.

If this is brand new for you, it's best to take it one step at a time. The first step are the very straight-forward sentences (or "simple sentences") in this episode.



Join us to Practice German Weekly With Nicole.

This week we're practicing wäre!

Welch eine Überraschung!

What a surprise!



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8 comments

Ethem Ceyhun Ay

Thank you very much for the explanation. I really liked your website and starting from this moment, I think I will visit it very frequently. :)

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Hi,

I'm reading a German book for intermediate learners and struggling a bit with one sentence. It reads 'seine zwei freunin hatte sogar gesagt, er wäre ihr unheimlich gewesen'. I'm a big confused with the wäre along with gewesen. One is present tense and the other is past tense, how does it match up? 

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Nicole Warner Staff

Guten Tag Rob!

In the first phrase it's the Plusquamperfekt with hatte + Partizip II (See: https://www.germanwithnicole.com/blog/52689-what-is-the-plusquamperfekt), so that's the furthest in the past, as it were: "His two friends had said..."

Without knowing the full context, the "wäre gewesen" here sounds like the 'er' was deemed creepy by whoever the "ihr" (sie) is or was. This structure doesn't function as it does in English, however in a very rough translation: "...he would have been creepy to her." Basically she thought he was creepy. What else does the context tell you? 

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Hi Nicole,

Thanks for the reply. The context is it's a short story about a guy who is a  bit creepy. The whole paragraph is

"Beide Frauen hatten ihn verlassen und beide hatten ihm vorgeworfen dass er zu kalt und distanziert gewesen wäre. Seine zwei freundin hatte sogar gesagt, er wäre ihr unheimlich gewesen"

I guess I'm a bit confused as to why it isn't simply 'er war ihr unheimlich' and 'er war zu kalt und distanziert'. Is there a difference between that and 'er wäre ihr unheimlich gewesen'?

Thanks

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Nicole Warner Staff

Bitte sehr!

My best guess is that the author used "wäre" (Konjunktiv II, see below) to indicate that it's second-hand information. In the news it's usually reported as the Kunjunktiv I, a/k/a reported speech, which would be: er sei ihr unheimlich gewesen. I find this fascinating, because it's the verb that tells you "supposedly he was creepy to her."

Obviously this is quite different from wäre gewesen, or "would have been," which doesn't quite fit. This is in the Konjunktiv II, which is usually used for wishes, dreams, and other ideas which are not part of one's current reality and it's usually taught at the B1 level.

That said, the Konjunktiv I is often introduced at the B2 level because of its complexity and its unique form. If your book is at the B1 level, then this author might have made a compromise so you can a) get the jist and b) not have to learn the Konjunktiv I to understand it.

I'm interested, which book is it?

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Thanks :)

It's called Der Mitternachtsmorder, published by PONS. It's aimed at B1-B2 learners. Think it might be a bit above my level, but I quite like it :)

Rob

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Hi Nicole.... I just found your website.....really good stuff...thanks for sharing. I have a question that is indirectly related to this podcast....Welch eine Überraschung! I was just reading up on welche vs was für and was wondering why this is isn't: was für eine Überraschung! - I thought the welch construction was when you had more concrete choices.... thanks and sorry to bother you.

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Nicole Warner Staff

Oooo, that is one of my favorite phrases! According to Duden (the German equivalent to the Oxford Dictionary), it means "was für eine Überraschung," however it expresses a special degree or a specific magnitude (see: https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/welcher_wen_wer meaning #2) It's gehoben, which means it's a higher register, or 'elevated language,' and it's usually in that very plain form.

That's a fun question, thanks for asking, Mike!

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