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I came across the following sentence:

Das würde ich nicht mal geschenkt haben wollen.

Duden mentions in the meanings of wollen, specifically meaning 1d, the following example:

Er will es nicht gewusst, gesehen haben (= behauptet, es nicht gewusst, gesehen zu haben)

Which translates to something like "he claims to have not known/seen it"...

What would the first sentence mean then:

  1. I wouldn't claim to have given that (as a present) ?
  2. I wouldn't even want that as a present ... (Source: google translate)

5 Answers 5

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Other answers have focused on the meaning, therefore let me focus on the grammar.

As Duden points out, wollen plus infinitive can be used to express that i) the subject claims something and ii) the speaker distrusts that claim.

er will einen Preis gewonnen haben
= er behauptet, einen Preis gewonnen zu haben (aber das bezweifle ich)

However, in your example (simplified),

das will ich nicht mal geschenkt haben

this interpretation makes no sense, as the subject and the speaker are one and the same person. Also, a dative object would be expected with schenken. If the sentence is modified appropriately, the interpretation as "distrusted claim" becomes possible:

sie will ihm nichts geschenkt haben
= sie behauptet, ihm nichts geschenkt zu haben (aber das bezweifle ich)

The original sentence is best understood as if it was a passive, i.e. as if it read as follows:

das will ich nicht geschenkt bekommen
= ich habe nicht den Wunsch, das geschenkt zu bekommen
= ich habe nicht den Wunsch, dass man mir das schenkt

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Your second suggested sentence is almost to the point.

With the statement "Das würde ich nicht mal geschenkt haben wollen", you want to say that you don't want the item so much, that you don‘t want to accept it as a gift. A very strong statement against something.

An alternative, but a further reinforcement to aversion to the item, would be the phrase "nicht mal für Geld würde ich das annehmen" (engl.: I wouldn't even take that for money)

As example, you are a total Apple device user (iPhone, iPad, MacBook…). Now, someone wants to make an Android phone tasty, then you can say: "das würde ich nicht mal geschenkt haben wollen. Ich bin vollkommen zufrieden mit meinem iPhone".

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  • Is there any ambiguity, in that the sentence could also be taken to mean: "I wouldn't want to have given that present." (Like, maybe after someone gave someone a bad present.)
    – cruthers
    Jun 22, 2022 at 18:55
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    No, you wouldn't say that in this context. Jun 22, 2022 at 19:21
  • @SwissCodeMen I see, I made a mistake assuming every "wollen + Partizip II + haben" construction carries the meaning of "claim to have done sth" Jun 22, 2022 at 23:39
  • "you don't want the item so much" might be more clearly comprehensible if written as "you so much/so strongly don't want the item" (?) Jun 23, 2022 at 12:26
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The sentence corresponds to level 4 of the following hierarchy:

  1. I would pay much to get something
  2. I would pay a bit/a decent amount to get something
  3. I would take something for free, sometimes also phrased as I would not deny something if offered
  4. You would have to give me some other benefit (e. g. pay me) for me to take something / see a certain film in the cinema, etc.

Actually the sentence states, that it is different from level 3, but convention strongly corresponds to level 4, sometimes the direction being emphasized by

Das würde ich nicht einmal umsonst nehmen.

Note that level 3 is also sometimes used in an understatement way as in:

I would take the new BMW 7xx for free

This could mean, that you like it very much, but can't afford it.

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  • 1
    I'm not sure that the answers given are to the point. Sentence 2 is understandable so there's no need to clarify it. But apparently according to Duden there is another meaning of "wollen", roughly "to claim". which the OP is giving as sentence 1. How do we know that sentence 2 is meant instead of sentence 1? (I don't think I've ever come across the "claim" meaning, so It doesn't seem common. Perhaps an example where it does mean "to claim" would be helpful. Does "Er will einen Drachen gesehen haben" mean "He claims to have seen a dragon" or "He wants to have seen a deagon"?)
    – RDBury
    Jun 23, 2022 at 7:52
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    @RDBury: Indeed, it would be understood as "He claims to have seen a dragon." It's actually not far off the basic meaning of "wollen": He claims it, in other words, he wants for others to accept his account of events. He wants that to be the truth. Jun 23, 2022 at 12:25
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As the other's have already pointed out, that's a sentence indicating a strong aversion to an object, Like "I wouldn't even take that if you'd give it to me for free". It's not necessarily an aversion to the person or getting presents from them and you wouldn't say that if you'd actually had received it as a genuine present. It's more of a statement that you could apply when someone asks you for the value of an object, like if they plan to buy something or are throwing out stuff they have around the house and you argue that it's completely worthless.

In terms of the "wollen", that just means "to want sth/sb". And in that case it's used in subjunctive ("Konjunktiv") which is a mode in German implying some possibility or conditional statement. Like no one is actually offering that object as a gift, but "if they would, then they would reject it". So they argue that "They wouldn't even want to have it if someone would offer it to them as a gift".

Er will es nicht gewusst, gesehen haben (= behauptet, es nicht gewusst, gesehen zu haben)

That construct of speech is a little more tricky. A possible scenario is something like this:

Person A claims: "I didn't know or see anything!"

Now Person B reporting to Person C could just say:

Person B to Person C: He claims to have no known or seen anything.

But Person B is suspicious that Person A might be lying and to communicate that suspicion he doesn't say that Person A claims that but instead says something along the lines of:

"Person A would like to have not known or seen anything" or "Person A wants me to believe that he hasn't known or seen anything."

So the "wollen" does not mean "claim to have done something" it's rather implying that someone would have liked to have done/not done something or would want others to believe (that he did) sth. So it's still somewhat implying a desire/sth that you want.

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haben wollen is a lexicalized verbal phrase. geschenkt is a participle used as adverb. The sentence might equivalently say Das würde ich nicht mal umsonst haben wollen. Indeed, 'for free' may be more appropriate than 'as a gift'.

The given alternative reading is surprising and does not really obtain. The particle mal as adverb, nicht mal, marks exaggeration. Hence "even" in the automatic translation. The supposed tense, etwas getan haben wollen, is expressed through lexical aspect not grammatical tempus, because wollen has fossilized with inherent subjective mood merged into the past tense (cf. en.wiktionary). Thus it should be Das würde / wollte ich nicht mal geschenkt haben wollen -- which is extremely rare nowadays, cp. desiderative or mirative "Ich wollt ich wär ein Huhn" (Max Rabe).

More over, the focus structure of German differs a lot from English. The word order especially in verb last relative clauses (as a subjunctive clause may be predominantly) is a frequent hurdle for second language speakers.

The leading Relative Pronoun "Das ..." sets the topic. The participle refers to it, hence das Geschenk, but the focus is on the grammatical subject's VP, ich will (nicht) haben, refering back to the argument, geschenkt. English does it the other way around, I wouldn't even want [to have] this for free [to have].

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