I have found several instances of sollen in literary German used in a way which closely resembles the English use of shall as a future auxiliary.

Here are a couple of examples:

… und euer Herz soll sich freuen, und eure Freude soll niemand von euch nehmen
(Lutherbibel 1545, Johannes 16,22b)

… und vor deinem Fenster soll klingen das Lied der Nachtigall
(Heine, Dichterliebe, ”Aus meinen Tränen sprießen”)

This can only have a future meaning. What do our “Germanisten” here think?

2 Answers 2


As for present-day German: No.

"Soll + infinitive" has two basic meanings:

  1. a (strong) wish or an order
  2. hearsay: "Er soll sehr intelligent sein." = "He's said to be very intelligent."

As for Luther: The Vulgata has "et gaudebit cor vestrum, et gaudium vestrum nemo tollet a vobis", which is the future tense, not the conjunctive, and the Greek (which I don't understand) has χαρήσεται, which Google says is future tense.

So Luther obviously used "sollen" for the future tense here.

Now, on to Heine:

Und wenn du mich lieb hast, Kindchen,
Schenk' ich dir die Blumen all',
Und vor deinem Fenster soll klingen
Das Lied der Nachtigall.

The second line is written in present tense, which is often used in place of the future tense. The speaker says what he will do. In lines three and four, he wishes that the nightingale will sing a song, but he is in no position to accurately predict what will actually happen.

So, in short, "sollen" probably had a future meaning some time in the distant past. It doesn't have such a meaning now.


It's a question of how you look at it.

Dein Herz soll sich freuen.
Your heart shall rejoice.

That can be seen as 3 things:

  • an expression of what is to be in the future
  • an expression of the speaker's wishes at the moment
  • Technically it could also mean be an indirect order to the heart to rejoice but that really doesn't make much sense here.

If a preacher says this sentence and I am a believer it will sound like a promise and hence a statement about the future. If a lover writes it in a love letter, it's more an expression of the feelings of that person since he or she doesn't know about and has no God-like authority over the future. So the first example in the question does sound future-y to me while for the second one I am undecided but without more of the text I'd lean toward an expression of feeling and wish.

As for modern day German, the future focused usage has pretty much disappeared.

By the way: it might be worth noting that the Swedish version of "sollen" became their helper for the future tense just like "will" (wollen) became the helper in English.

Modal verbs in general have a future element in them because they introduce an activity without it being done at the moment

I must go. (I'll likely be going soon) I can come tomorrow. (I'll likely be coming tomorrow)

  • Afaik, until quite recently English used “shall” for the first person future tense, too.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 17, 2015 at 10:45
  • I think, in biblical contexts, if the Lord or Jesus says dein Herz soll sich freuen that can be understood as an indirect order; especially since that quote is taken from the Bible. But of course the other interpretations are also correct.
    – Jan
    Apr 17, 2015 at 11:27
  • Ah the joys of natural language :-). Part of the charm is the ambiguity and word play. "Dein Herz soll sich freuen" feels to me undecided between an encouragement and a promise; "eure Freude soll niemand von euch nehmen" is between a threat or ban (to others) and a promise (to the audience). Apr 17, 2015 at 14:07
  • The narrator in (present-day) literary texts sometimes uses sollen in a way that clearly refers to the future, e.g. X ahnte nicht, wie sehr er dies später noch bereuen sollte. – Regarding the Swedish future, ska still has a certain connotation of intent. When there is no intent, kommer att is often preferred.
    – chirlu
    Apr 17, 2015 at 19:04
  • @chirlu... guter Punkt! An diese Formulierung habe ich nicht gedacht. Es ist sogar ohne die Zeitinformation eindeutig Zukunft. "Er ahnte nicht, wie sehr er das bereuen sollte." Allerdings handelt es sich bei dem Beispiel um eine Formulierung aus der Prosa, die im großen und ganzen im ich nenn's mal "Prosatäritum" steht. Für eine normale Alltagsäusserung im Präsens funktioniert es meiner Ansicht nach nicht "Ich ahne nicht wie sehr ich das bereuen soll"... der Prosa-Erzähler lebt vom Standpunkt der Geschichte aus in der Zukunft,...
    – Emanuel
    Apr 17, 2015 at 20:52

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