I have found various ways of writing the sentence This could have been done differently:

Das hätte anders gemacht werden können.
Das konnte anders gemacht werden.
Das hat anders gemacht werden können.

Can someone please clarify which of these is correct or if they are all correct then what is the difference in meaning between them? even though they might all translate to the same thing in English.

  • Welcome to German.SE! I'd like to encourage you to split your post in two, since it contains two questions actually. They can be answered independently. Someone might be able to answer one question, but not the other one. Answers might differ in quality with respect to how well they cover each of your sub-questions. These are just some reasons why we would like to split questions like this. – jonathan.scholbach Mar 2 at 23:48
  • @jonathan.scholbach: this was done but the answer still refers to the deleted question. I thought it worth mentioning because it's a bit unclear why there is an answer to an unasked question. – RDBury Mar 3 at 2:13
  • @RDBury I just hadn't come here again yet :) Thanks for notifying me! Very kind and I appreciate the attentiveness. – jonathan.scholbach Mar 3 at 9:37

The three sentences

1) Das hätte anders gemacht werden können.
2) Das konnte anders gemacht werden.
3) Das hat anders gemacht werden können.

are all proper German sentences, while I consider 1) to be the most idiomatic one in terms of style. They differ only very slightly in meaning. The nuances are so small that I think it is fair to say that pragmatically there is no semantical difference. Let's have a closer look at the underlying grammatical constructions to catch these differences:

1) is the only form to use the subjunctive form (Konjunktiv). This use of Konjunktiv is putting a slightly stronger emphasis on the fact that it is an irrealis that is been talked about. However, the other forms do not really miss this information, because changing a situation from the past is widely considered an impossible thing anyway. So, using the Konjunktiv to express this is more a matter of emphasis here. But as I mentioned already, pragmatically this is irrelevant.

2) is the only form in Präteritum tense (konnte) while the other forms are in Perfekt tense. The difference between Präteritum and Perfekt are subtle in German. In most cases, Pärteritum and Perfekt are semantically interchangeable and the difference between them is rather a matter of style than one of semantics. This is the case here as well.


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