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The passage in question comes from "Der Schimmelreiter" by Theodor Storm. Here it is:

[Er suchte] für ihn Arbeiten aus, die seinem noch nicht gefesteten Körper hätten gefährlich werden können.

My question is about the word order at the end of this sentence. Since a ",die ..."-type subordinate clause will send the verb to the end, we can unpack it as a full sentence like this:

[Diese] Arbeiten können seinem noch nicht gefesteten Körper hätten gefährlich werden.

This confuses me, however, because, as far as I am aware, the correct form is "[sie] hätten können", not the other way around, so the above sentence seems weird to me. In other words, I would have written it as

[Diese] Arbeiten hätten seinem noch nicht gefesteten Körper gefährlich werden können.

What is the reason for the original word swap? And what makes it correct?

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The confusion seems to be about which verb is the conjugated predicate in

[Er suchte] für ihn Arbeiten aus, die seinem noch nicht gefesteten Körper hätten gefährlich werden können.

A subordinate clause does send the predicate to the end, but if the predicate uses an Ersatzinfinitiv like it does here, the infinitives still come after the conjugated verb.

So in this case hätten is the conjugated verb, it's 3rd person plural Konjunktiv II of haben. Werden können are the Infinitives. Gefährlich could also come before hätten here ("... gefährlich hätten werden können"), but the author decided to draw it near to werden to which it belongs.

Which means the correct way to unpack it to a full sentence is exactly what you assumed:

[Diese] Arbeiten hätten seinem noch nicht gefesteten Körper gefährlich werden können.

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    There is only one Ersatzinfinitiv: können instead of gekonnt in combination with the perfect auxiliary. Werden is just an infinitive, required by können. – David Vogt Mar 5 at 21:27
  • @David Vogt: you're right, I corrected it. – HalvarF Mar 5 at 22:29

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