Are these grammatically well formed German sentences?

A: Er wird{0}* es erledigen{3} können{2} haben{1}.

B: Sie sagt, dass er es werde{0} erledigen{3} können{2} haben{1}.

(*Bracketed numbers represent "syntactic distances" from the finite verb wird. You can see that the modal können is not "adjacent" to the finite verb, haben intervening between them.)

The sentences are meant to be equivalents of:

He will{0} have{1} been able to{2} finish{3} it.

She says that he will{0} have{1} been able to{2} finish{3} it.

I am confused because I have found two (perhaps conflicting) rules on this.

One rule ("finite first") says that the finite verb must come first when multiple verbs are piled together at the end of a subordinate clause and one of them is a modal. Sentence B follows this rule (plus the usual "reverse order" rule).

The other ("modal last") says that the modal must come last when that happens.

To obey both "modal last" and "finite first," you may have to say something like:

A': Er wird{0} es haben{1} erledigen{3} können{2} .

B': Sie sagt, dass er es werde{0} haben{1} erledigen{3} können{2}.

But to obey "modal last" and "reverse order" you might say:

B": Sie sagt, dass er es haben{1} werde{0} erledigen{3} können{2}.

Please let me know whether A and B or A' and B' (B") or some other German sentences are correct for the English ones. Thank you.


You don't have to read these sources for the two rules (to answer the question). Because they only discuss word order in subordinate clauses they don't apply directly to A and A'.

"Finite First"

From Modern German Grammar 2nd Edition by Bill Dodd, Christine Eckhard-Black, John Klapper, Ruth Whittle:

When modal verbs (see 35) are used in subordinate clauses in tenses other than the present and simple past, two or three verbs may be grouped together at the end of the clause. If this happens, the finite verb (usually haben but also in the future tense werden) is placed in front of the other verbs:

Ich bin sicher, dass wir uns die Reise nächstes Jahr werden leisten können.
I am sure we will be able to afford the trip next year.

Sie schreibt, dass sie die ganze Arbeit allein hat machen müssen.
She writes to say she has had to do all the work herself.

Wenn er uns wirklich hätte sehen wollen, wäre er wohl ein bißchen früher aufgestanden, oder?
If he’d really wanted to see us, he’d have got up a little earlier, don’t you think?

Bist du sicher, dass die neue Regelung hat eingeführt werden müssen? Are you sure the new regulation had to be introduced?

"Modal Last"

From Wikibooks: German/Grammar/Sentence

Dependent Clauses with Three Verbs

Sentences with three verbs typically involve a modal verb, whose presence complicates matters terribly. Let us think of some examples in English.

1) I am not able to help you move your car. - können - helfen - bewegen

2) I will be able to go to the store with you. - werden - können - gehen

3) I have not been able to afford that. (haben + "sich (dat) etw. leisten können" = to be able to afford sth.)

4) I have not been able to reach you over the phone. - haben - können - erreichen

And so on. The problem is, after you've learned how to put your verb at the end of the sentence in a main clause, and after you've learned how to "build inwards" in dependent clauses, and after you've pulled your hair out, night after night, sitting in a cafe in Seattle declining relative pronouns, German grammar throws yet another rule at you, this one so pointless and downright counter-productive, and it seems like German grammar is simply making fun of you at this point, that you leap out of your seat, scream "woo hoo!", and then get back to work.

The modal verb (or the modal-like verb) has to be at the end of the verb phrase, regardless of whether it has been conjugated. In cases where it has not, the conjugated verb moves to the beginning of the verb phrase. Let's look at our examples above.

Du weißt, dass...

1) ...ich dir dein Auto nicht bewegen helfen kann. This one is straightforward, because the modal verb is the conjugated verb, allowing the clause to follow the "build inwards" principle.

2) ...ich zum Markt mit dir nicht werde gehen können. The modal verb must come last. No semantic or logical reason for this.

3) ...ich mir das nicht habe leisten können. The modal verb must come last. Note here that the modal verb does not form a past participle when it has main verb to modify.

4) ...ich dich am Telefon nicht habe erreichen können. Note the somewhat sensible placement of "nicht".

  • @Emanuel Thank you for pointing out the errors. I believe I fixed them now. The "SOURCES" section is not part of the question strictly speaking so you can skip it.
    – Catomic
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 15:13
  • 2
    I think B should be 3210.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 16:25
  • 1
    Whatever the answer may be (A' is correct, for the others I don't know)... if this really needed to be conveyed chances are people would go for a different way to express the ability part "Er wird es zu erledigen in der Lage gewesen sein." "Es wird im möglich gewesen sein, es zu erledigen." "... dass er es zu erledigen in der Lage gewesen sein wird." These are not simple but much easier to construct and parse than the same with "können"
    – Emanuel
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 16:43
  • 1
    All of the A and B examples wrongly use the infinitive 'erledigen' where the past participle (Partizip II) form 'erledigt' is required e.g.: er wird es erledigt haben können (Futur II = Futur Perfekt = vollendete Futur, with modal verb 'können').
    – TehMacDawg
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 17:39
  • 1
    LOL @Emanuel I'm absolutely correct on this, but you better brush up on your basic German before you try to teach others. The 'openness' is expressed with the modal verb 'können', which is the reason to use it in the first place.
    – TehMacDawg
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


It took me a while, but in the end I see that you’re close. For clarity, let’s look at the meaning you want to convey and then at the means of conveying this meaning.

  • You want to create a sentence that is talking about the future — but about matters which will have passed when said future occurs;
  • You want to imply that someone has the ability to do something; and
  • Your actual activity is getting a job done, a.k.a. finishing it.

The third is asking for a verb such as erledigen. The second condition requires an auxilliary, in this case können. The first one is asking for the Futur II tense (rarely used in German, but nonetheless correct).

‘Creating’ the sentence backwards would result in the following:

  • Starting point:

    Er erledigt{0} es.

  • adding the possibility:

    Er kann{0} es erledigen{1}.

  • getting the tense right:

    Er wird{0} es erledigen{3} gekonnt{2} haben{1}.

This might seem weird, because the modal verbs like können usually use an Ersatzinfinitiv when in a perfect-ish tense with another infinitive. However my gut feeling tells me that three infinitives following each other are undesireable, which is why I switched back to a normal participle for können. I doubt that ‘Er wird es erledigen können haben’ be formally wrong, but I definitely wouldn’t say it.

Note that the analysis is convoluted by the equally possible phrase

Er wird{0} es erledigt{3} haben{2} können{1}

which can be better translated as

He will{0} be able{1} to have{2} finished{3} it.

(I consider the to to not belong to being able but rather to the infinitive following it.)

For the subordinate clause, things are similar, except that the finite verb{0} may take the last position:

Sie meint, dass er es erledigen{3} gekonnt{2} haben{1} werde{0}.

But one can also consider the future II tense as a giant convoluted infinitive, requesting the following order:

Sie meint, dass er es werde{0} erledigen{3} gekonnt{2} haben{1}.

Note that whatever the construction, I always stuck with the order 3-2-1 for the three additional non-finite verbs. This aspect of German seems to be head-final.

A note on your sources: They imply a very strict understanding of German grammar. Word order is not something that German grammar takes too strictly. In specific cases, I deem the following examples and their respective alternatives both to be correct:

Ich bin sicher, dass wir uns die Reise nächstes Jahr werden leisten können.
Ich bin sicher, dass wir uns die Reise nächstes Jahr leisten können werden.

Du weißt, dass ich mit dir nicht zum Markt werde gehen können.
Du weißt, dass ich mit dir nicht zum Markt gehen können werde.

As a word of warning, this type of sentence is so convoluted (as obvious by the comments to your question) that it is unlikely anybody would ever want to write (let alone say) it this way. In speech, I would expect:

Er kann es erledigen.

or at most

Er wird es erledigen können.

  • Thank you. I certainly like this answer very much as obeying "reverse order" and not violating either of "finite first" and "modal last" (which are made inapplicable by the use of "gekonnt"). I wonder how other German speaks will like it. / Also noted: the recurring theme that this construction should be avoided.
    – Catomic
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 8:55

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