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What is the difference between "muss gut gewesen sein" and "musste gut sein"? For example, I was told

Das Konzert muss wirklich gut gewesen sein.

I have three questions:

  1. What is this tense of sentence called? "gewesen sein" sounds like passive but I didn't find any similar Passive examples, so I'm wrong on that.
  2. Does it mean "The concert must have been good"?
  3. If I say "Das Konzert musste wirklich gut sein", Doesn't that mean that the concert had to be good? (Präteritum?) . Is this like asking the difference between "It had to be good" and "It must have been good"?
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I think "The concert must have been really good" is a possible translation, but also "It looks like the concert was really good", depending on the context. So you were not there, but you have some strong indication that you really missed something. –  Landei Feb 29 '12 at 22:33
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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

According to "Handbuch zur Deutschen Grammatik",

  1. that is called a "perfect infinitive" (p. 104). If "sein" is the infinitive, then "gewesen sein" is its perfect infinitive. Note that this is also used in the future perfect tense.

  2. yes, I believe you are correct. The Handbuch says (p. 113)

    Modals with perfect infinitives express a present-tense modality regarding a completed action or state.

  3. the Handbuch says (p. 113)

    Modals in the simple past tense [... signify ...] that the modality as well as the action or state refer to the past.

What is the difference between the two forms? In

Das Konzert muss wirklich gut gewesen sein

the modality, the belief that something must be true, is in the present. The speaker is asserting that at this moment in time, he/she believes that the concert was good.

Whereas in

Das Konzert musste wirklich gut sein

the modality is in the past. There is no modality in the present; the speaker is asserting that a while ago, there was modality.

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  1. This is not passive... it is a regular active sentence with müssen and a "infinitive-ized" (please indulge my lack of terminology) present perfect of "to be good" :)

  2. I am not native English but I'd say it is exactly this.

  3. I think the difference between the English sentences is:

"It had to be good." I think the dominant meaning of that is that the concert or the band or the manager or someone were going to face negative consequences if the concert was not good. Maybe there is a small part of ambiguity in as far as the sentence could also express a believe but I think this is at max 7%... yes exactly 7... I am sure.

As Landei already points out in the comment, "It must have been good" is the expression of a believe or an assumption without definite information.

The German "Das Konzert musste gut sein." is the literal translation of "The concert had to be good.", and I would say it means the same. But I am tempted to say that the German one is a bit more equivocal as German is generally a bit sloppy about the tenses.

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