How to better identify Future-in-the-Past of sollte (prediction) by the speaker? It is said that sollte is different from würden in that it is a prediction by the speaker.

For example:

Er ist nach New York umgezogen und er sollte nie wieder in Hamburg wohnen.
(He moved to New York and he would never again live in Hamburg.)

Where to find plenty of examples of this usage of sollte? Any ideas how sollte became to be used in this sense of prediction?

Idea for this post came from Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage six edition , page 382.

To be clear the example sentence was not in Hammer but was created by myself.

  • The English version is ambiguous; two possible interpretations: "He moved to New York and he was never again to live in Hamburg." ("would" = possibility) "He moved to New York and refused to live in Hamburg ever again ." ("would" = willingness) I'm sure you meant the first interpretation, but you have to be careful with the phrasing to avoid translating the wrong version into German, especially when using machine translation.
    – RDBury
    Jan 22 at 15:09
  • 1
    @RDBury The English version is no more ambiguous than the German version. It's obvious in each case which sense of sollen/would is intended.
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 22 at 15:58
  • @PiedPiper: Yes, the German version seemed ambiguous to me as well, but that information would be included in an answer. In other words, I don't mind if the German example is ambiguous, that's part of the question and should be part of the answer. But if you're going to explain what you think it means in English then you should be precise.
    – RDBury
    Jan 22 at 16:19
  • The German sentence seems off to me. Where is it from?
    – Carsten S
    Jan 22 at 19:48
  • 2
    The German sentence looks totally fine to me. Granted, this type of construction is not common (anymore) in every day German, but rather has an air of style and elevated and precise command of German language use to it. Jan 23 at 10:14

1 Answer 1


How to better identify Future-in-the-Past of sollte (prediction) by the speaker?

The example you give is not a prediction at all. Its posture is looking back from some future. Your example:

Er ist nach New York umgezogen und er sollte nie wieder in Hamburg wohnen.

Probably means: you relate a story about someone. He moved to New York and, back then when he moved, that was maybe only meant for a short time. But now, looking back, you notice that he never moved back. The sentence also implies that he won't ever go back - most probably because he is dead.

For this - relating a story - the Praeteritum is used in German, like its cousin preterite is used in English. Your sentence is in Perfekt (the analogue in English would be present perfect) and this is probably what most native speakers found "off". If my interpretation of your example sentence is correct it should be rephrased this way:

Er zog nach New York um und er sollte nie wieder in Hamburg wohnen.

Your translation is - if what i said about the meaning of the example sentence before was correct - back to English is also not flawless, as @RDBury in his comment pointed out. A better translation (always supposing my interpretation of your example was correct) would be:

He moved to New York and never was to live in Hamburg again.

Examples for this use of "sollte" can be found all over German literature because it is a common colloquial device. The probably most common form is the proverbial:

Es hat nicht sollen sein.
or, more modern: Es sollte nicht sein.
It wasn't meant to be.

Usually sighed after a plan (or desired outcome of whatever) almost succeeded (resp. came to fruition) but finally failed (to happen). i.e. "Fast hätte ich gewonnen, aber es hat nicht sollen sein." I almost won but it wasn't meant to be.

  • Hammer’s GERMAN Grammar and Usage sixth edition Martin Durrell uses this example , page 382 "Er sollte niemals nach Deutschland zurückkehren" translation given "He would never return to Germany" which is a prediction by the speaker.
    – John Lamb
    Feb 20 at 19:14
  • Perhaps , my example did not work well in this "prediction" by the speaker sense. But to better understand this use of "sollte" as a "prediction" in the past was the orginal idea of the post.
    – John Lamb
    Feb 20 at 19:29

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