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There's a use of Konjunktiv meaning politeness:

Ich hätte gerne (…)

First, I wish to know why does this form denotes Höfflichkeit. (My only guess –influenced by my native language– is that this form is used as a the tacit preamble in brackets:

[Wenn Sie das mir geben wollen,] hätte ich gerne (…)

instead of giving an order.)

Secondly, if this "being kind" is reciprocal, that is, if the person who is offering a service says e.g.

Hätten Sie gerne (…) ?

which effect does it have? The same politeness or is actually an undecisive way of offering something?

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Isn't it just expressing a wish? A wish the other one can then fulfill? Anyway, I'll wait for more informed answers. I think you should try to use a different wording for "reflexive" ... it sounds too much like grammatical reflexive and should at least be taken out of the title –  Emanuel Dec 11 '13 at 14:50
Compare also the use of "möchte" vs. "will". "Ich möchte ein Bonbon" is much more polite than "Ich will ein Bonbon". "Möchte" is Konjunktiv of "mögen". –  elena Dec 11 '13 at 14:51
I assume the answer is quite similar to "Why in English do you say 'Would you mind'" and "Why in Spanish do you use 'quisiera' instead of 'quiero'". But I doubt that an elision is reason for this. –  Em1 Dec 11 '13 at 15:43

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

EDIT: @Em1 raised some good points in the comments below. My answer is very specific to the given example and similar constructs, and I'm not sure it holds much water in a more general way, so take it with a grain of salt. Below is my original answer:

Emanuel is correct, the Konjunktiv here ("Ich hätte gerne...") is, strictly speaking, only expressing a wish (literally translated: "I would like to have...").

I say 'strictly speaking' because it is usually used to make an order, like "Ich hätte gerne ein Bier", but it is much more polite than using an imperative ("Gib mir ein Bier!") because you don't order people around - at least not literally. While there is an implied expectation that the barkeeper will fulfill my wish by giving me a beer, in the words themselves there is no order or anything besides the statement that, you know, a beer would be really great to have right now. The other side is basically just the question version of this, as a polite way of offering something.

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I strongly disagree. If Konjunktiv is only used because it's a wish, then why do we say "Dürfte ich ihnen noch etwas anbieten?" or "Ich könnte ihnen ... empfehlen." Both are not wishes at all. So, I'm afraid but this doesn't answer the question. –  Em1 Dec 11 '13 at 20:01
@Em1 : I think christian is specifically referring to the Konjunktiv in the example (he used the word "here"). You're right, that it doesn't have to be a polite question though. –  Emanuel Dec 11 '13 at 22:42
@Em1 : You have a point. I was so fixated on this specific example that I didn't think much about other cases. On the other hand, while questions like your examples don't fit this explanation, I have a hard time thinking of any non-question construction where you use a polite Konjunktiv and which is not in some way a wish. All I can think of are things like "Ich hätte gerne", "Ich würde gerne" or something like that, but maybe I've got a blockade in my mind? Not sure. Maybe my answer is true for statements, but not for questions? –  Christian Dec 12 '13 at 9:13
Off the top of the head I can't come up with any other examples neither. But it's necessary to examine both parts equally and figuring out if, for example, one of them influenced the other one. The question is actually very complex. I didn't find anything on the web, just an explanation for the English would. I'd guess it's worth to look into that deeper but I think that's rather a master thesis we're talking about. Anyways, as your answer stands right now, it's fixed onto a specific kind. While the guess sounds reasonable at first glance, I'm not sure if you'll stand corrected. We'll see. –  Em1 Dec 12 '13 at 11:42
I've added a disclaimer about this to my answer. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. –  Christian Dec 12 '13 at 12:26

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