I, with German as a second language, would guess "Am I to understand that..." might be translated as Habe ich zu verstehen, dass... A more obvious way would be Soll ich verstehen, dass...? But that doesn't sound exact. Also not exact or even correct would be Müsse/Muss ich verstehen, dass... A similar subjunctive situation would be, Er habe das nicht so gemacht. as "He wouldn't have wanted it done that way." This is also similar to the strange idea of "it is incumbent upon you to start now," might be Sie haben sofort anzufangen ... but I'm just guessing -- and probably confusing things. In any case, we have trickiness with haben. Any clarity appreciated.

  • Exact translations are often elusive, sometimes impossible; that's why the job title is sometimes "interpreter" rather than "translator". This is especially true of fixed phrases such as "Am I to understand that". The version given in nvoigt's answer below, "Verstehe ich es richtig, dass" comes close, but when translated back into English "Do I understand it correctly, that" it sounds awkward and unidiomatic. You just have to accept that something almost always gets "lost in translation", and sometimes the translation includes something not in the original.
    – RDBury
    Apr 20, 2023 at 13:56
  • 2
    What's your question? While nvoigt answers "How do I say 'Am I to understand that ...' in German?" very well, it seems you're also wondering about the usage of haben in constructions like "Habe ich das so zu verstehen", "Er habe das nicht so gemacht" and "Sie haben sofort anzufangen". But it is unclear what you're asking. Apr 20, 2023 at 15:53
  • It seems to me that you are mixing the auxiliar verb haben (used in certain tempi and modi of other verbs, like "habe ... gemacht" in your examples) and the 'normal' verb haben (here not in its most frequent meaning of 'to possess (something)' but 'to have (to undertake some action)'.
    – Shakesbeer
    Apr 20, 2023 at 17:22
  • By the way, "Am I to understand that..." should translate as "Habe ich das so zu verstehen, dass..." (Do I have to understand it this way...), and "He wouldn't have wanted it done that way." as "Er hätte das nicht so [gemacht haben] gewollt" (He wouldn't have liked something having been done this way). Your translations have different meanings, approximately "Do I have to understand it (at all)" and "(He said) he didn't do it this way".
    – Shakesbeer
    Apr 20, 2023 at 17:34

1 Answer 1


Am I to understand that...

Your translations are very literal. How about:

Bedeutet das, dass...

Verstehe ich es richtig, dass...

You cannot always translate something with every word matching and expect the same outcome. In this case, deviating from the word-by-word and picking the corresponding German idiom is more helpful.

If you want to stay very close to the original, at least use a German phrase, not a literal translation that rubs every native speaker the wrong way:

Soll ich das so verstehen, dass...

  • I'm really asking about these different uses of haben, not ways to avoid them. Especially the "it is incumbent..." and "Am I to understand..."
    – 147pm
    Apr 20, 2023 at 14:44
  • We would not use "haben" in either case, so I don't know what to tell you... maybe "haben" is grammatically correct, but no German would word it that way.
    – nvoigt
    Apr 20, 2023 at 14:55

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