He Said … She Said …
One widely used form of German subjunctive is with indirect discourse. What's that? Direct discourse is a direct quote: Bill said, “Tom is dancing with my girl.” Indirect discourse is a report of what was said: Bill said that Tom is dancing with his girl.
This subjunctive conjugational form is called Subjunctive I. It is formed using the verb stem derived from the infinitive of the verb. Some rather familiar endings are then attached to the stem. The Subjunctive I is used less often than the Subjunctive II mood. Germans often avoid using Subjunctive I by using either the indicative or the Subjunctive II, but it is read and heard frequently in news reporting.
Table 21-1. Conjugational Endings–Subjunctive I
You'll notice that the subjunctive of the verb haben is slightly different than the form you already know (which is called the indicative). In the subjunctive, all irregularities of the present tense are ignored: du habest not du hast, er sehe not er sieht, du wollest not du willst, sie schlafe not sie schläft. Let's look at the conjugations of a few other verbs you know well.
Table 21-2. Subjunctive I Conjugations
The verb sein is special. With the pronouns ich, er; sie, and es, the verb has no ending: sei.
Table 21-3. Subjunctive I Conjugation of
Because English doesn't have a Subjunctive I conjugation, you can't directly translate what the conjugations mean. They have a specific function, and that is to report what someone else said, called indirect discourse.
Der Verdächtigte sagt, dass er den Wagen nicht gestohlen habe.The suspect says he didn't steal the car.Die Studenten erzählten uns, dass sie nie nach Italien gereist seien.The students told us they have never been to Italy.Der Politiker verspricht, das er alles besser mache.The politician promises to do everything better.