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Learning about the use cases for the verb wollen, I came across the use of “als wolle” for imaginary comparisons –

Es scheint, als wolle die Begeisterung der Reisenden über den neuen Terminal 1 nicht abebben.

Willem lächelte sie an und tauchte in ihre Augen, als wolle er in ihnen ertrinken.

Till now, I have only seen “als ob” used for this purpose and none of my grammar books mention it. Is this a colloquial or regional usage?

Source: https://www.linguee.com/english-german/search?source=auto&query=als+wolle+

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This is nothing special or unusual. It just is Konjunktiv I. You use it in these situations:

  • indirect speech

    Tom twittert, er tränke gerade ein Bier.
    Lisa sagt häufig, sie ginge gar nicht so gern einkaufen.
    Dr. Steiner teilte uns gestern mit, er wolle das Unternehmen demnächst verlassen.

  • wishes (often in fixed phrases)

    Lang lebe der König
    Dein Reich komme, dein Wille geschehe.

  • in recipes

    Man nehme drei Eier und verrühre sie.


A sub-form of indirect speech is reported speech. This is when you observe something and want to tell it in a way, that the reader knows, this is what you observed, although there is a small chance, that the reporter has been tricked and in fact something else is happening.

Es hat den Anschein, als tränke Tom gerade ein Bier.
It seems as if Tom was drinking a beer.
I can see him thinking something, and what is in the glass looks pretty much like beer, but I didn't check, if it really is beer. There is a little chance, that he is drinking something else. Maybe there also is a little chance, that it isn't Tom but some other guy who just looks like Tom.

Es sieht so aus, also ginge Lisa gar nicht so gern einkaufen.
It looks as if Lisa does not like shopping at all.
This is what I observed, but maybe Lisa love shopping, I just haven't seen her doing it very often.

Es scheint, als wolle Dr. Steiner das Unternehmen demnächst verlassen.
It seems that Dr. Steiner wanted to leave the company soon.
He was seen removing his private things from the office and there is a rumor that he received a very tempting offer from a competitor. But whether this step is really what he wants for himself is speculation.


You can use Konjunktiv I with full verbs ...

Es scheint, als backe deine Mutter einen Kuchen.
Es hat den Anschein, als brenne der Wald.
Es wirkt, als liefe dein Hund auf nur drei Beinen.

... auxiliary verbs ...

Es schien, als habe deine Mutter einen Kuchen gebacken.
Es hatte den Anschein, als habe der Wald gebrannt.
Es wirkte, als sei dein Hund auf nur drei Beinen gelaufen.

... and modal verbs

Es scheint, als solle deine Mutter einen Kuchen backen.
Es hat den Anschein, als müsse der Wald brennen.
Es wirkt, als wolle dein Hund auf nur drei Beinen laufen.

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    To clarify - Aren't "hätte" and "wäre" in Konjunktiv II? I would have used "habe" and "sei" for Konjunktiv I. Many thanks for the detailed reply! It will take me a while to digest it all! :) Nov 10 '20 at 13:40
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    @SatishVasan: You are right, I corrected it. Nov 10 '20 at 13:46
  • Thanks a lot! :) Nov 10 '20 at 13:57
  • "tränke" is ebenfalls Konjunktiv II, it should be "trinke"
    – Sentry
    Nov 11 '20 at 15:03
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It is a bit hard to understand, because it is a somewhat high-tone construction, which is not used very often in every-day German. Here, wolle is the 3rd Person Singular, Present Subjunctive (Konjunktiv I) form of wollen.

The sentence would literally translate to something like:

It seems, as if the enthusiasm [...] wouldn't want to ebb away.

The construction using a modal subclause with the conjunction als and a Konjunktiv verb is not limited to wollen. It indicates a Potentialis (a possible hypothesis), while the construction with als ob indicates an Irrealis (an impossible hypothesis): It expresses less distance to that hypothetis, than the construction with als ob; als ob is basically saying that the hypothetical is not actual, the construction with als and Konjunktiv leaves more space for the hypothesis to be actually true.

The most famous example I can think of is in the poem Mondnacht by Joseph von Eichendorff:

Und meine Seele spannte / Weit ihre Flügel aus / Flog durch die stillen Lande / Als flöge sie nach Haus

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    I somehow miss the term Irrealis, because it seems to me, that subjunctive is just the vehicle, not the concept, even if the German Möglichkeitsform at least hints at the issue.
    – guidot
    Nov 10 '20 at 13:37
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    @guidot I don't think that the construction with als + Konjunktiv is an Irrealis. It is a Potentialis. However, thanks for mentioning this. I am adding it. Nov 10 '20 at 13:43
  • Many thanks to Jonathan and guidot for the distinction between Potentialis and Irrealis. It really helps! Nov 10 '20 at 14:21

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