You suggested an idea to your boss to solve a problem that your team was facing. Your boss ignored your idea, and instead implemented her own idea. It failed. You would like to say to your friend that your idea could have worked, if your boss had chosen to implement it.

Do you say

Schade, meine Idee ...

(a) kann geklappt haben.

(b) konnte geklappt haben.

(c) könnte geklappt haben.

(d) hätte klappen können.


  • 4
    – Carsten S
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 8:21
  • 1
    Note that they are all technically correct. They just express different things.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 8:51
  • @Emanuel b seems wrong to me, is there an example sentence?
    – Gigala
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 13:59
  • 1
    @Gigala... not really. It is academic, I guess, but it expresses that there is a point in time in the past at which there was a possibility that it had worked out at some point before that point. This meaning may well be part of one of the other 3, and I cannot make up an example for "klappen". Here's one with another verb "Essen gab es um 2. Du konntest also theoretisch um 3 gegessen haben."
    – Emanuel
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 17:24
  • Related: german.stackexchange.com/questions/799/…
    – boaten
    Commented Jan 4, 2015 at 5:24

3 Answers 3


If I had to choose any of your sentences, I would go with (c) or (d).

But actually, I wouldn't say it that way at all. (c) is appropriate if your idea was used but you don't know yet if it worked. (d) is appropriate if your idea failed and you consider it bad luck.

Meine Idee könnte geklappt haben. Wir werden es nachher erfahren.
Einen Versuch war es wert. Meine Idee hätte klappen können.

If your idea wasn't tried and you think that it would have succeeded, I suggest saying "My idea would've worked":

Meine Idee hätte (bestimmt) geklappt.


The difference is: what governs what.

In d.), Konjunktiv II of "hätte" governs the Partizip Perfekt of klappen and the infinitive of können, which means that it is the Plusquamperfekt of Konjunktiv II.

This is typical irrealis, it could have worked if we tried it.

In c.), Konjunktiv II of können governs Partizip Perfekt of klappen and infinitive of haben. This results in a rather drastic change of modality - let's assume that you have a problem at work and have an idea how to solve it. You implement it and the results look promising, but you won't know until later. Then you will say "Meine Idee könnte geklappt haben.", which means that you assume that something might/could have worked due to past actions.

Another example:

Meine Kollegin hätte das drucken können.

She could have, but she hasn't.

Meine Kollegin könnte das gedruckt haben.

There is a stack of paper and we don't know who it was, but we assume that it is hers.


The colloquial, most-often used phrase I know is:

Hätte ja klappen können.

Which you can say both about your own and other peoples' efforts.

Both a) and b) sound wrong to my ears, by the way.

  • They may sound wrong but they are grammatically sound.
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 19:03
  • I don't think this is the right in respect to the question. "Hätte ja klappen können" implies that your suggestion failed but it was worth trying. OP asked, however, what you would say if your suggestion was ignored and not tried at all.
    – Em1
    Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 15:56
  • You are right. Seen in the light, something like "Meine Idee hätte wahrscheinlich geklappt." would sound right.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 0:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.