In a grammar exercise book I have, it says "soll" has a meaning of "people say that ~".
and it says "Er soll für die Regierung arbeiten" means in nuance "There is a rumor, or people say that he works for the Goverment".
Is this true? (I'm not sure because the book doesn't give kind explantion but short keywords, to my discontent.)
A person told me that in this case we should maybe use solle (konjuntiv I) to give an impression of indirect reference or quotation, like "Er solle für die Regierung arbeiten". Which one is correct?


3 Answers 3


Yes, this is correct. "soll" can be used for hearsay, with the nuance that the speaker tends to believe it's true. I can tell you, for example, "Der Präsident soll sich nach Florida zurückgezogen haben", which means that I heard it, but am not 100% certain. In this sentence, "soll" is in the Indikativ mode.

Konjunktiv "solle" can be used when reporting that somebody else made such a statement. "Meier sagte mir, der Präsident solle sich nach Florida zurückgezogen haben". This means that Meier heard it and is not 100% sure, moreover I want to express that this is Meier's opinion, not mine. By no means, however, is the Konjunktiv mode mandatory.

By the way, your sentence could also mean "He should work for the government" or "Let him work for the government". The hearsay meaning is more likely, in my opinion, and context should make it clear which it is.

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    Siehe DWDS.
    – guidot
    Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 15:20
  • 3
    In phrases like "Der Präsident soll sich nach Florida zurückgezogen haben" the meaning of soll is fairly clear. Other phrases like "Er soll in Berlin studieren" or "Sie soll jetzt in die Schule gehen" do not have such an obvious interpretation - we need more context. "Er soll für die Regierung arbeiten" also has scope for interpretation though I tend to assume it means hearsay.
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 0:13

In this case, there is a distinct difference in meaning between the present tense and the Konjunktiv.

The present tense can express an expectation or denote a rumor or unconfirmed claim:

Er soll für die Regierung arbeiten.

  1. "He is expected to work for the government."
  2. "It is said that he works for the government."

The Konjunktiv is used to report an expectation – but not a rumor! – in indirect speech:

Peter berichtete, er solle für die Regierung arbeiten.

  • "Peter told that he was expected to work for the government."
  • "Peter told that it was said that he works for the government."

A rumor in indirect speech would be expressed in the following manner:

*Peter berichtete, es gäbe das Gerücht, dass er für die Regierung arbeiten solle.

  • "Peter told that it was said that he works for the government."
  • Indirect speech is the most common, but not the only use of Konjunktiv I. Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 20:17
  • Thanks for making this clearer. When I say "er solle für die Regierung arbeiten", I report that someone else said "er soll...". Double indirect, so to speak. Commented Feb 15, 2021 at 23:14
  • @berndbausch ... and double indirect is misunderstandable or rather canceling the sense of each other: "Someone told me that rumors say that he is a government worker now." For me it's wrong, logically. Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 9:36
  • @RalfJoerres Indeed, "solle" is rather unlikely and sounds constructed rather than natural. Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 10:52
  • @berndbausch - Jetzt mal in deutsch, das geht schneller: Der Satz mit solle ist nicht 'konstruiert', sondern falsch, das hatte ich ja erklärt. Eigentlich fände ich es angezeigt, wenn das in deiner Antwort auch richtiggestellt wird, denn ich finde es ungünstig, wenn Deutschlernern Sätze präsentiert werden, die es entweder nicht gibt oder die, wenn es sie gibt, falsch sind. Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 9:44

It can even mean he shows commonly alleged typical politician characteristics, indicating he seems, acts or is insincere. Like in: "He should be working for the government."

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    For this meaning, it would be much more natural to say "Er sollte für die Regierung arbeiten". If you read "Er soll für die Regierung arbeiten" as a suggestion or recommendation, maybe even an order, it conjures up the image of a king on his throne: "Er soll den Gesandten hereinrufen!". This obviosly would be quite outdated ;) Commented May 15, 2021 at 9:23
  • @HenningKockerbeck It is a bit unnatural, but it does get that message across. "Er sollte für die Regierung arbeiten" is better, or "Er soll für die Regierung arbeiten gehen." which, coming to think of it, is also an odd way to put it. I mentioned it because it sort of derails the meaning as compared to the others. I like it when German gets suggestive. Danes are way better at it. They shove an undertone of explicit morbidity into the at first glance most innocent texts. And ahm,...Outdated? You're sure? As an expression maybe, but as a message?
    – user48613
    Commented May 15, 2021 at 10:02
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    At least to me, using "soll" like you described does feel outdated - as I said, like the king on the throne ordering "He shall usher the ambassador in". I'm not sure most native speakers would even think about this way to read "Er soll für die Regierung arbeiten" from the top of their minds. As I said, "sollte" would be much more natural in this case. Commented May 15, 2021 at 10:18
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    As a side note, what would be more contemporary would be a different word order. Something like "Soll er (doch) für die Regierung arbeiten" would be natural, but with a very dismissive tone - you might say, with an implied "he'll see where it'll gets him" or "he'll see whether it'll do him any good". Commented May 15, 2021 at 10:25

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