This post is on mögen as found in the following sentence from Zwist unter Zauberern by Kurt Kusenberg. (For context, see the photo at the bottom of this post.)

Zaubern mögen sie, soviel sie wollen, jegliches Verwandeln und Behexen steht ihnen frei, aber sie dürfen nichts Lebendiges vernichten.

The Wiktionary entry on mögen lists these two uses among others.

3 (auxiliary, with infinitive) may (expresses a possibility, never a permission)
Das mag ja alles stimmen. ― That may all be true.

5 (auxiliary, in the present subjunctive, with infinitive) may (paraphrases the optative).
Möge die Macht mit dir sein. ― May the Force be with you.


Should I assimilate the use of mögen in the Kusenberg story to case 3 or 5?

I note that mögen is both Indikativ Präsens Aktiv and Konjunktiv I Präsens Aktiv, for third person plural.

The sentence seems to say, 'Let them do as much magic as they pleased. . . .' So one might think it paraphrases the optative (as Wiktionary puts it), or case 5.

But steht, which extends the idea, is in the indicative, which may argue for case 3.


Photo of the story:

enter image description here

1 Answer 1


Ah, Wiktionary, if only you were as accurate as you are confident when you say expresses a possibility, never a permission. DWDS says (and that entry is derived from WDG, a proper dictionary):

3. in Verbindung mit einem Infinitiv; nur im Präs.; der Sprecher ist nie grammatisches Subj.
drückt aus, dass der Sprecher nicht gegen die Realisation des Inhaltes des Inf. ist, dass er bereit ist, sie hinzunehmen
er mag das Buch behalten
das mag er halten, wie er will
mögen sie nur kommen (ich fürchte mich nicht)!
es mag kommen, was (da) will, ich bleibe bei meinem Entschluss
Dein Tapp, der hier trübselig im Schnee sitzt, mag sich an meinem Küchenfeuer wärmen [C. F. Meyer, 4,12]

DWB has this meaning as well (under II. 7.):

a) mögen einfach erlaubt sein, berechtigung bezeichnend: den (kauf) magstu behalten.


c) dieses erlaubt sein, freistehen, mit dem beisinne der gleichgiltigkeit für einen andern oder für einen bestimmten zweck: er mag es thun (es steht ihm frei zu thun, aber mir ist es einerlei); auch ausrufend: mag ers doch thun!; mag er bleiben, wo er will!; mag er kommen oder gehn, was schierts mich?

This meaning – permission out of, or tinged with, indifference – fits really well with the following two sentences that have freistehen and nicht dürfen: They cover what wizards are allowed to do and what not, and I therefore think that this reading is the correct one.

The interpretation as an optative is far-fetched. As you point out yourself, it would clash with the two following indicatives. Optatives are exceedingly rare in modern-day German and the narrator betrays no sign of expressing a wish, he is merely stating facts.

  • Just to make it explicit, the answer is: "Neither 3 nor 5, but a case permission (subject to 5 not being absolutely ruled out)"?
    – Catomic
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 10:31
  • @Catomic I was being squeamish about rejecting the optative. I think that reading can be ruled out, as far as any reading can be ruled out; it is as unlikely as 3.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 13:31

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