Tag Archives: subjunctive

Were I to be abducted by grammar aliens

Each Friday in Dialog in Deutsch we discuss words that we’ve encountered that we failed to understand. This week one of the words was entfahren. I’d not heard this before, but I did know the word entführen and so wondered if they were related. Turning to PONS for help, I found this example: ihm ist ein Schimpfwort entfahren – “he let a swear word slip” or “a swear word escaped his lips” (the Spanish translation is se le ha escapado un taco and so now I know that el taco is a word with many different meanings!). So far, so good. Then I go to the entry for entführen – “to abduct” or “to kidnap” – and it also gives entfahren. Why? here’s my supposition with the help of the word form tables from Canoo. The simple indicative past of entfahren is entfuhren, but the past subjunctive form is entführen. Here is the way that one English grammar website describes the past subjunctive “The past subjunctive is used in subordinate clauses and refers to unreal or improbable present or future situations.” A German grammar site offers this pearl: ”[D]ie reale Welt sieht wirklich sehr trist aus. Die Wunschwelt im Konjunktiv II dagegen ist rosig.“ If a swear word were to escape her lips…it might because she was studying grammar in the none-too-rosy real world.

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Until we meet (us) again

I’m working my way through »250 Grammatik-Übungen: Deutsch als Fremdsprache« which covers A1-B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre1_en.asp). With the exercises I’ve completed so far, I’ve discovered a few gaps, Wissenslücke, in my grasp of German. One of these, Konjunktiv I, or the special subjunctive, is not something over which I will be losing any sleep. The most common use appears to be to indicate that someone else has said something – indirect speech. With the exception of sein, all of the verbs in Konjunktiv I are regular, so if/when I decide to get to grips with this mood, knowing when to use it will be the only challenging piece.

The second gap involves (I was going to say “includes” but can a gap include something?!) the reflexive verbs. It is not that my vocabulary is devoid of reflexives, however, as many of them have to do with activities of daily living – taking a bath/shower, combing/brushing your hair, getting dressed – and I am a childless adult who can take care of these unassisted, they haven’t seemed vital or wissenwert. It is also true that the majority of the ones I have learned either take the dative case (Ich muss mir das überlegen – “I have to think it over”) or have to do with mental events or social actions (Ich will mich nur umsehen – “i just want to look around/I’m just looking” – in response to Kommen Sie zurecht? – “Are you doing okay?/Can I help you?” in a shop). In one case, sich vorstellen, the reflexive verb combines these two factors in that one must learn the difference between the accusative and the dative forms: ich stelle mich vor and ich stelle mir vor – “I introduce myself” vs. “I imagine.” My use of a reciprocal reflexives is also somewhat spotty. I know now to say Wir treffen uns for “We’ll meet” but I can easily forget to add the reflexive pronoun with unterhalten – “discuss” or “talk.”

Luckily, there are good online resources to help me become better acquainted with both the special subjunctive mood and the reflexive verbs. It will be interesting to see what new gaps emerge as I leave the verbs and move onto nouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, particles, sentence forms, etc.

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