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Wir sollten nicht nur andere, sondern auch uns selbst täuschen können

Why "können" comes at the end of the sentence?
Why are there two modal verbs in the sentence?

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Compare:

  1. Ich kann dich sehen.
    I can see you. = I am able to see you.

Here I say, that I have a certain capability, namely the capability to see you.


  1. Ich sollte dich sehen.
    I should see you.

Here I say, that something should happen that is not happening at this moment.


  1. Ich sollte dich sehen können.
    I should be able to see you.

In this sentence, I say, that I should have a capability, that I don't have now, and this capability is to see you.

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Wir sollten nicht nur andere, sondern auch uns selbst täuschen können.

Let's simplify the example:

Wir sollten täuschen können.

We should be able to deceive.

There's no such rule there could be only one modal verb in a sentence. Combinations with können are especially productive:

Er muss das Ding auch fahren können.

He at least has to be able to drive that thing.

Sie darf besser fahren können als er.

She's free to drive better than him.

Es will laufen können.

It wants to be able to run.

Sie mag dieses Instrument spielen können.

She may be able to play this instrument.

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There are two modal words in one sentence because there are two clauses, a main clause and a subordinate clause. These two clauses share a common verb phrase, sollte täuschen können, but the two modals are split up. täuschen sollen, and täuschen können in the separate clauses.

"Wir sollten nicht nur andere täuschen ." Here, the verb täuschen is understood from the following, subordinate clause, so it's not repeated.

"Können" comes at the end of the sentence because it is part of a subordinate clause which follows the main clause:

"sondern auch uns selbst täuschen können."

This is a case where you have to read the German (verbs) backward, starting from the end, to get the meaning.

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  • The verbs shared are täuschen sollen, not täuschen. You cannot pick a single verb to share. Consider Wir sollten nicht nur andere täuschen, sondern auch uns selbst täuschen können. That way, the verb phrases täuschen sollen and täuschen können are separated completely. – Janka Dec 26 '17 at 22:45
  • No. The verb phrase of both clauses is sollte täuschen können, it's only the accusative object which changes by clause. If you want to pick verbs for a clause, you have to use a different verb phrase in each clause. – Janka Dec 27 '17 at 4:06
  • @Janka: OK. Am now referring to the common verb phrase ollte täuschen können,for both clauses. – Tom Au Dec 27 '17 at 4:25
  • I'm sorry, but I think you still misunderstand the meaning of the original sentence. You write Wir sollten nicht nur andere, sondern auch uns selbst täuschen können means we should not do something (deceive others) that we can do. That's wrong. The sentence means We should not only be able to deceive others, but also outselves. – Janka Dec 27 '17 at 4:29
  • @Janka: Deleted the confusing last sentence. – Tom Au Dec 27 '17 at 4:33

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