Sunday, 1 February 2009

The Conditional and Umlauts

The conditional basically means sentences with a would. For instance, if I were rich, I would buy a house. To download this podcast directly on your computer, click here.

8 comments:

Bill said...

Laura
Thanks for all this. It's really excellent. I learnt these forms as the conditional and the imperfect subjunctive, so it takes a moment to adjust, but of course in usage you are absolutely right to treat both as conditional.

One little quibble on this episode. I thought I heard it and I've just checked your transcript - it's really good of you to make them available - and you say:
So könnte keeps the umlaut on its 'o' in both the simple past and the conditional.Surely the simple past is konnte without the umlaut:
Ich konnte - I was able
Ich könnte - I could (but maybe I didn't)
This matches mochte, hatte, durfte.
Please correct me if you think I'm missing something here.
Bill

Laura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

@Bill,
You are absolutely right. Good spot. I have now changed the transcripts so that they say that the simple past of können is konnte and the conditional form is könnte. I am not sure what happens for iTunes and other feed aggregators if I rerecord that section and change the link on the blog, but I will give it a go.

GMELB said...

Links to a couple of your podcasts (e.g. The Conditionals and Umlauts) are missing on your web site and in iTunes. Could you correct these links. please?

Also, could you provide a list of all podcasts and the proposed order they should be used?

Thanks,

Gary

Laura said...

Hi Gary,

I've fixed the link to the Conditional and Umlauts. I'm not sure why the links break, they work when I upload them, then sometimes they stop working without me having done anything and I have to upload a new copy. Please could you let me know which other ones no longer work?

Here's a list of the podcasts in the order I wrote them:

Gender
Cases: The Nominative
Cases: The Accusative
The Dative
The Genitive
The Present tense
The Future
Past Tenses: How to Use the Perfect Tense
When to Use The Perfect Tense
The Simple Past
The Pluperfect
Word Order in a Standard Main Clause
Word Order – Exceptions to the Standard Main Clause
Word Order – Multi-Clause Sentences
The Conditional and Umlauts
The Conditional – Part 2
Relative Pronouns
Relative Pronouns 2
Relative Pronouns 3
General Tricks
How to Use a Dictionary
Adjectives & Adjectival Endings

This is a perfectly reasonable order to listen to them in. Otherwise, you might like to listen to these podcasts first:

Gender
Cases: The Nominative
Cases: The Accusative
The Dative
The Genitive
General Tricks
How to Use a Dictionary

After that, you can either listen to them in the order I've done them or you can pick out ones that you're focusing on in class as you need them.

ajhil said...

As usual I found your common sense analysis and methodical illustrations of German grammar both informative and enjoyable. However I'm not sure I can go along with the contention that "was" and "were" (for instance) are equally valid in constructing subjunctive sentences. "Was" is the indicative past tense of the verb "to be" and, as far as I know, should never be used to express conditions contrary to fact. "If I was rich ...", for example, should be followed by an indicative independent clause, such as : "If I was rich, I didn't know it." or "Even if I was rich, it's all gone now." The subjunctive form expresses the fact or belief that the condition described is not true: "If I were rich (but I'm not), I would buy a boat." I would be surprised if the same distinction doesn't apply in German too. "Wenn ich zu Hause war, wenn du riefst, hörte ich deine Stimme nicht." (Indicative) - "Wäre ich zu Hause, würde ich das Telephon nicht antworten." (Subjunctive)
The distinction between indicative and subjunctive moods can be confusing in English because many words use the same construction for both. For example, there's
"If I sang badly, no one told me." (Indicative) vs "If I sang badly, would you pay me." (subjunctive). Or "If I hated him, he didn't know it." (Indicative) vs "If I hated him, would I have married him?" (Subjunctive) I don't know if this occurs in
German, where subjunctive forms often (or always?) differ from indicative: "Wenn ich schlecht sang, sagte es niemand." (Indicative) vs. "Wenn ich schlecht sänge, würdest du mir bezahlen?" (Subjunctive)
Can you help me on this point?

My goodness, this comment has gone on long enough. I hope I haven't lost track of my point. I'd be grateful for your thoughts on the issue.

ajhil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura said...

Hi ajhil,
My comments about "if I was rich" v. "if I were rich" are based on actual usage of English. I chose not to be judgemental about different varieties and dialects of English (including non-standard ones), as I believe it's important to talk about actual usage of languages, not just the ones that appear in grammar books (otherwise you end up with foreign language learners speaking a completely different form of the language than the one spoken by native speakers). Also, I don't want to put off people who say "if I was rich" rather than "if I were rich" from learning German.

If it helps, I am happy to acknowledge that "If I were rich" is currently preferred in standard and school-taught dialects of English, and is particularly preferred by older speakers. To my knowledge, this issue doesn't also occur in German. As far as I know, all dialects of German use "wenn ich reich wäre" and not "wenn ich reich war". Different languages have different areas of contention between standard and non-standard speakers, which I find fascinating and which makes me think that such things are not so much an error as a dialectical variation. Languages also change over time - often in ways that are hard to predict. I cannot confidently predict that "If I were rich" will retain its status as the preferred form in standard English. On the other hand, nor can I confidently predict that there won't at some point be a change that means "If I was rich" disappears completely from all dialects of English.