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I'm currently doing an exercise where you have to join two sentences together and turn them into conditional sentences using "wenn".

An example:

Sie war gesund. Sie brauchte die Ärztin nicht.

I would have thought instinctively that this would change to:

Wenn sie gesund wäre, hätte sie die Ärztin nicht gebraucht.

Yet the book advises:

Wenn sie gesund gewesen wäre, hätte sie die Ärztin nicht gebraucht.

Are both correct? Is it simply a matter of choice, like the difference between "if she were healthy" and "if she had been healthy"?

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    If I am not mistaken, there is a significant difference between “if she were healthy” and “if she had been healthy”. The first is about the present (do not let the term past subjunctive fool you), the second is about the past. – Wrzlprmft Sep 24 '14 at 14:47
  • Ah yes! OK, that is obvious now that you say it. So the only way to turn this into a conditional while still making it a "past tense" thing (given it is "war"), is to go the wäre gewesen route, so? – Edmund Heaphy Sep 24 '14 at 14:50
  • Just to avoid a misunderstanding: I was talking about the English language only. But yes, the same applies to German. I cannot write a fully-fledged answer now, though. – Wrzlprmft Sep 24 '14 at 14:56
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    Apart: for the present tense, your first sentence would be correct if it reads "Wenn sie gesund wäre, bräuchte sie die Ärztin nicht" or "..., würde sie die Ärztin nicht brauchen" – Em1 Sep 24 '14 at 15:04
  • Note how you got it right for "brauchte" :) – user6191 Sep 24 '14 at 16:01
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Konjunktiv with present meaning:

An important thing to know about the German Konjunktiv is, that although the Konjunktiv II is derived from the Präteritum (which is a past tense), its meaning is present.
So you have:

sie ist (Präsens Indikativ) - sie sei (Konjunktiv I) - sie wäre (Konjunktiv II)

All these forms actually have present meaning - even sie wäre which is derived from sie war. That's not too different from English which also has two subjunctive forms:

she is (present indicative) - she be (present subjunctive) - she were (past subjunctive)

These forms refer to the present, too. (I suggest that it be removed now.; If she were ill today, she would...) Even she were has present meaning, although was/were normally is the past tense.

Of course there are differences in usage of English subjunctive and German Konjunktiv.


Konjunktiv with past meaning:

Now, if you want to form sentences with a past meaning you need to use a perfect tense and take the Konjunktiv/subjunctive of the auxiliary verb. The German auxiliary can be sein and haben:

sie ist gewesen (Perfekt Indikativ) - sie sei gewesen (Perfekt Konjunktiv I) - sie wäre gewesen (Perfekt Konjunktiv II)
sie hat gebraucht (Perfekt Indikativ) - sie habe gebraucht (Perfekt Konjunktiv I) - sie hätte gebraucht (Perfekt Konjunktiv II)

Analogically, in English you have (only have as auxiliary):

she has been (indicative perfect) - she have been (perfect subjunctive 1) - she had been (perfect subjunctive 2)


Application to your sentences:

Now your sentences were

Sie war gesund. Sie brauchte die Ärztin nicht.

Both have a past meaning and you want to put them in the Konjunktiv II form. So you need the forms sie wäre gewesen and sie hätte gebraucht:

Wenn sie gesund gewesen wäre, hätte sie die Ärztin nicht gebraucht.

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The tables below represent the variants for tenses and modes used in spoken language.

According to my experience of listening to my partner and to friends, at least in Northern Germany it seems that only two primary tenses (past and non-past) and two modes (non-conjunctive and wenn-conjunctive) are often used in spoken language. Most process terms seem to be often represented in the same way as tun and machen in the tables below. Although many process terms could be represented by shorter variants, I seldom hear them (once every six months or so I hear a "ging"). The rest of the time, I represent and hear them as in "getan hat" und "tun würde" and not as in "tat" und "tät". The verbs sein and haben are some of the few that often take the shorter variants "war"/"wäre" and "hatte"/"hätte" instead. If you think of the shorter variants as substitutes for the longer, the tables become very easy to memorize.

The first column is "non-past", the second "past", the first row "non-conjunctive", and the second "wenn-conjunctive".

TUN                                         MACHEN
tut                 getan hat               macht               gemacht hat
tun würde           getan hätte             machen würde        gemacht hätte

SEIN                                        HABEN                         
ist                 gewesen ist(war)        hat                 gehabt hat(hatte)
sein würde(wäre)    gewesen wäre            haben würde(hätte)  gehabt hätte

Non-Past Variants

Sie ist nicht gesund. Es tut weh.

Wenn sie gesund wäre, würde es nicht weh tun.

Past Variants

Sie war nicht gesund. Es hat weh getan.

Wenn sie gesund gewesen wäre, hätte es nicht weh getan.

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The given sentence is written in past tense.

Sie war gesund. Sie brauchte die Ärztin nicht. (She was healthy. She didn't need a doctor.)

Your solution is not valid, as the first part is present, whereas the second one is past. Your solution would be grammatically correct if you wrote

Wenn sie gesund wäre, bräuchte sie die Ärztin nicht.

Though it would still be present tense, where the given sentence is past tense, as already mentioned.

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