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If in the present tense I can simply say, Ich kann kommen (no double infinitive), why can't I follow the same rule when I use the future tense, and say, Ich werde können kommen?

Why do I have to say (at least according to my grammar), Ich werde kommen können?

Why this reversal that is, as far as I know, typical of the perfect tenses, where the characteristically German double infinitive is actually used:

Ich habe kommen können, for I have been able to come, instead of the Ich habe gekonnt kommen.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There is a simple underlying system: the verb that was in position number 2 moves to the very end as soon as a new verb is introduced... so they just pile up there.

Ich lese einen guten Roman.

Ich habe einen guten Roman gelesen. (added haben to build past)

Ich muss einen guten Roman gelesen haben. (added a modal)

I can also do it this way:

Ich lese einen guten Roman. Ich muss einen guten Roman lesen. Ich habe einen guten Roman lesen müssen.

or with future:

Ich werde einen guten Roman lesen müssen.

There is one huge exception to this when you have to group an auxiliary + modal + verb at the end (which mainly happens for dependent sentences)

..., dass ich einen guten Roman werde lesen müssen.

I'll give you one more example for the 2nd-to-end move:

Ich spiele Klavier.

Ich lerne Klavier spielen.

Ich will Klavier spielen lernen.

Ich habe Klavier spielen lernen gewollt/wollen (not sure there).

Ich werde Klavier spielen lernen gewollt haben. (this is just theoretical)

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There's one thing that bewilders me: I've learned that in subordinate clauses you put the conjugated verb at the very end, and then all the others follow in a reversed order. So, I would have said: "Ich glaube, dass ich einen guten Roman lesen müssen werde". Is this wrong? –  martina Jul 25 '13 at 12:20
it is kind of wrong although in this particular example I think people are uncertain and some might say "..., das ich einen Roman lesen werde müssen." But the same system applies to past tenses and conditionals such as " Wenn ich einen Film hätte sehen wollen, wäre ich ins Kino gegangen." There, you cannot put the hätte final. That woul dbe really really wrong. You can consider these more as a second rule of word order rather than an exception because there are plenty of examples. –  Emanuel Jul 25 '13 at 13:03
I still think this (..., dass ich einen guten Roman werde lesen müssen.) should be ".., daß ich einen guten Roman lesen müssen werde". –  Unheilig Oct 4 '13 at 14:12
@Unheilig: well... but it's not. "...werde lesen müssen" is the grammatically correct version. There is no logic behind it. It just happened to be that way –  Emanuel Oct 5 '13 at 20:31
@VytenisBivainis... the order matters because the order mirrors the level of the verbs. Just "unbuild" it. For that you have to transform it into a main sentence. "Die J. werden spazieren gehen." Now take out "werden". The "gehen" will take it's spot now. "Die J. gehen spazieren" That's a valid sentence. Now do the same with "... dass die J. gehen spazieren werden." and you'll get "Die J. spazieren gehen." That's not correct because "spazieren" cannot take a verb as a specifier. –  Emanuel Aug 4 at 9:36

Rather than answering your question, I think it's important to point out that there are two ways of ordering a sentence in perfect tenses with modal verbs, depending on whether an objective or subjective meaning is intended.

  • The objective use (objektiver Gebrauch):

Lars hat seinen Wagen verkaufen müssen. (d.h. er konnte den Kredit nicht zurückzahlen)

  • The subjective use (subjektiver Gebrauch):

Lars muss seinen Wagen verkauft haben. (Ich sehe ihn täglich mit dem Fahrrad)

As a foreign speaker, I wouldn't know how to explain the word order of these sentences. I just think that one has to accept that modal verbs behave like they do (but of course I'd be happy to hear a logical explanation).

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