Some modal verbs have different forms in Präteritum vs. Konjuktiv II, for example

können, konnte, könnte

So if I see something like

Wenn Ich mehr Geld hätte, könnte Ich mehr reisen

I think the meaning is some imaginary situation right now.

But a verb sollen is the same in Praeteritum and in Konjuktiv II. So, how do I understand the meaning of the following sentence

Du solltest mehr studieren.

Is it Konjuktiv II (an advice to a person, that he should study more right now) or Präteritum (telling a person that he should have studied more in the past, but did not do this)?

  • 1
    I wouldn't read "solltest" as "should have studied more", that would be "du hättest mehr ... sollen". To me it rather sounds like a description of tasks in the past.
    – DonHolgo
    Jan 27, 2022 at 10:34
  • @DonHolgo, good point, I added this to my answer.
    – Carsten S
    Jan 27, 2022 at 10:58

2 Answers 2


Both are possible. Most of the time context will resolve the ambiguity.

Note that translation into English can be a bit tricky, because “shall” is a defective verb. If “du solltest” is past tense, it means something like “you were supposed to”.


"Mehr studieren" is to study more, and sounds more like English. Experience tells me Germans would most likely say "Du solltest weiter studieren," (You should continue with your studies.)

If you have learned it or are learning 'sollte' along with 'hätte' and 'könnte,' then the meaning is most likely Konjunktiv II, and it's meant to be (a) Ratschlag, some advice.

Most frequently these verbs are grouped together in German coursebooks so you learn them at the same time; it's a big help.

A couple of things to this sentence:

Wenn Ich mehr Geld hätte, könnte Ich mehr reisen

  1. The word 'ich' is always lowercase (unless it's at the beginning of a sentence).
  2. It means "If I had more money, I could travel more." It's all about imagining something you don't currently have.
  3. It's a perfect accompaniment to "Du solltest weiter studieren."
  • 1
    I'm not convinced of your translation using weiter, since the meaning is different as you observe. I understand mehr studieren as invest more effort or more intense learning. But there are plenty of other similar phrases, where mehr can't be replaced easily, like mehr Vokabeln lernen, mehr auf deine Prüfung lernen.
    – guidot
    Feb 2, 2022 at 20:47

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