The question is on the highlighted verb in this quote from Rotkäppchen.

Es wird auch erzählt, dass einmal, als Rotkäppchen der alten Großmutter wieder Gebackenes brachte, ein anderer Wolf es angesprochen und vom Wege habe ableiten wollen. Rotkäppchen aber hütete sich und ging geradefort seines Wegs und sagte der Großmutter, dass es dem Wolf begegnet wäre, der ihm guten Tag gewünscht, aber so bös aus den Augen geguckt hätte: »Wenn’s nicht auf offener Straße gewesen wäre, er hätte mich gefressen.«

What is the significance of using brachte as opposed to gebracht habe?

I can imagine two possibilities.

  • There was no choice: gebracht habe in place of brachte would be ungrammatical.

    If this were so, the general rule might be something like this?

    Where a dependent clause introduced by dass and constituting reported speech is itself made of a main clause and a dependent clause (introduced by als, wenn, weil etc.), the use of Konjunktiv I is limited to verbs in the main clause and the verbs in the dependent clause must be in the Indikativ.

  • gebracht habe in place of brachte would still be grammatical, but some other reason recommends brachte.

    For example, the reason may be that the thing in focus was the wolf's wanting to speak to and lure away the girl and that the als-clause was merely setting the background. So if the whole thing had been in focus, and the speaker wanted to distance himself from the content of the als-clause, i.e. imply that he was not even sure (or at any rate did not wish to assert) that Rotkäppchen had any second trip, he could have said gebracht habe.

Please let me know whether any of the above options is correct or something else is the case. I am interested in learning the most bookish (or highest register) of current German if it is different from spoken German.


1 Answer 1


It would be grammatical to say

Es wird auch erzählt, dass einmal, als Rotkäppchen der alten Großmutter wieder Gebackenes gebracht habe, ein anderer Wolf es angesprochen und vom Wege habe ableiten wollen.

It would not be archaic or in any way weird, it would just convey a different meaning.

When using the indicative, one states that there is no question that Rotkäppchen brought her grandmother cookies. It is given as a known fact — there might have been witnesses that saw her, or people know that she does that every day.

Mein Biologielehrer hat gesagt, dass es keine Einhörner gibt.

The person saying this might have heard a wild story from someone revolving about unicorns, and is reassuring themselves by quoting a definite fact about the non-existence of unicorns.

Introducing a conjunctive would mean that the fact is (however slightly) questioned. So the above quote would now mean, that the speaker is not sure whether Rotkäppchen ever went to her grandmother to bring her cookies. The speaker assumes it to be the case, because otherwise they wouldn’t tell the story, but it can be questioned.

Mein Biologielehrer hat gesagt, dass es keine Einhörner gebe.

If you say it like this, then the biology teacher might have stated the fact that unicorns don’t exist, but you are questioning the fact for a reason, like you believe in unicorns or you saw one.

So while in some languages indirect speech is grammatically required to be in a certain modus, German language distinguishes between statement of facts (indicative) and assumptions (conjunctive).

  • Thanks! On your question, I don't know that it is a Swiss or some other version. I got it from this Web page. grimmstories.com/de/grimm_maerchen/rotkaeppchen
    – Catomic
    Jun 30, 2015 at 15:43
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    There's a second difference that regards time. "Gebracht habe" implies that Rotkäppchen was approached after a successful deliverey, "brachte" means that she was on her way. Besides that, I don't think "als sie gebracht habe" is correct German but I have zero fact to back it up. Just a feeling.
    – Emanuel
    Jul 1, 2015 at 9:44
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    Surely it doesn't always imply questioning the claim. It can also be used to keep a safe distance from the claim, hold no liability, so to speak.
    – clinch
    Jul 1, 2015 at 20:48
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    @Emanuel I have deleted my earlier comments because I see that you raised a new question addressing what I wanted to say. I am leaving a pointer to your question here, for others who may also want to follow through. german.stackexchange.com/questions/24187/…
    – Catomic
    Jul 2, 2015 at 4:34
  • @Emanuel Sorry for a double ping, I deleted the first comment, because brainfart. I see no temporal difference between preterite and conjunctive. To me, both imply she is on her way. And als sie ihr etwas gebracht habe is perfectly fine in my opinion.
    – Jan
    Jul 2, 2015 at 16:04

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