Suppose I came back after a long holiday and am asked how it was. I want to say: "Couldn't be better". What is the proper German translation?

Konnte nicht besser sein.


Kann nicht besser gewesen sein.

In general, what should I use to indicate the past form of können?

2 Answers 2


Couldn't be better

could actually mean two things in English - Simple Past tense or present irrealis.

Konnte nicht besser sein

is simple past in German

Könnte nicht besser sein

"Konjunktiv" (irrealis) in the present.

Depends on what was actually meant in the original sentence - I think your example is already wrong in English, however. If you were asked about your holidays, you should probably answer "Couldn't have been better" - After all, the holidays are over now. The proper translation of that would be

Hätte nicht besser sein können

as correctly pointed out in Clayn's answer.

  • The amount of analysis involved in order to answer the simple question is unreal to me :D. German is hard, indeed Aug 9, 2016 at 10:38
  • 1
    @xpmrz German is not hard at all :) It's English here that causes the problems because it tries to be too simple ;)
    – tofro
    Aug 9, 2016 at 11:13

I would go with Hätte nicht besser sein können. Both of your suggestions don't seem to fit well in my ears.

  • Is that because of wrong grammar or are they just not common collocations? Aug 9, 2016 at 10:07
  • It's because you want to deny the possibility of having had a better time, so you need to use "Konjunktiv". Also, the holiday is over, so you need to use past tense. It's actually the same in English, only that the subjunctive is not that clearly visible. And if I'm not mistaken, the correct phrase would be "Couldn't have been better", right? Aug 9, 2016 at 10:19
  • English is not my native language either :). I understand it now but have one more question though, could it be:" Könnte nicht besser gewesen sein" ? Aug 9, 2016 at 10:29
  • 1
    @xpmrz Yes, that's what I would use. But both are perfectly idiomatic. (In theory the meaning is slightly different due to the different tenses but in practice they are understood in the same way.)
    – user6495
    Aug 9, 2016 at 10:36
  • @xpmrz "Könnte nicht besser gewesen sein" is the verbatim equivalent to "Couldn't have been better.". In German, you can rephrase that to "Hätte nicht besser sein können". I doubt there's an English verbatim equivalent that is idiomatic.
    – Em1
    Aug 9, 2016 at 14:16

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