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For longer sentences with more verbs, it is often hard for a learner to figure out when to use the double infinitive sentence structure and when to use the past participle.
For example in the following two sentences:

They will have to pick him up from the train station. =
Sie werden ihn vom Bahnhof abholen müssen.


They would have bought it. =
Sie würden es gekauft haben.

Both these sentences contain three verbs, the first verb in the second position as normal, but then one sentence uses the double infinitive structure, whilst the second has a past participle. How do you know when to use which type of structure?

Apart from knowing that "sie würden es kaufen haben" sounds wrong and strange, I don't know how one would definitively know how to use the ge-verb form.

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Do you really want the second example to be in a subjunctive mood in German and to use would in English? –  Wrzlprmft Jan 13 at 10:37
Wouldn't it still be the same construction? Ie for they will have bought it = sie werden es gekauft haben. It doesn't change my question as to when to use the two different types of sentence structures. I'll think of some more examples tomorrow but it's now midnight here ;) –  user5105 Jan 13 at 10:57
even then, the second example is unidiomatic: "Sie hätten es gekauft." Is more german-like and your problem suddenly is a lot smaller. –  Vogel612 Jan 13 at 13:22
Btw, the nasty case is „Sie haben ihn vom Bahnhof abholen müssen“, which seems to contradict my answer but is treated here. –  Carsten Schultz Jan 13 at 13:37
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Your first English sentence is "will have to pick". This sentence contains also three verbs.

  • will -> future -> werden
  • have to -> müssen
  • pick -> infinitive -> abholen

So this sentence is translated as "werden ... abholen müssen".

The other sentence is "would have bought". Again three verbs.

  • would -> conditional -> würden
  • have -> auxiliary -> haben
  • bought -> past participle -> gekauft

That sentence is translated as "würden ... gekauft haben".

There's no much different between English and German in respect to verb forms. Fortunately, the future tenses are quite equal in both language. You only need to pay attention on the word order, but it's quite the same in both sentences as you've likely noted.

In case Wrzlprmft is right with his comment and you change would to will, you simply replace würden with werden in the German sentence as well. Note, that still the English sentences are different. It's then just Futur 1 vs Futur 2 (as they're called in German).

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The main verb in the first sentence is müssen. Future tense:

Sie werden müssen.

Present tense of the whole sentence:

Sie müssen ihn vom Bahnhof abholen.


Sie werden ihn vom Bahnhof abholen müssen.

Do not ask me about the word order, I am just a native speaker with grammar knowledge.

The main verb in the second sentence is kaufen.

Past perfect:

Sie haben gekauft.

+ conditional

Sie würden gekauft haben.

Or better:

Sie hätten gekauft.

Present tense of the whole sentence:

Sie haben es gekauft.


Sie würden es gekauft haben.


Sie hätten es gekauft.

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