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?


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 – Tung Nguyen Aug 9 '16 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 '16 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? – Tung Nguyen Aug 9 '16 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? – Thorsten Dittmar Aug 9 '16 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" ? – Tung Nguyen Aug 9 '16 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.) – Roland Aug 9 '16 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 '16 at 14:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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