I read this and some sentences in the text book and I see often we use this form Konjunktiv II von Können for requesting.

"Könntest du mir bitte helfen?"

Könntest is actually the Präteritum tense in Konjunktiv II. Whereas considering the above example and other requesting type examples we use Könntest. When we are requesting in present moment, then why do we use past tense form?

  • I don't understand the question. Neither Konjunktiv 2 nor könntest has an association to the past. Note, that the past form konntest is different - it has no umlaut.
    – guidot
    Dec 10, 2020 at 14:26
  • 2
    Possibly relevant: german.stackexchange.com/questions/20515/…
    – Carsten S
    Dec 10, 2020 at 15:16
  • @guidot Here , is the link conjugator.reverso.net I am unable to add the complete link. But, that is the link wherein it shows the the one with umlaut. Dec 11, 2020 at 5:05

1 Answer 1


du könntest is actually not past tense. The indicative past tense (Indikativ Präteritum) would be du konntest (without the Umlaut). The Konjunktiv II in past tense would be du hättest gekonnt (using the Indikativ Plusquamperfekt du hattest gekonnt as the base form and transforming the auxiliary hattest into its Konjunktiv II form hättest).

The Konjunktiv II Präsens, du könntest, is just formed bases on the Indikativ Präteritum. But still, this is present tense.

Konjunktiv II is used here as a means of extra politeness. In German, as in many languages, "softening" a statement and making it more indirect makes it more respectful, friendly and polite. Konjunktiv II is transforming the Indikativ into a mood of mere possibility, hence softening it and leaving / opening some space for exceptions.

The forms in the conjugation table you linked in the comment are correct, but the heading is at least misleading, if not bluntly wrong. They write "Präteritum", but this is actually wrong. I guess, the headings say where the form is derived from and they call it "Konjunktiv Präteritum", because it is formed on the base of the Präteritum form. (They also call the Konjunktiv II in the past tense "Plusquamperfekt", and it is formed on the base of the Plusquamperfekt form.) The name is misleading insofar as semantically this is still a present form, not a Präteritum form.


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