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There seems to be a difference when building subjunctives from the verb "brauchen" when used alone, or in the composite verb "verbrauchen".

Hätten wir überall Energiesparlampen, verbrauchten wir nur halb so viel Strom.
Hätten wir mehr Geld, bräuchten wir keine Schulden zu machen.

Building the subjunctives the other way round then

Hätten wir überall Energiesparlampen, verbräuchten wir nur halb so viel Strom.

sounds disastrously wrong. But the second case

Hätten wir mehr Geld, brauchten wir keine Schulden zu machen.

sounds correct too.

Therefore I do have a considerable uncertainty on how to build the subjunctives here. Duden and Canoonet say that "brauchte" is the correct form. However I hardly hear a subjunctive other than "bräuchte".

Is there any peculiar reason why we treat "brauchen" differently? Or am I only fooled by a regional dialect influence that interferes with my intuition here?

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    @Hendrik: I think an ngram of a single word without a comparison is next to useless. – musiKk Jan 27 '12 at 11:02
  • @musiKk: In this particular case I don't think so. We are talking about an increase by a factor of about 100 here. In the 19th century, "bräuchte" was hardly ever used. – Hendrik Vogt Jan 27 '12 at 12:00
  • Speaking of ngrams, I think they even don't prove anything while comparing two terms. – user508 Jan 27 '12 at 14:28
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Ansgar is right, but maybe not for long anymore ;)

Many (if not most) subjunctives are composed the same way as the past tense. Which brings up the problem of differentiation:

Ich brauchte das Geld.

What does that sentence mean? Maybe

Ich brauchte das Geld gestern.

oder

Ich brauchte das Geld noch heute. (Yes, you can use "Ich brauche" here also, but that's not the point)

To avoid this problem you can use the construction with "würden", but it is nice to have a word which already tells the difference precisely. And because in German we often do that with äöu-constructions (like "helfen" -> "hülfen" or "hälfen"), doing it with "brauchen" also suggests itself.

The language is living, so "bräuchte" could be on its way to Standard German. You are one of the people who decides that. If it is used more often it could replace "brauchte" as subjunctive (or be an official alternative). And then we would have a distinction between subjunctive and past tense, which is necessary if you ask me.

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The correct subjunctive is brauchten, but in colloquial usage, one very often finds bräuchten.

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