Which verb form is used in the following sentence?

Sie müssten eine E-Mail erhalten haben.

Is it past tense? Does it mean that "Sie" got an e-mail or "Sie" will get it?

2 Answers 2


Conditional II / Konjunktiv Präteritum

To find out the tense/Tempus of

"Sie müssten eine E-Mail erhalten haben",

by using an auxiliary verb / Hilfszeitwort (also "haben, sein, tun, sollen, können, dürfen ...etc) as a complex predicate / mehrteiliges Prädikat.

This is the simple rule to create the conditional II / Konjunktiv Präteritum with auxiliary verbs:

Complete complex predicate:

--> auxiliary verb in conditional II + proper (eigentliches) verb in present perfect tense

Examples "müssen" - "dürfen" - "sollen":

  • past tense / Präteritum = musste - durfte - sollte
  • conditional II = müsste - dürfte (strong verbs mostly with 2 dots above the vocal) - sollte (no dots above the o, weak verb)

--> the conditional II is based on the past tense.

... now you need the proper (eigentliche) verb in the present perfect tense:

Examples: "erhalten haben" - "gewesen sein" - "gegessen haben"

  • infinitive: erhalten - sein - essen
  • past tense: erhielt - war - gewesen
  • present perfect tense: habe erhalten - bin gewesen - habe gegessen

So the completed complex predicates in the examples for conditional II are:

  • ... müsste (etw.) erhalten haben.
  • ... dürfte (etw.) gewesen sein.
  • ... sollte (etw.) gegessen haben.

The meaning of conditional II: when you don't believe, that sth. has happened or you wish it hasn't happened ... sth. which is fantastic, unlikely, improbable, implausible ...


ad conditional I / Konjunktiv Präsens with auxiliary verbs

Complete complex predicate:

--> auxiliary verb in conditional I + proper (eigentliches) verb in present perfect tense

--> The conditional I is based on infinitive.

  • infinitive: müssen - dürfen - sollen
  • conditional I: müsse - dürfe - solle

and as like as conditional II with past perfect tense.

The completed complex predicates in the examples for conditional II are:

  • ... müsse (etw.) erhalten haben.
  • ... dürfe (etw.) gewesen sein.
  • ... solle (etw.) gegessen haben.

The trouble with conditional I in German starts, if the substantive = plural, because then you need the Flexion/Suffix -en ...


  • Viele müssen etwas erhalten haben.
  • Manche dürfen dort sein.
  • Die Kinder sollen etwas Giftiges gegessen haben.

NO difference to present tense, in case of plural. So we simply use in German in this misleading formulations conditional II.

But to create no misunderstanding, it's better to use an additional phrase: Examples:

  • Er nimmt an, viele müssen etwas erhalten haben.
  • Sie vermutet, manche dürfen dort sein.
  • Sie befürchtet, die Kinder sollen etwas Giftiges gegessen haben.

The meaning of conditional I: you are not sure or you don't know, if (ob) sth. really happens or happened, but you decide to declare a neutral position. Mostly you'll find conditional I in newspapers, literature ... and of course in juristic text types (in juristischen Texten) etc., less while talking, in correspondence etc.

By the way: Usually native German speakers don't make a big difference between conditionals I and II - and a lot of people don't know this and they don't intend the meaning. So the most people use conditional II for both variations ... so don't be strictly ... but if anyone talks with you or writes some words in conditional I and II, then you maybe should read/listen a little more carefully (aufmerksamer).


It is a form of subjunctive clause.

It can be translated as:

You should have (already) gotten an eMail

You = Sie as a formal term of address in a letter.

If it was about a third person, it would be

Sie müsste eine E-Mail erhalten haben

Watch the missing "n" in "müsste". This would be translated as:

She should have (already) gotten an eMail

  • thank you for your explanations. Can I form a sentence : an welche email haben sie geschickt Aug 10, 2020 at 10:31
  • Yes. But might be better to add "address" and an object (what was sent) here: An welche E-Mail- Adresse haben Sie die Mail geschickt.
    – Tode
    Aug 10, 2020 at 10:33
  • If it is "SIE" form: Könnten Sie mir bitte schreiben, an welche E-Mail- Adresse Sie die Mail geschickt haben ? Is it better use "schreiben", "sagen" or "mittelilen? Aug 10, 2020 at 10:36
  • 1
    It doesn't really matter, all of them are equally valid. The first one only restricts the communication to written communication whereas the others at least contain the possibility for them to contact you in another way (e.g. via phone)....
    – Tode
    Aug 10, 2020 at 10:44

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