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I’m trying to understand the conjugation of the verb sollen, and also make sense of the phrase to the swimming pool in this Duolingo sentence:

You should go to the swimming pool daily.
Du solltest täglich ins Schwimmbad gehen.

Why does the verb sollen use the Simple Past version of the verb instead of the Simple Present?

Simple Present Simple Past
ich soll ich sollte
du sollst du solltest
er soll er sollte
wir sollen wir sollten
ihr sollt ihr solltet
sie sollen sie sollten

When does one ever use the Simple Present form of sollen?

Also, is the phrase zum Schwimmbad ever correct, or is it always just proper usage to say ins Schwimmbad?

Thank you!

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    For similar questions in the future: Wiktionary is pretty complete in that respect.
    – guidot
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 6:52
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    "Should" isn't simple present either, is it?
    – DonHolgo
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 11:08

2 Answers 2

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First of all: German tenses are very different from English tenses. German has only 6 tenses, English has 16. And German tenses are used very different. Gegenwart, a German tense similar to English simple present and present continuous tense can be used to describe events in the past, the present and the future. So, better don't use English terms for German tenses and vice versa.

What you called "simple present" is in fact Präsens or Gegenwart. And what you called "simple past" is in fact Präteritum. German names for Präteritum are "unvollendete Vergangenheit" or "erste Vergangenheit" in German German and "Mitvergangenheit" in Austrian German. (This tense is constructed identically in Austrian and German German, but used differently. Austrian German and German German are standard variations of German, like British and American English.)


solltest

This is a form of sollen that is used in two different grammatical functions. The difference is the mood:

  • Indikativ (indicative mood) (talking about facts that really happened)

    Du solltest gestern Brot kaufen. Hast du das gemacht?
    You were supposed to buy bread yesterday. Did you do that?

  • Konjunktiv II (irrealis mood) (talking about irreal possibilities)

    Wenn sie dich wirklich küssen würde, solltest du dir vorher die Zähne geputzt haben.
    If she were really going to kiss you, you should have brushed your teeth beforehand.

The word "sollen" is a modal verb, so it already, even in indicative mood, expresses some kind of possibility, and this is why it sometimes can be difficult to tell indicative and irrealis mood apart from each other at these verbs. And so there are two possible translations:

You should go to the swimming pool daily.

Du sollst täglich ins Schwimmbad gehen. (indicative: This is really a command. I'm expecting that you really do it.)

Du solltest täglich ins Schwimmbad gehen. (irrealis: It would be better for you, but nobody believes you will really do it.)


zum Schwimmbad: You walk (drive, move, ...) towards the public swimming pool.
ins Schwimmbad: You walk (drive, move, ...) into the public swimming pool.

There are also regional differences: In southern regions (like Austria, where I live, but also in Bavaria) zum really means towards without entering the building. But in other regions zum also includes entering. That is why nobody in Austria says "mein Kind geht zur Schule" (which is the common way to say it in Germany) but "mein Kind geht in die Schule". And we sometimes make jokes about German kids who go towards the school without entering it.

about Schwimmbad and pool:
I'm not really sure about the meaning of the English word pool (it's a foreign language to me): I think it means the basin filled with water. In German this is Schwimmbecken. But Schwimmbad is the building that contains a big hall with the basin (or two or more basins). So, in German we always mean the building that contains the basin, not the basin itself.

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    Good answer, +1. Just one sidenote: I think, English present tenses can also be used to describe events in the past, present or future. So, that comparison to German Gegenwart is not a good example for illustrating the difference between English and German tenses - which nonetheless does exist, regardless of the example of Gegenwart.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 21:21
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    Apparently you can say "swimming bath" in English, but I don't think I've ever heard it and it's pretty much non-existent in the US. To me, a "swimming pool" is the basin, presumably created artificially, filled or not, indoor or outdoor, or a building or room it's in. A "swimming hole" would be a naturally formed pool, perhaps in a creek or river, suitable for swimming.
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 2:01
  • "Pool" (at least in British English) can be used either specifically for the Schwimmbecken, or generally for the Hallenbad. (There is also a meaning of a smallish natural body of water in which you could swim. It's a bit difficult to explain the difference between that sense of "pool" and "pond" but that's a question for ELL.) Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 14:11
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    @TorstenSchoeneberg no. Shall is pretty unusual in modern English, and its traditional meaning is actually closer to the Scandinavian skal than to German soll, i.e. “you shall go to the pool” means “you will inevitably go to the pool” / “you have to go to the pool”, not merely “it would be good for you to go to the pool”. (BTW the meme sentence “you shall not pass” from the Lord of the Rings movie is wrong, in the book it is “you cannot pass”). Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 16:36
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    @TorstenSchoeneberg the ten commandments have “sollst” in negative, in which case its meaning is closer to “must”, but by itself “sollst” is not that strong. “Mama hat angerufen, du sollst Brot mitbringen” doesn't mean it's a proper obligation, only that she wants you to bring bread. Translating it with “you shall fetch bread” would be quite over-dramatic. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 21:16
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This is a misunderstanding. You are totally right in noticing that the simple past (better: "Präteritum") of sollen would not make much sense in your example sentence. But sollte is Konjunktiv II here, which happens to have the same form as Präteritum in this case.

Usually, the Konjunktiv II form is built by using the Präteritum and turning the stem vowel into an Umlaut. sollen is an exception of that Umlaut rule (same as wollen, by the way).

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