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Suppose I go with a friend to a restaurant that I suggested, and it turned out to be very bad. After the meal, I want to say

Sorry, I didn’t think it would be so bad.

In German, would that be the following?

Tut mir leid, ich hatte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht wäre.

In particular, is wäre the correct form to use here?

  • I'd go with "hätte" instead of "hatte". – Em1 Nov 16 '14 at 20:19
  • @Em1 Why so? Doesn't the thinking happen in reality? – boaten Nov 16 '14 at 20:23
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No, "wäre" isn't correct here. The translation of "would be" is "sein würde". You are talking about an expectation you had before going to that restaurant, so the phrase you are negating and setting into subjunctive mood is "Es wird so schlecht sein.", hence you need the subjunctive of "werden", not of "sein", which is "würde".

Beside this, it is "leidtun" as @Sam already pointed out, and I go with @Em1 and recommend "hätte" instead of "hatte" - put the whole phrase into subjunctive mood, not only the expectation (but "hatte" is possible, too - at least in the sense of "many people would use it"). I'd also recommend to replace the first comma with a dash ("Gedankenstrich"), to better express the longer pause you would probably make when saying this.

To sum it up:

Tut mir leid - ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sein würde.

  • You either have to write that the expectation wasn't "Es wird so schlecht sein" or (at least) that it was "Es wird nicht so schlecht sein", since it turned out worse than expected. – user6191 Nov 17 '14 at 16:31
  • @Grantwalzer Ich finde, ich habe das durch "the phrase you are negating" ausreichend klar ausgedrückt. Mag umständlich erscheinen, aber ich wollte einen möglichst einfachen Ausgangssatz. – Matthias Nov 17 '14 at 20:17
  • Die Formulierung suggeriert dennoch (huptsächlich wegen dem "so"), dass die Erwartung in der noch nicht negierten Phrase ausgedrückt wird. – user6191 Nov 17 '14 at 21:21
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My personal preference would be:

Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht ist.

Why ist, not wäre?

After the visit, the low quality is known for sure. It is a fact that you are talking about. Therefore, wäre sounds wrong there.

Alternatively, sein würde, as stated by Matthias’ answer can be used if you want to specifically refer to a single event rather than a permanent “state”. For example, if you talking about a restaurant, or a theatre performance, ist sounds correct because it is assumed that the restaurant and the theatre performance are generally bad, whenever you go there. When you use sein würde, you emphasize that you are referring to a particular point in time, while not saying anything about whether you could have had a better time another day.

Why hätte, not hatte?

The statement implies a hypothetical question:

If you had asked me before, I wouldn’t have thought that ...

(Most probably, such a question has never happened, because you usually do not invite other people to events that you think will not be enjoyable.)

  • This is a valid alternative for the situation, but it deviates slightly from the given English phrase. I think it would rather match "Sorry, I didn't expect it to be so bad." – Matthias Nov 16 '14 at 22:28
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I will focus on the modes and times in this answer and not on wholly different approaches to saying this.

  • The subclause “dass es so schlecht wäre” (or similar) is similar to indirect speech and thus has to be in subjunctive I (unless this is upgraded to subjunctive II by the main clause).

  • As already stated in O.R. Mapper’s answer, using the present (e.g., wäre) in the subclause is referring to the general quality of the restaurant, while using the future (e.g., sein würde) is referring to the establishment’s performance on your particular visit.

  • The main clause can be in the indicative as well as the subjunctive and I would not consider either variant more idomatic. It’s hard to explain this intuitive use of the subjunctive II for me but here I go:

    In most cases where you say something like ich hätte nicht gedacht, it is clear that you have not been considering something at all (because there was no need to) and you are now constructing the hypothetical situation (hence the subjunctive II) that you had been considering it and say something about the result of that hypothetical situation. However, when you were the person chosing the restaurant, you should have been considering its quality and thus the above does not really apply. Thus, I think that the subjunctive II is mainly used out of habit or the phrase becoming somewhat fixed.

  • If you put the main clause into the subjunctive II, it takes the subclause with it.

Thus the valid alternatives are:

Ich hatte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sei.
Ich hatte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sein werde.
Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht wäre.
Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sein würde.

Note that in colloquial speech, the modes in indirect speech and similar are often confused and you thus also get the following:

Ich hatte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht wäre.
Ich hatte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht ist.
Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sei.
Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht ist.
Ich hatte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sein würde.
Ich hatte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sein wird.
Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sein werde.
Ich hätte nicht gedacht, dass es so schlecht sein wird.

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Yes, apart of "leid" being lower-case, your translation is correct. If you didn't know the restaurant at all, you could even deny any knowledge about the quality of the restaurant, which puts you into a bit of a better place before your friend:

Tut mir leid, ich konnte nicht wissen, dass es so schlecht sein würde.

Another way of expressing your point is to address the restaurant, not your incompetence about the place. That takes focus from you and makes the restaurant responsible for the bad meal:

Tut mir leid, das Restaurant war schlechter, als ich gedacht hätte.
Tut mir leid, das Restaurant war schlechter als gedacht.

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