Reading on mood, I saw that both the subjunctive (Konjunktiv I)

Johannes äße, wenn er Hunger hätte.

and the conditional (Konjunktiv II)

Johannes äße, wenn er hungrig wäre.

are translated to English in the above page as

John ate when he was hungry

or according to Google translate (if that's worth anything) as

John eats if he is hungry.

From what someone explained to me in the past, the first can be understood as:

John would eat, if hunger is a property he has / a state he is in.

where Hunger is a noun. The second would be:

John would eat, if he is hungry.

where hungrig is an adjective. I’m not even sure if the first part of the sentence is would eat, ate, eats, or something else.

What is the difference from an English speaker’s point of view?

  • Welcome to German Language SE. The linked Wikipedia article was very confusing and misleading in my opinion (I revised the worst bits) and is not the best source to get started with the German subjunctives. For example, there is not a single example of subjunctive I in it. – Wrzlprmft Dec 30 '15 at 9:01
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    Although it’s apparently still taught in school and text books, the (synthetic) Konjunktiv is basically dead except for auxiliary verbs (like haben, sein, werden and incl. copula or modal verbs like bleiben, dürfen, können, mögen, müssen, sollen, wollen) and some fixed expressions. It’s been replaced by either Indikativ (subjunctives, reported speech) or constructions with würde / wäre (conditionals). For DAF, I wouldn’t bother learning any inflections for it, at least not for productive use, but if you must you may restrict your efforts to or focus on 3rd person singular. – Crissov Dec 30 '15 at 12:52
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is based on a misunderstanding of terms. The question only uses Konjunktiv II. With that knowledge, the entire question breaks down to a very simple *of course they are the same because they are the same. – Jan Dec 30 '15 at 21:16

Both German sentences are identical in meaning, because »Hunger haben« (noun + to have) and »hungrig sein« (adjective + to be) is exactly the same. And both are in Konjunktiv II.

This is Konjunktiv I. You use it in indirect speech:

Johannes sagt, er habe Hunger.
Johannes sagt, er sei hungrig.

in English:

Johannes says, he is hungry.

And here is Konjunktiv II. You use it when you wish something or when you talk about something that is unlikely to happen,and also sometimes in indirect speech:

Johannes wünschte, er hätte etwas zu essen.
Wenn ich Urlaub hätte, läge ich jetzt am Strand.
Mein Arzt sagt, ich wäre zu dick.

In English:

Johannes wished he had something to eat.
If I were on vaction, I would be lying on the beach now.
My doctor says, I am too fat [but I do not think so].

And notice: You can't translate names!
If a German guy is named Johannes, then his name is still Johannes if you talk about him in English. He's the same person, so he still has the same name! And an English John is also named John if you talk about him in German.

  • 1) I suggest that you change your example for the Konjunktiv I to the present tense to avoid the potentially confusing element of the different tempus in the reported sentence. 2) It may be confusing for a language learner to read that “you use [Konjuktiv II] when you wish something”. This only applies to a few fossilised constructions, for which one may argue that it is used for reasons other than the wish. It is not a productive function of this mood. 3) You might want to add that you use the Konjunktiv II when something is not true or you do not consider it true. – Wrzlprmft Dec 30 '15 at 9:34
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    Karl der Große, Wilhelm der Eroberer, ... – Carsten S Dec 30 '15 at 10:10
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    @Crissov, alles richtig, es ging mir nur darum, dass es keinen Grund gibt, den OP mit Fettdruck, Ausrufezeichen und falscher Großschreibung eine falsche absolute Aussage entgegenzuschmettern, nur weil er ein Beispiel aus der Wikipedia übernommen hat, wenn dieser Aspekt auch noch für die Frage unerheblich ist. – Carsten S Dec 30 '15 at 13:24
  • @Crissov and CarstenS... Können eure Kommentare dann gelöscht werden? Ich flagge mal nicht als obsolete. Entscheidet selbst. (Ggf. durch einen kurzen Kommentar ersetzen, dass das unerheblich und falsch ist. Der erste Kommentare von CarstenS ist ja nicht gerade aussagekräftig, der zweite alleine hätte gereicht.) – Em1 Dec 30 '15 at 15:58

Short answer:

Use Konjunktiv I in reported speech and Konjunktiv II about unreal or unlikely events (e.g. talking about the past).

Er sagte, ich solle Konjunktiv 1 nur in der indirekte Reden benutzen. Hätte ich das vorher schon gewusst, hätte ich die Frage nicht stellen müssen.
Translation: He said, I should use K1 only for reported speech. Had I known this before, I wouldn't have had to ask the question.

Long answer:

First, take a look at inflection tables and you'll figure out what the right Konjunktiv I (K1) and Konjunktiv II (K2) forms are:

            K1      |   K2
    haben   er habe | er hätte
    sein    er sei  | er wäre
    essen   er esse | es äße

You see that you used the K2 form only.

About K1:
There are a few use cases. Besides some fixed expressions ("Es lebe der König"), you often see it in recipes.
But the main use case is reported speech. Similar to English, when you quote someone, you have to adapt the pronoun and verb. Unlike English, however, you don't care about the tense of the main clause ("He says" vs "He said") and you always use the same form — K1 that is.
For the sake of completeness, however, note that in colloquial German we often replace K1 with a "dass"-clause in indicative mood.

A: "Du lernst Deutsch." (You are learning German.)
B: "A sagt(e), du lernest Deutsch." (A says/said, you are/were learning German.)
B: "A sagt(e), dass du Deutsch lernst." (A says/said, that you are learning German.)

For further reading, you can find a lot of reliable sources that explain the use of K1. Here are a few ones:

About K2:
The main usage of K2 is when it comes to things that are unrealistic or unlikely. This corresponds to conditional types two and three in English.

Ich wünschte, ich wäre nochmal 20. (I wished I was twenty again.)
Ich dachte, ich hätte dich gesehen. (I thought I had seen you.)
Hätte ich nicht verschlafen, so hätte ich den Bus nicht verpasst. (Hadn't I overslept, I wouldn't have missed the bus.)
Wenn ich nicht verschlafen hätte, so hätte ich den Bus nicht verpasst. (If I hadn't overslept, I wouldn't have missed the bus.)

For further reading, browse the sites I linked for K1 and you find more information about K2, too.

I left out a few details to not complicate things. For a very thorough understanding of the whole matter, I highly suggest reading the articles on Canoonet.

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