The question is on the wie clause in this excerpt from Kafka's Der Prozess.

Eines Nachmittags - K. war gerade vor dem Postabschluß sehr beschäftigt - drängte sich zwischen zwei Dienern, die Schriftstücke hineintrugen, K.s Onkel Karl, ein kleiner Grundbesitzer vom Lande, ins Zimmer.
K. erschrak bei dem Anblick weniger, als er schon vor längerer Zeit bei der Vorstellung vom Kommen des Onkels erschrocken war. Der Onkel mußte kommen, das stand bei K. schon etwa einen Monat lang fest. Schon damals hatte er ihn zu sehen geglaubt, wie er, ein wenig gebückt, den eingedrückten Panamahut in der Linken, die Rechte schon von weitem ihm entgegenstreckte und sie mit rücksichtsloser Eile über den Schreibtisch hinreichte, alles umstoßend, was ihm im Wege war.


  1. Am I right to think entgegenstreckte and hinreichte are the main verbs (as it were) in the wie clause? (See background below.)

  2. Are entgegenstreckte and hinreichte in Indikativ Präteritum Aktiv (and not Konjunktiv II Präteritum Aktiv)?

  3. Is Indikativ Präteritum Aktiv the only correct form for this context, meaning that anything else (for instance, Konjunktiv I Präsens Aktiv) would have been wrong?


On 2 and 3:

These are questions on how to understand the status of the wie clause. I am seeing it as occupying the same syntactic position as ihn (part of hatte er ihn zu sehen geglaubt). In other words there are (according to my reading) two things that K. had believed he'd seen, ihn and the wie clause. Therefore, the wie clause is governed by sehen, which generates a context for the indicative mood.

But I have these doubts.

  • K. didn't really see his uncle. We are really talking about what he expected or imagined or feared; so perhaps something other than the indicative mood may be required or permitted.

  • Maybe the wie clause is not governed by sehen but wholly stand-alone, in which case it might mean something like, "Oh, how my uncle does these things," and again perhaps require or permit something other than the indicative.

On 1:

I am pretty sure entgegenstreckte and hinreichte are the verbs, but all translations I know have created modifiers out of them, sometimes even supplying a new verb not found in the original. So I want to be double sure. (I don't believe the variations resulted in any stylistic improvement either.)

Willa and Edwin Muir:

He had often pictured him just as he appeared [new word] now, his back slightly bent, his panama hat crushed in his left hand, stretching out [entgegenstreckte] his right hand from the very door way, and then thrusting [hinreichte] it recklessly across the desk, knocking over everything that came in its way.

David Wyllie:

He already thought at the time he could see how his uncle would arrive [new word], slightly bowed, his battered panama hat in his left hand, his right hand already stretched out [entgegenstreckte and hinreichte] over the desk long before he was close enough as he rushed carelessly towards K. knocking over everything that was in his way.

Breon Mitchell:

Even back then he could picture him, slightly stooped, has Panama hat crushed in his left hand, his right hand already stretched out [entgegenstreckte] toward him from afar, thrusting [hinreichte] it across the desk in reckless haste, knocking over everything in his way.

Unknown translator:

À ce moment-là, il lui avait semblé le voir, un peu voûté, écrasant son panama de la main gauche et tendant [entgegenstreckte] du plus loin la droite à son neveu – il la lançait au-dessus du bureau avec une précipitation brutale et renversait tout au passage.

  • Note: This would be Konjunktiv II Präsens Aktiv. There is no Konjunktiv II Präteritum, only a Konjunktiv II Perfekt.
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 13:20

1 Answer 1

  1. Yes.
  2. The Indikativ and Konjunktiv II forms are identical, so it's difficult to say. In situations where it's important to stress the Konjunktiv II form, one would use the Ersatzform ("würde") or a tense where the difference is obvious ("entgegengestreckt hatte/hätte").
  3. Both Indikativ and Konjunktiv II are correct. Usage of the Konjunktiv II would make at clear that the action did not in fact happen, while the Indikativ leaves it open if it happened or not.

It's correct that formally the subclause can be thought of as replacing the direct object of sehen ("Er hat gesehen, wie er ..." -> "Er hat es gesehen").

But the subclause is governed by "glaubte zu sehen", which adds doubt, so the Konjunktiv II would be justified.

It's possible that this ambiguity (Indikativ/Konjunktiv II) is intended by Kafka. It's also possible the translators used constructions with participles instead of conjugated verbs to keep the ambiguity.

  • 1
    I doubt it could be Konjunktiv II. Consider a similar sentence with a strong verb, for which the two forms are not identical: Schon damals hatte er ihn zu sehen geglaubt, wie er ein Butterbrot äße. Sounds very strange to me.
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 13:25
  • @chirlu: Drop the ihn and change wie to dass, and it doesn't sound strange to me at all: Schon damals hat er zu sehen geglaubt, dass er ein Butterbrot äße. I agree that the combination of zu sehen geglaubt, wie ... is unusual in the first place, I'd use either gesehen, wie ... or geglaubt, dass ... but not both. For gesehen, wie ... I'd also only use the Indikativ.
    – dirkt
    Commented Dec 20, 2015 at 16:04
  • +1, perfect!...
    – user19546
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 19:14

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