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Er hat sich so verändert, dass ich ihn gestern fast nicht wiedererkannt _____.

(a) habe

(b) hätte

Does both (a) and (b) work? If so, what is the difference in meaning?

I think (a) should work because the event has actually taken place, and so the indicative can be used. However, I'm not sure about (b). Maybe the fact that the event "could have taken place but didn't" allows the use of Konjunktiv.

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It's clearly (b). He almost did'nt recognize him again, due to his changes, but actually did, so the event did not take place after all. – Ingmar May 15 '14 at 14:28
I agree with @Ingmar. He actually recognize him and the event that did not happen was that "he couldn't recognize him". – Peter Schuetze May 15 '14 at 16:10
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Both work. The result is the same (you did recognize him). The version with "habe" does sound a little odd, but I think the real problem is the perfectiveness that is part of the German (and the English) "Perfekt". That collides a bit with the "unrealness" of the situation. It's kind of like saying "I almost haven't done it." It's just weird.

With the preterit there are no such problems though ("I almost didn't do it") and if there is a modal verb involved, using "Konjunktiv" is the odd choice.

Er war so verändert, dass ich ihn fast nicht wiedererkannte.

Es war so schwer, dass ich es fast nicht halten konnte.

Es war so schwer, dass ich es fast nicht hätte halten können... nope, not really.

So whoever claims that the "Konjunktiv 2" is necessary should think about that again. It is not true (some backup).

Using indicative preterit allows for a follow-up sentence that gives an indication of time. The "Konjunktiv"-version allows for a "if"-clause. And not vice versa, so both versions do have their merit.

Er war so verändert, dass ich ihn fast nicht erkannt hätte, wäre da nicht das kleine Tattoo..

Er war so verändert, dass ich fast nicht erkannte, als er durch die Tür kam.

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I would add, that people insisting on grammatical details (aka grammar nazis) would not accept the version with habe as it is indeed an irreal case. – Toscho May 15 '14 at 19:02
@Toscho... I made some changes that should shut up grammar nazis on that matter. There is NO NEED for a "Konjunktiv" here :) – Emanuel May 15 '14 at 20:05
The more I think about it, the more I realize that what bothers me is the, totally unrelated to the problem, fact that I would say 'kaum' instead of 'fast nicht'. – konkret May 16 '14 at 5:37
could the people who downvoted this please elaborate? Thank you. – Emanuel May 16 '14 at 14:41

I personally would say and write "beinahe nicht erkannt hätte". The speaker has recognized the person, with "beinahe" he speaks of a possibility that did not happen, so it is an irreal statement.

But I am almost sure that a lot of people simply would say "beinahe nicht erkannt habe" or "Ich hab dich beinah nicht erkannt." I assume that in normal everyday language there often is no time for analyzing whether a statement is real or irreal. Only well-trained speakers, I think, would always use "hätte".

If I have time I will look up this matter in Duden, Zweifelsfälle der Sprache.

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Also in Richtiges und gutes Deutsch (Zweifelsfälle) hat Duden dieses "beinahe-Problem" nicht erfaßt. Und in meiner Duden Grammatik von 2009 wirf "beinahe" in Ziffer – rogermue May 15 '14 at 21:33
Also in Richtiges und gutes Deutsch (Zweifelsfälle) hat Duden dieses "beinahe-Problem" nicht erfaßt. Und in meiner Duden Grammatik von 2009 wird "beinahe" in Ziffer 756 stiefmütterlich behandelt, da wird nur von Konjunktiv gesprochen, nicht aber davon, wie es in der gesprochenen Umgangssprache wirklich aussieht. – rogermue May 15 '14 at 21:41
@rogermue... was ist denn mit Modalverben und Präteritum (siehe meine Antwort)? Soll da auch deiner Meinung nach Konjunktiv hin? Ich glaube, das hat mit Umgangsprache nicht so viel zu tun. – Emanuel May 15 '14 at 21:59
Ich hab über das Problem nachgedacht und schnell gemerkt, dass es da allerhand zu sagen gäbe. Ich dachte, Duden hätte hier schon alles geklärt, aber dem ist nicht so. Ich müßte das Problem erst einmal genauer studieren, so aus dem Handgelenk traue ich mir da nicht, sofort etwas zu sagen. Die Wirklichkeit ist oft komplizierter als man denkt. – rogermue May 15 '14 at 22:17

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