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Amanda hätte jemand sein können, den wir kennen

I noticed this sentence being used as a title of a news article. I understand the general meaning, but I don’t quite understand the grammar being used in the first part of the sentence. Namely why is hätte … sein können used here? What is the function of hätte here? Couldn’t the same sentence be written as follows?

Amanda könnte jemand sein, den wir kennen.

  • Your sentence is wrong, because Amanda can not be something anymore, because she is dead. – Iris Sep 15 '16 at 13:16
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    The past of the conjunctive somehow... (could have been) – äüö Sep 15 '16 at 13:45
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    The author tried to express "The same thing could have happened to someone we know". I think this is an infelicitous phrasing. Surely such an attack might have happened to someone I know, e.g. my neighbour Stefan, but then Stefan would have been the victim and not Amanda. – Kilian Foth Sep 16 '16 at 6:25
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It's past tense, like in English too:

Amanda hätte jemand sein können, den wir kennen.
Amanda could have been someone we know.

Compare it with your alternative sentence:

Amanda könnte jemand sein, den wir kennen.
Amanda could be someone we know.

The first sentence is past tense. I don't know the context, but maybe Amanda is dead now. So in the past, when she was alive, she could have been someone we know. But we did not know her, do not know her, and have no chance to know her in the future.

The second sentence is present tense. Now (in this moment when you read this sentence) she could be someone you know, and maybe some of the readers really know her. And if you don't know her now, you might get a chance to know her in the future.

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As commented: hätte jemand sein können is past of könnte jemand sein. This indicates that something happened to Amanda in the past. And it could have happened to someone we know. It adds dramatic effect. Theoretically she could have won the lottery, to me it sounds like she tragically died.

The present form könnte jemand sein den wir kennen is the opposite of dramatization. It means Amanda could be someone next door, thus not someone special.

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