German Conditional Tense: Master the Conditional with 5 Must-Know Rules

Do you want to discuss hypothetical situations and fantasies in German? Or politely make requests without being too direct?

Then German conditional tense is for you! German Lesson with Herr Ferguson has made great lessons about the conditional in German. Here’s Lesson 1:

And in this comprehensive blog post, you will learn everything you need to know about using all of the conditional tenses in German: different types, how to form them, and when to use each one.

By the end, you’ll be able to speculate, wish, and make polite requests like a native speaker!

1. What is the German Conditional Tense?

Effortless Answers

The German conditional tense is a grammatical mood used to express hypothetical, unreal, or subjective statements that depart from objectivity.

In German, there are three main types of conditional tenses:

  1. Conditional I (Konjunktiv I – Würde-Form)
  2. Conditional II (Konjunktiv II – Würde-Perfekt-Form)
  3. Conditional III (for conditional clauses with “wenn”)

The conditional forms allow you to discuss imagined scenarios, make polite requests, and express wishes contrary to reality.

The conditional I and II are used in independent main clauses, while the conditional III is used in dependent clauses introduced by “wenn” and other German conjunctions, on which we will expand on later.

If you want to sound more natural in German, you have to learn the German conditional tense.

Let’s explore these conditional tenses one by one!

2. How to Form the Conditional I (Konjunktiv I – Würde-Form)

The conditional I form, also called the würde-form, is formed with the modal verb “würde” followed by an infinitive verb:

Subject + “würde” + infinitive verb

So, one of the most important things to know about the verb werden is how to use it in conditional:

SubjectConditional I
ichwürde
duwürdest
er/sie/eswürde
wirwürden
ihrwürdet
sie/Siewürden

After learning this, you can start forming complete sentences.

In real life examples this would look like this:

  • Ich würde gerne nach Italien reisen. (I would like to travel to Italy.)
  • Er würde das Buch kaufen. (He would buy the book.)
  • Wir würden uns freuen, wenn du kommst. (We would be happy if you come.)

The Konjunktiv I is mainly used to politely express wishes about the present or the future; or to discuss hypothetical present or future situations; and it’s also good to make polite requests or suggestions.

The Conditional I has a present or future-oriented meaning and a less definite tone compared to simply using the present tense. We also have to mention that nowadays, native speakers rarely use the Conditional I because it’s a bit outdated but it’s still common in literary works.

the german conditional tense is good to express things about the future

Although it’s a little bit different, in real-life scenarios you can use modal verbs to communicate the conditional. It’s basically the same as using the conditional in English. And for this, you would use verbs like können, sollen, wollen and so on.

Let’s take a look at how you can conjugate these in the next table:

Subjectkönnensollenwollenmögenmüssen
ichkönntesolltewolltemöchtemüsste
dukönntestsolltestwolltestmöchtestmüsstest
er/sie/eskönntesolltewolltemöchtemüsste
wirkönntensolltenwolltenmöchtenmüssten
ihrkönntetsolltetwolltetmöchtetmüsstet
sie/Siekönntensolltenwolltenmöchtenmüssten

In regular, everyday speech, this can sound like:

  • Ich könnte mehr üben, wenn ich mehr Zeit hätte. [I could practice more if I had more time.]
  • Du solltest öfter Pausen machen und dich entspannen. [You should take breaks more often and relax.]
  • Wir wollten dir nur ein kleines Geschenk machen. [We just wanted to give you a small gift.]
  • Wir möchten uns für eure Hilfe bedanken. [We would like to thank you for your help.]
  • Er müsste sich mehr auf die Prüfungen konzentrieren. [He would have to focus more on the exams.]

3. How to Form the Conditional II (Konjunktiv II – Würde-Perfekt-Form)

The conditional II form, also called the würde-perfekt-form, is formed with the auxiliary “würde” followed by the past participle of the main verb:

Subject + “würde” + past participle

In real-life situations, this could look like:

  • Ich würde das Haus gekauft haben, wenn ich mehr Geld gehabt hätte. (I would have bought the house if I had had more money.)
  • Sie würde ihre Freundin besucht haben, aber sie war krank. (She would have visited her friend, but she was sick.)
  • Wenn ich eine Zeitmaschine hätte, würde ich in die Vergangenheit reisen. (If I had a time machine, I would travel to the past.)

The conditional II is used to talk about unreal or hypothetical situations in the past.

It expresses what could OR would have happened if the circumstances had been different.

This tense is good when you want to talk about a sense of untaken opportunities or imagined alternatives to past reality.

You’ll often see the conditional II used in conjunction with a conditional clause introduced by “wenn” to set up the hypothetical scenario.

4. How to Form Conditional Sentences with Clauses (Konjunktiv III)

For hypothetical conditional sentences with a dependent “wenn” clause, you use the conditional III form.

The structure is as complex as it can get with conditional tenses:

Main clause, dependent “wenn/falls/etc” clause + conditional verb form

It can be explained better with sentences:

  • Wenn ich eine Million hätte, würde ich eine Weltreise machen. (If I had a million, I would travel around the world.)
  • Falls es regnen würde, blieben wir zu Hause. (If it were to rain, we would stay home.)
  • Sofern das Wetter schön wäre, gingen wir wandern. (If the weather were nice, we would go hiking.)

In the dependent “wenn” clause, the verb takes the subjunctive II form, which involves stem vowel changes for many verbs.

For example, “hätte” instead of “hatte“, “wäre” instead of “war“, etc. But here’s more!

InfinitivePresent IndicativeWenn Clause
seinist, warwäre
habenhat, hattehätte
gehengeht, gingginge
kommenkommt, kamkäme
sehensieht, sahsähe
machenmacht, machtemachte
gebengibt, gabgäbe
nehmennimmt, nahmnähme
sagensagt, sagtesagte
findenfindet, fandfände
kaufenkauft, kauftekaufte
essenisst, aßäße
trinkentrinkt, tranktränke
schlafenschläft, schliefschliefe
arbeitenarbeitet, arbeitetearbeitete

The conditional III is used specifically for unreal or hypothetical conditions introduced by “wenn“, “falls“, “sofern” and similar words like these. It sets up an imaginary scenario in the dependent clause.

If you combine the conditional III in the “wenn” clause with the conditional I or II in the main clause, you can build complete conditional sentences to express fully hypothetical situations across different time frames.

5. Learn the conditional in German with Conversation Based Chunking

On Effortless Conversations, we have one extra tip for you to learn the German conditional tense: it’s Conversation Based Chunking!

What is it? Here’s the explanation!

Start by focusing on high-frequency conditional chunks like “Ich würde gerne…“, “Wenn ich Zeit hätte, würde ich…“, and modal verb forms like “könnten wir“, “müsstest du“. Listen for these patterns and practice using them in context.

Don’t just study conjugation tables – that’s abstract grammar learning, although it can be helpful. Use the conditional forms in real conversations you could have. Even better, you can imagine hypothetical scenarios and how you’d discuss them.

If you learn these conditional terms like this, you’re immersing yourself in the language and you’re using chunks – chunks, that are natural building blocks of the language.

Conversation Based Chunking focuses on these lexical chunks, and if you sign up now, you can get a guide on how to use this method to make your German language learning journey better.

A little bit of practice to end the topic about German conditionals

Fill in the blanks with the correct words to form the German conditionals!

This is just part of the exercise. If you want to fully master it, click the button below!

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