[What’s German?] – Würden VS Wären

Almost two o’clock in the morning is probably not the best time to begin a project, but who cares, … besides me! I’ve decided—halfway through the article, I should add!—to name this little project, “What’s German?” Don’t ask me why, or do, but don’t expect a super profound answer, because all you’ll get is zombified drivel from a very tired individual.

I’ve decided, regardless of the lack of feedback on my last entry, that I will push forward with that idea of helping people with their German. I feel almost weird saying that because I’m still learning myself, but I explained it all already, so I’ll skip that and get straight into the muck.

I had a real issue with the words würden, and wären for a long time. I very recently managed to make sense of it all, for the most part. I did a lot of digging and a lot of questioning. Some quality discussions with my fellow German-learning friend really helped keep me focused on the connundrum at hand.

“I would have died, if that car hit me.”

Have you ever wanted to express that? No, probably not, but perhaps something similar—the key words being would have. I used to always use würde for everything and was ignorant to most of the rules with this would-have business. It’s only in the past few days that I made a metric crap-ton of progress and realised where I had been going wrong for such a long time—years, in-fact.

Did you know that every verb has its own would have form? Emanuel from German is Easy briefly explained this in a post of his on a website somewhere deep within the bowels of the Internet. Essentially, all verbs can use the würden form when saying would.

“Ich würde das schon einmal gesagt haben, aber ich wollte nicht.”

A silly example, but it should be valid, none-the-less. This quote means, “I would have said that once already, but I didn’t want to.” I tried to make that as close a translation as I could. You can in-fact use würden with all verbs, provided you use the correct Hilfsverb, sein or haben. However, as some of you are likely aware, there’s also a wären form, but wären sein cannot be used as freely as würden haben can. For example:

“Wäre ich reich, würde ich die ganze Welt besessen haben.”
As far as I know, this is correct, however, …
“Würde ich reich, wäre ich die ganze Welt besessen haben.”
…is painfully wrong, from what I’ve gleaned from my recent discovery.

If you’re like me, you’re probably sat there shouting at the screen. “But why?!” You scream. “I don’t bloody know!” I retort. Well, actually, I do, or at least I think I do. If I were rich, I would have possessed the entire world, which just so happens to be to what the first sentence translates. While I’m on this besitzen word, do note that it’s very irregular, as I’ve just discovered. The past tense of besitzen is besessen. I like to check, check, and check again to be sure—as much I can be—that I’m teaching the right thing to somebody, or at least damn close. I’m not even going to attempt a translation of the second, because I consider it a jumbled mess, and I now see why. All these years, I’ve made countless mistakes like this which will have been painful for a German person to read.

If you look at any site dedicated to listing German verb conjugations, you’ll notice that besitzen is a haben word, by which I mean, the Hilfsverb, or supporting verb, so to speak, is haben. It’s super important than whenever you learn a new verb, you find out and remember the Hilfsverb for it, and if you don’t, you’ll pay for it dearly. I’ll even send the boys over and you’ll get a right good seeing to; wait, that sounds all kinds of wrong. It turns out, just as a tip that I got from the aforementioned studdy buddy, that most motion verbs use the sein HIlfsverb.

You’ll also notice that for every verb in the German dictionary, at least as far as I know—I haven’t actually checked every single word—there’s a Konjunktiv (subjunctive; try not to get these two confused, like I did today!) that shows the würden form, but you’ll also notice that it varies slightly depending on the verb’s Hilfsverb. This means that every verb can be written as würden haben or würden sein, respective of the Hilfsverb. Here are a few examples of a typical usages:

“Ich würde in die Schule gegangen sein, aber ich hatte keine Lust und wollte im Bett zu bleiben!”
“Ich würde einen Apfel gegessen haben, aber ich hasse Obst.”
“Wäre ich ein Engel, würde ich zum Himmel geflogen sein.”

I hope that shined some light on those two annoying words. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below, and I hope you enjoy this article so much that you share it with your German-learning friends!

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