2

To form the Konjunktiv II in the present tense, I have come across a “first rule” as:

  1. Verbs such as sein, haben, werden and the modal verbs take irregular single word forms (wäre, hätte, dürfte etc)

For the other verbs there are two typical guidelines:

  1. Most other verbs are formed with würde + verb (two word form)
  2. Irregular verbs can formed with präteritum stem + e and umlaut where possible (single word form). A student of German is asked to recognize this in the literature, but is not really encouraged or asked to use it

Taking the verb laufen, we could potentially have the following two variants of a sentence -

i) Wenn ich bequeme Schuhe hätte, würde ich schneller laufen.

ii) Wenn ich bequeme Schuhe hätte, liefe ich schneller.

In my view, if rhythm, intonation is important, then I would consider using liefe over würde laufen at any time, and also extend this to other verbs äße vs würde essen etc.

Would this be a correct way of thinking about it in modern German?

3

I'd say that your rule number 2 is wrong in a technical sense. The Konjunktiv II exists as a synthetic morphological form for all verbs, and würde laufen is not a Konjuktiv of laufen.

The problem is that for weak verbs, the Konjunktiv II is equivalent to the preterite, since there is no ablaut to mark it: laufen - lief - liefe, but taufen - taufte - taufte. That is why for weak verbs, the würde form is pretty much always used nowadays (and recommended).

Because weak verbs are type-wise more frequent and productive, this takes over to the strong forms as well, which is why the würde construction is becoming very common and almost obligatory for some forms (you'll be looked at strangely if you use äße or even hülfe or fröre in colloquial speech, and they may sound stilted even when written). For milder cases as liefe is one (with less obscure ablaut patterns), both are equally acceptable, IMO, but the actual Konjunctive II sounds quite a bit more formal.

So: rhythm and intonation don't have anything to do with it into it, just paradigmatic levelling and register.

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  • 2
    I'm sure gänge is going to raise some eyebrows … (although DWB records it: nicht weil es mir jezo eben schlecht in Berlin gänge) – David Vogt Jun 9 at 15:27
  • Ah, too much ablaut for one sentence :) – phipsgabler Jun 9 at 15:29
  • After self inspection, I suspect this might be because the dialect form I would use is gangert. – phipsgabler Jun 9 at 15:36
  • In singular person 1 and 3, the Konjunktiv II differs from the preterite because it ends with -e: Ich/er lief, Ich/er liefe. – RHa Jun 10 at 8:49
  • @RHa yeah, but only for strong verbs. That's the point. – phipsgabler Jun 10 at 9:16

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