I am trying to translate a sentence from English into German and I'm not sure whether one of the clauses calls for the subjunctive or not. I know the basic guidelines of the subjunctive (that it is generally used for reported speech and hypotheticals), but this one clause seems slightly different from cases that I've encountered before. Here is the relevant part of the sentence:

"... each word obliterated, before it had time to make sense, by the word that came next..."

What I am confused about is the clause, "before it had time to make sense". The words described in the sentence did not in fact have time to make sense and therefore the clause describes a hypothetical situation -- so the straightforward past seems inappropriate. Subjunctive II also seems inappropriate here because I generally read this as implying a conditional "would... if" or "would... but" structure. My only remaining guess is Subjunctive I, but I can't remember ever seeing this in the past tense, and wonder if there even is such a form, or whether it's still in use if there is.

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    For some readers, perhaps, it might be helpful if you could quote the entire sentence. – Eugene Str. Jul 30 '17 at 21:43
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    Wenn, dann Konjunktiv II. Das ist "ohne dass er Gelegenheit gehabt hätte" ähnlich, wofür ich viele Belege finde. Ganz allgemein würde mich eine Antwort zum Konjunktiv II für Verneinungen auch interessieren. – Carsten S Jul 31 '17 at 0:03
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    Was hat die Frage mit deutscher Sprache zu tun? Nichts. – user unknown Jul 31 '17 at 2:28
  • @userunknown, die Frage ist, welcher Modus in einer deutschen Übersetzung für den Mittelteil zu benutzen ist. Ich finde aber auch, dass die Frage besser wäre, wenn sie die Alternativen auf deutsch angeben würde. – Carsten S Jul 31 '17 at 6:10
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    @CarstenS: Würdest Du qwertz zustimmen, dass der Satzteil eine hypothetische Situation beschreibt? Würdest Du weiter zustimmen, dass man in den Satz ein "would ... if" oder "would ... but" hineinlesen kann (wo sollen if/but hin?) ohne den Sinn zu ändern? "Susi versank, bevor sie Zeit hatte einen Kaffee zu kochen, erneut in Schlaf und Träume." Ist das auch hypothetisch? "Susi hätte einen Kaffee kochen können, wäre sie nicht zuvor wieder ins Reich der Träume geglitten." Das wäre m.E. hypothetisch. Die Textanalyse irrt m.E. während sie noch im Englischen steckt und kommt da gar nicht raus. – user unknown Jul 31 '17 at 7:50

The use of Konjunktiv is optional in German, especially in negated sentences where we already know the outcome and also depends a bit on the amount of artistic style you want to put into the sentence - Konjunktiv sounds a bit more poetical.

...jedes Wort verwischt vom nächsten, bevor es auch nur Zeit gehabt hätte, einen Sinn zu ergeben...

...jedes Wort verwischt vom nächsten, bevor es auch nur Zeit gehabt hatte, einen Sinn zu ergeben

both mean the same with a very slight difference - In both cases the word did not have enough time to make sense - Konjunktiv only says the word hadn't had time to theoretically make sense (if there had been enough time, this still doesn't say the word had made sense), while plusquamperfect says it hadn't had time to make sense at all (we don't care about the theoretical ability of the word to make sense) - The outcome is the same.

English doesn't seem to distinguish the two cases - I can't see whether "had" is subjunctive or not - So, without further context, both would be acceptable translations.

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