The question is on the last sentence of this excerpt from Kafka's Der Verschollene.

Es war unmöglich durchzusetzen, obwohl eigentlich die Mehrzahl grundsätzlich zustimmte, daß in der Nacht nur an einem Ende des Saales das Licht brennen sollte. Wäre dieser Vorschlag durchgedrungen, dann hätten diejenigen, welche schlafen wollten, dies im Dunkel der einen Saalhälfte – es war ein großer Saal mit vierzig Betten – ruhig tun können, während die anderen im beleuchteten Teil Würfel oder Karten hätten spielen und alles übrige besorgen können, wozu Licht nötig war. Hätte einer, dessen Bett in der beleuchteten Saalhälfte stand, schlafen gehen wollen, so hätte er sich in eines der freien Betten im Dunkel legen können, denn es standen immer Betten genug frei, und niemand wendete gegen eine derartige vorübergehende Benützung seines Bettes durch einen anderen etwas ein. Aber es gab keine Nacht, in der diese Einteilung befolgt worden wäre.


What I gather from the last sentence is that there was not a night in which the division of the room was followed (observed). For this idea, however, it would appear the following should have sufficed:

Aber es gab keine Nacht, in der diese Einteilung befolgt wurde.

The original sentence however goes into a subjunctive (Konjunctiv) and also moves one step further "into the past" (i.e. from würde to worden wäre).

The questions are as follows.

  1. Would the sentence be grammatical with wurde replacing worden wäre?

  2. Would it be grammatical with würde replacing worden wäre?

  3. Can you assign the use of the Konjunktiv in the original sentence to one of the usual categories, e.g. counterfactual, wishing, politeness? (I kind of have an idea, but just want to see it categorized if possible.)

  4. Can you explain why worden wäre reads better than würde? (I have no idea why.)

  • 1
    1. yes, 2. no. 3. and 4. together make your real question that needs more explanation.
    – Crissov
    Mar 21, 2016 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


Aber es gab keine Nacht, in der diese Einteilung befolgt wurde.

Is grammatical, but a vacuous truth (the proposal was not accepted, thus it was never followed.)

Aber es gab keine Nacht, in der diese Einteilung befolgt worden wäre.

Is counterfactual/Irrealis, because the proposal was never accepted.

würde is the wrong tense, the story happened in the past, not the present.

Aber es gibt keine Nacht, in der diese Einteilung befolgt würde.

Would be a meaningful sentence during the discussion about the proposal inside the story.

  • @Catomic updated the answer to include the open question.
    – Chieron
    Mar 22, 2016 at 10:31
  • Sorry, but I don't follow the point about vacuity. (The sentence certainly doesn't seem tautological or known a priori. Please ignore this remark if it only creates confusion.). Maybe I should ask you whether or not you would say that the sentence ending in wurde (a) means exactly the same thing and (b) is as acceptable as the original sentence.
    – Catomic
    Mar 22, 2016 at 13:46
  • @Catomic As the preposition is counterfactual, anything said about it is vacuous. The statement there was no night where this division would've been followed is stronger than there was no night where this division had been followed, so it does have a different meaning. A factual statement about a counterfactual agreement is not working that well. So it (a) does not mean the same thing and (b) is not as acceptable. Had the proposal been accepted, the difference in meaning would be more obvious: either it had been ignored (wurde) or the conditions were not met (worden wäre).
    – Chieron
    Mar 22, 2016 at 14:17
  • the proposal was not accepted Actually the majority has agreed to the proposal: obwohl eigentlich die Mehrzahl grundsätzlich zustimmte. Ist is interesting to look at the verb 'durchdringen' here; I take it to mean that the reality just didn't follow through with the sensible idea(s), a major topic with Kafka.
    – TaW
    Mar 22, 2016 at 18:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.