The question is on the mood of the highlighted verbs in these excerpts from Albert Camus's The Stranger in two translations.

In the passage, the judge ("er") questions Meursault ("mich"), accused of murder, on his relationship with his mother.

Translated by Uli Aumüller:

Er hat mir gesagt, er müßte jetzt Fragen anschneiden, die mit meiner Sache scheinbar nichts zu tun hätten, die sie aber vielleicht ganz unmittelbar beträfen. Ich habe verstanden, daß er wieder über Mama sprechen würde, und habe gleichzeitig gespürt, wie sehr mich das langweilte. Er hat mich gefragt, warum ich Mama ins Heim gebracht hätte. Ich habe geantwortet, weil ich nicht genug Geld gehabt hätte, um sie pflegen und behandeln zu lassen. Er hat gefragt, ob mir das persönlich schwergefallen wäre, und ich habe geantwortet, sowohl Mama wie ich hätten nichts mehr voneinander erwartet, noch von sonst jemand übrigens, und wir hätten uns beide an unser neues Leben gewöhnt. Der Vorsitzende hat dann gesagt, er wollte diesen Punkt nicht vertiefen, und hat den Staatsanwalt gefragt, ob er mir dazu noch eine Frage stellen wollte.

By Georg Goyert and Hans Georg Brenner:

Er sagte, er müsse [KI] jetzt einige Fragen stellen, die anscheinend mit der Sache selbst nichts zu tun hätten [KII], für die Gesamtbeurteilung aber doch sehr wichtig seien [KI]. Ich wußte gleich, daß er von Mama sprechen würde, und fühlte, wie lästig mir das war. Er fragte mich, weshalb ich Mama in das Heim gebracht habe [KI, Ind]. Ich antwortete, weil ich nicht genug Geld hatte [Ind], um eine Pflegerin für sie zu halten. Er fragte mich, ob mir das schwergefallen sei [KI], worauf ich zur Antwort gab, daß Mama und ich nichts mehr voneinander oder von einem anderen erwarteten [KI, Ind] und daß wir beide uns an unser neues Leben gewöhnt hätten [KII]. Der Vorsitzende meinte dann, er wolle [KI] diesen Punkt fallenlassen, und fragte den Staatsanwalt, ob er Fragen an mich zu stellen habe [KI].

--where I have marked each highlighted verb with what I think is the mood it is in, namely, Indikativ (Ind), Konjunktiv I (KI) or Konjunktiv II (KII). (Please let me know if I got any of them wrong.)


I had to struggle to come up with a single question that can actually be answered, but I think I can put it like this (in two levels of specificity).

  1. I can try to explain the Aumüller translation to myself. According to my grammar books, literary German primarily uses KI for reported speech but may use KII in order (among other reasons) to avoid using KI when it is indistinguishable from Indikativ. So Aumüller, seeing that he would have to go into KII for that reason for some of the verbs, decided to pursue consistency and go into KII for all of them. Goyert and Brenner, however, don't seem to mind using KI indistinguishable from Indikativ and once even uses (what can only be in) Indikativ. If so, what explains their sometimes going into KII?

  2. Is there some logic or principle to the seeming inconsistency or randomness in Goyert and Brenner's choice of mood? For instance, is it aimed at some particular effect?


The French original:

Il m’a dit qu’il devait aborder maintenant des questions apparemment étrangères à mon affaire, mais qui peut-être la touchaient de fort près. J’ai compris qu’il allait encore parler de maman et j’ai senti en même temps combien cela m’ennuyait. Il m’a demandé pourquoi j’avais mis maman à l’asile. J’ai répondu que c’était parce que je manquais d’argent pour la faire garder et soigner. Il m’a demandé si cela m’avait coûté personnellement et j’ai répondu que ni maman ni moi n’attendions plus rien l’un de l’autre, ni d’ailleurs de personne, et que nous nous étions habitués tous les deux à nos vies nouvelles. Le président a dit alors qu’il ne voulait pas insister sur ce point et il a demandé au procureur s’il ne voyait pas d’autre question à me poser.

  • Neither version is 100% OK stylistically. For the first translation, I take offence at the two occurrences of wollte in the final sentence; the second translation, which apparently has decided on using indicative for own statements of the narrator (which is possible), deviates from this decision in gewöhnt hätten.
    – chirlu
    Mar 28, 2016 at 11:06
  • @chirlu Can you please explain what is offensive about wollte there?
    – Catomic
    Mar 28, 2016 at 12:43
  • Oh, it’s not offensive, but I’d strongly have expected wolle there.
    – chirlu
    Mar 28, 2016 at 13:12
  • @chirlu Why should we expect wolle at that point when, up to it, we have had K2 (unless it is native speaker intuition that cannot be articulated)?
    – Catomic
    Mar 28, 2016 at 14:01

2 Answers 2


What you need to take on board is that Camus's book is famously written in colloquial, not literary, French, and is indeed often considered the first major French literary work that was composed entirely in colloquial. You can see this right from the beginning of your extract where it says "il m'a dit", where literary French would say "il me dit". I think that Aumüller is trying to maintain the colloquial character of the original by avoiding the German K1 form, which is associated with written German. By contrast, Goyert and Brenner have the murderer Meursault talk like a professor, thus badly failing to reproduce the style and manner of the French original.

  • Can you give me some indication of how colloquial reported speech in K2 sounds? For example, colloquial in a novel, but not if someone gave it to his wife and kids over breakfast?
    – Catomic
    Mar 28, 2016 at 13:10
  • I don't really agree with the K2 version being more colloquial than the K1 version. The K2 version is less determined : er müsste/müsse jetzt Fragen anschneiden differes mostly in an implied insinuation that the judge did not actually have to ask these questions. Aumüller's Meursault distances himself a bit more. This, given the nature of the trial, is pretty natural compared to Goyert/Brenner, who make it sound like a newspaper or aloof. Neither version is totally colloquial nor professor speech. I'm afraid, I do not speak French, so I can say nothing about the style of the original.
    – Chieron
    Mar 31, 2016 at 13:31

I would add that the use of the indicative in reported speech implies that the speaker agrees with the statement they report. Using KI would imply the one reporting does not know (or does not want to tell) either way, while KII implies doubt.

Thus "[...] weil ich nicht genug Geld gehabt hätte" implies that the speaker was lying.

(KII can also be used to report about speech that used KI, but that would require additional context (conditions being mentioned for example).)

In short: The second translation is correct standard (Standard) German, the first paints the figure of Meursault as uneducated and possibly uncaring about the accuracy of the report.

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