What's the difference between these two sentences:

Er hat den Verbrecher erhängen sollen.

Er soll den Verbrecher erhängt haben.

There's also this sentence:

Die Waffe muss mir aus der Tasche gefallen sein.

Can you guys please explain to me the grammar behind this weird conjugation?

  • @Rha I thought verbs used with sein always turned into passive, is that not true @Rha?
    – Babu
    Apr 9, 2022 at 9:36
  • No, this is wrong. For example: Ich bin gelaufen - no passive here, it's just the perfect. Perfect and Zustandspassiv may look the same, it depends on the verb which is which. For example, Das Auto ist zerstört is Zustandspassiv becaue zerstören, unlike laufen, is transitive.
    – RHa
    Apr 9, 2022 at 9:41
  • He should have hung the criminal vs. He is said to have hung the criminal. Apr 9, 2022 at 10:15
  • Could you please put a little more effort in asking a question?
    – Olafant
    Apr 9, 2022 at 12:57
  • I don't think OP could have done much, I tried searching their question and I didn't find any site describing this exact issue @Olafant
    – Babu
    Apr 10, 2022 at 3:30

1 Answer 1


These aren't (very) weird, just examples of what happens when you use a modal verb with the perfect past. I'll start with the third sentence. The basic form (present indicative) is:

Die Waffe fällt mir aus der Tasche.
"The weapon falls out of my pocket."

There is some subtlety here around using mir ... der Tasche instead of meiner Tasche, but that's a topic for another question. The auxiliary verb for fallen is sein, so to form the perfect past replace the finite verb with the conjugated form of sein, and place the past participle (Partizip II) of the original verb at the end:

Die Waffe ist mir aus der Tasche gefallen.
"The weapon has fallen out of my pocket."

On top of that, apply the modal verb müssen. As with the English "must", when müssen is used with the perfect past, the meaning is usually that you are drawing some kind of conclusion from observable facts. The weapon is on the ground instead of where you expected to be, so ...:

Die Waffe muss mir aus der Tasche gefallen sein.
"The weapon must have fallen out of my pocket."

In this case the conjugated form of müssen replaces the verb (now ist) and the infinitive of the verb (sein) is placed at the end.

Something similar happens in the second sentence. The auxiliary verb for erhängen is haben (as it is for all transitive verbs). The modal verb in this case is sollen, which has a number of meanings, but from context what is meant is that the event is rumored to happen, or that it's common knowledge that it happens. The sequence is:

Er erhängt den Verbrecher.
"He hangs the criminal."
Er hat den Verbrecher erhängt.
"He has hanged the criminal."
Er soll den Verbrecher erhängt haben.
"He is said to have hanged the criminal."

The first sentence is also similar except that order of operations is reversed and there is a difference in meaning as a result. In this case sollen probably means something like should or is supposed to, but it's hard to tell for sure since there isn't much context given. First, the present tense using sollen:

Er soll den Verbrecher erhängen.
"He should hang the criminal."

The auxiliary verb of sollen is haben. The past participle of sollen is gesollt, but this time there is a kind of weird exception. When a past participle would be placed after an infinitive, then the participle is replaced by another infinitive. (I've heard this called the "double infinitive rule" but I don't know if there's an official name for it.) So instead of putting gesollt at the end, sollen is placed there instead. The result is:

Er hat den Verbrecher erhängen sollen.
"He was supposed to hang the criminal."

PS. Another bit of weirdness here is that the past participle of erhängen is erhängt. I would have expected it to be erhangen, but apparently that's "colloquial". That's a topic for yet another question though.

  • 1
    I don’t think that “erhangen” exists, however both “gehangen” and “gehängt” exist and should be distinguished: dwds.de/wb/h%C3%A4ngen And just to complicate things, there is also “gehenkt” dwds.de/wb/henken
    – Carsten S
    Apr 9, 2022 at 14:36
  • @Carsten S: Thanks. I only had gehangen in my notes. English Wiktionary says of erhangen: "The verb is predominantly weak. Strong forms are now chiefly colloquial.' There is a "hanged"/"hung" distinction in English, but I don't know how many people pay attention to it.
    – RDBury
    Apr 9, 2022 at 19:32
  • I feel like this answer raised more questions than it did answer
    – Babu
    Apr 10, 2022 at 3:32
  • @RDBury, the distinction is not made consistently by all German speakers, including me. Many of the irregular English verb forms that I have learned in school seem endangered anyway. Who still uses “shone”?
    – Carsten S
    Apr 10, 2022 at 12:47
  • 1
    @Carsten S: Niel Young: "And the water shone like diamonds in the dew" (from "Thrasher"). But yes, "shone" is mostly limited to poetry and lyrics now days. I think it's a general rule that when you learn a foreign language in school it's the version used by very polite elderly people 50 to 100 years ago. At least that's the impression I've gotten talking with people who learned English in school.
    – RDBury
    Apr 10, 2022 at 18:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.