The question is on the word mag in this passage from Kafka's Der Prozess.

Nun weiß aber meine Freundin, so muß ich wenigstens annehmen, was diese Unterredung betreffen soll, und ist deshalb aus Gründen, die ich nicht kenne, überzeugt, daß es niemandem Nutzen bringen würde, wenn die Unterredung wirklich zustande käme. Im übrigen erzählte sie mir erst gestern und nur ganz flüchtig davon, sie sagte hierbei, daß auch Ihnen jedenfalls nicht viel an der Unterredung liegen könne, denn Sie wären nur durch einen Zufall auf einen derartigen Gedanken gekommen und würden selbst auch ohne besondere Erklärung, wenn nicht schon jetzt, so doch sehr bald die Sinnlosigkeit des Ganzen erkennen. Ich antwortete darauf, daß das richtig sein mag, daß ich es aber zur vollständigen Klarstellung doch für vorteilhaft hielte, Ihnen eine ausdrückliche Antwort zukommen zu lassen.


Why did Kafka's use mag instead of möge?


I have learned several rules about reported speech, e.g.

  • Use Konjunktiv 1 for standard cases in formal German.
  • Konjunktiv 2 can be used for further "distancing," when K1 is the same as Indikativ, etc.
  • Indikativ is preferred in everyday speech, particularly for reporting one's own past statements.

I don't know what mix of these rules, and perhaps other considerations, recommended mag (Indikativ) when the next one is hielte (K2).

  • I would guess that this is accounted for by artistic freedom... because möchte would be a perfectly fine Konjunktiv 2 of mögen
    – jera
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 9:12
  • @jera "Artistic freedom" is what you take when you bend or break a rule for some effect? Is Kafka then bending a rule, or at least being careless?
    – Catomic
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 10:54
  • 1
    Try to write that in direct speech. Helps in most cases: Ich antwortete: "Das mag richtig sein, Ich hielte es aber für vorteilhaft...". This could be one explanation. Could also be "Das mag richtig sein, ich halte es aber für ...". I guess Kafka meant the former (even if it's not 100% grammatical, but after all, it is a conversation) and wanted to keep the difference between the two forms in indirect speech.
    – tofro
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 11:36
  • Whenever someone uses he/she don't in some piece of art I would rate it as artistic freedom and I feel this case is comparable to the mag stated by Kafka. @tofro [...] ich hielte es aber für [...] is not only not 100% grammatical, I would simply consider it as not standard german and therefore as wrong.
    – jera
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 13:00

4 Answers 4


The problem with mag is, that both Konjunktiv I and II go beyond the original meaning of Indikativ.

  • „möge“ mostly conveys optative mood, so it could be misunderstood as „it should be“ instead of „it may be“.
  • „möchte“ is a replacement for „wollen“ (Indikativ!) in almost every instance of German beyond about 1850. There are a few contemporary exceptions, such as „Man möchte meinen“.

This makes difficult to shift „mögen“ to „möge“ and next to impossible to „möchte“ in this context.

  • This sounds to me almost like saying that mag, möge and möchte are (within a certain range of use) three separate verbs, and that the K1 and K2 forms of mag are also mag. The consequence of this would be that you can use mag in reported speech without injuring the formality (high register) which the narration would otherwise have. Is this correct? For instance, doe the quoted Kafka sentence maintain its formality in spite of mag?
    – Catomic
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 6:40
  • This tendency to suggest the optative, is it a peculiar feature of mag vs. möge. Had it been some ordinary verb, e.g. hilft vs. helfe, is there no such tendency? Does the ear not want to hear an optative in helfe? (In English the tendency may be in any verb, e.g. no less in God save the Queen! than in May God save the Queen! although you can say that even in the former there is an implicit may. But English does not use its K1 for reported speech; so the environment is very different.)
    – Catomic
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 6:45
  • @Catomic: From a certain perspective, yes. But they still are K1/K2 of mögen, but just not usable as such anymore (möge still depending on context). Today, one would use können/könne/könnte.
    – Veredomon
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 16:37
  • 1
    @Catomic: German knows "Gott schütze (K1) die Königin" as well, but you can't say "Der Chef habe ein Einsehen", as it is not productive anymore. With möge", it is possible though: "Der Chef möge ein Einsehen haben". It should also be noted that you can use *möge for any person/number.
    – Veredomon
    Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 16:39

möge would express something different here. In the sentence as given mag means may.

Das mag richtig sein
This may be correct

If you said möge, the meaning would shift to expressing the desire for "it" to be correct or the fact that the speaker defines "it" as being correct.

Ich sagte ihr, dass das richtig sein möge
He told her, it was to be correct


Using "mag" when reporting about his own speech in the past he expresses that his stance on this has not changed. Whereas the part about "hielte" intentionally omits that implication and since he is still reporting about his own speech we must assume something changed in the meantime.
(Maybe he has sent an answere already?)


I can see two different reasons for using “daß das richtig sein mag”.

  1. A well-known German idiom is “das mag ja sein, aber …”. This idiom is quite strong so that it overrules the normal grammar rules. Changing it to “das möge ja sein” sounds impractically unnatural.
  2. During the conversation, Herr K. actually said “das mag ja richtig sein”, which Kafka then described using indirect speech, but still emphasizing on the actual words. Embedding these actual words in this order is not possible in the whole sentence, therefore this choice of words is the closest one can get. The description “daß ich es für vorteilhaft hielte” is not an almost-direct quote (Herr K. probably spoke very different words back then), therefore Kafka used the usual grammar here.

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