I was reading a German Wikipedia article and ran across this sentence:

Der NS-Staat habe langjährige Traditionsfaktoren der deutschen Geschichte wie Adel und Kirche ausgeschaltet, sei technikaffin gewesen, habe die deutsche Klassengesellschaft überwunden und die Soziale Mobilität für alle Schichten erhöht. Insofern könne man davon sprechen, dass im NS-Staat eine soziale Revolution stattgefunden habe.

Why is it habe instead of hat in this example?


2 Answers 2


Because it's indirect speech of Ralf Dahrendorf, David Schoenbaum und Rainer Zitelmann.

Indirect speech is put into Konjunktiv I in German.

  • 13
    ... and the author of the sentences in wikipedia reserves judgment whether what Dahrendorf et al. said is actually true. Note that the next paragraph lists disagreement with this particular view. Apr 29, 2020 at 11:45
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    Note to @cbeleitesunhappywithSX: regardless of reservation, judgement, belief or truthfulness, this is the correct tense for indirect speech. There are no separate tenses (in German) for things a speaker believes, doubts or disbelieves. Avoiding the tense could, however, make it sound like there was no doubt about it, but in fact it would just be bad grammar.
    – user43688
    Apr 29, 2020 at 19:46
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    @DoctorNuu While that is true and should be observed in formal contexts (and let's assume, true or not, that a Wikipedia article is a formal context), a lengthy paraphrase in indirect speech does often indicate a disagreement. Proper indirect speech is somewhat stilted and can be easily avoided: (ctd.) Apr 30, 2020 at 12:28
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    ... (ctd.) If the author thought it was a universally accepted statement s/he would simply state it in indicative and attach footnotes. If s/he thought it was an original statement with which s/he agreed s/he could paraphrase in the indicative: "Den Autoren zufolge schaltete der NS langjährige Traditionsfaktoren der deutschen Geschichte wie Adel und Kirche aus, ...". Apr 30, 2020 at 12:28
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    Let's avoid the NS reference. So, you are saying that there is a specific, implicit difference in belief/judgement/agreement between: (A) Lisa sagt, Paul habe ein Eis gegessen. and (B) Lisa zufolge hat Paul ein Eis gegessen. I can't see that. Neither for icecream nor for longer historical statements. But then again, I'm no politician, I just wanted to bring some logic into the discussion.
    – user43688
    Apr 30, 2020 at 14:38

Indirect speech. Examples:

Paul hat ein Eis gegessen. --> Lisa sagt, Paul habe ein Eis gegessen.

Paul isst ein Eis. --> Lisa sagt, Paul esse ein Eis.

Paul wird ein Eis essen. --> Lisa sagt, Paul werde ein Eis essen.

Paul wird ein Eis gegessen haben. --> Lisa sagt, Paul werde ein Eis gegessen haben.

Das Eis ist gegessen worden. --> Lisa sagt, das Eis sei gegessen worden.

Bernd glaubt, Lisa habe gesagt, das Eis sei gegessen worden.

This is the correct way to express indirect speech (somebody says that somebody said something). It should be used in more formal registers of speech / written language. It can be omitted (and often is) in casual registers of speech / oral communication.

Attention: In oral communication (and unfortunately increasingly also in written communication) some people use the wrong form in indirect speech:

*Lisa sagt, das Eis wäre (! urgh!) gegessen worden.

*Lisa sagt, Paul hätte (! urgh!) das Eis gegessen.

This should be avoided. It is no good. It actually expresses irreality: Paul did not eat the icecream, but he would have eaten it (if...)

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    Das letzte Beispiel ist köstlich ;-)
    – Nico
    Apr 29, 2020 at 12:14
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    @Nico - Bernd hört nicht mehr so gut. Apr 29, 2020 at 12:17
  • Achso ;-) Verstehe!
    – Nico
    Apr 29, 2020 at 12:18
  • Lisa sagt, du habest/hättest das Eis gegessen. Was klingt besser?
    – David Vogt
    Apr 29, 2020 at 13:01
  • @DavidVogt Die zweite Option klingt "besser". Ich glaube, du meintest "gängiger". Trotzdem scheibt die deutsche Grammatik vor, dass die erste richtig ist. Hier müsste man eigentlich entscheiden, ob man eine präskriptive oder eine deskriptive Stellung einnimmt...
    – Nico
    Apr 29, 2020 at 13:40

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