I have this chart I've been making to drill learning general Agency-Mood-Tense grammar. The primary issues I've been running into is that there are a significant amount of examples that somewhat disprove the premise of tenses I have (past, present, future). Another issue I've been having is wonder, is it even worth spending time practicing with some (Subjunctive I or Konjunktiv I, for instance). Other times I struggle with wondering if certain examples just aren't used often in spoken or in written form (Passive Future Perfect).

I'd like to have a chart that I can rely on that explicitly points to an example of "This is how you would be expected to speak/write in German in whatever form of Agency, Mood, and Tense" so that I at least have a scenario to work with.

Are any of these used for a particular reason over another. Like in spoken German, is there a reason you'd utilize the Imperfect Past over the Pluperfect?

Also, are some of my examples just flat out wrong or incorrect? As I've been using this, I've discovered some of these are incredible niche cases that are rarely ever utilized in preference of something easier or more colloquial.

Caveats/Concepts I'm currently aware of:

Imperfect is reserved for the written language. Modal verbs take the imperfect form in both however (nobody says/writes "habe gekonnt" or "habe gesollt").

Subjunctive I is reserved typically for newspapers and broadcasts "reporting" on behalf of others.

All of these are "Semi-Modal" verbs [ Bleiben, Brauchen, Fahren, Fühlen, Gehen, Helfen, Hören, Kommen, Lassen, Sehen, Spüren ]

Chart of German Agency, Mood, Tense, Time, and Example sentences

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    Minor quibble: "...von die Brauns gebaut..." needs to be replaced by "...von den Brauns gebaut..." wherever it occurs. At the start of the sentence (technically, when the Brauns are the subject), "Die Brauns" is ok. Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 7:16

1 Answer 1


Okay, the truth is: German has no imperfect tense. And neither a future time. And Konjunktiv I and Konjunktiv II aren't really orthogonal to Indikativ. Those categories are a mess. They are much better suited to Latin and Romance languages and make a hell of no sense in Germanic languages. But here we are. Shoot.

If you want to build a schematic with orthogonal axes, it must be one axis non-past (simple tenses) vs past (perfect tenses) and one axis that lumps together mood and tense. This latter axis is about the intent of speech. Like this:

  • Präsens / Perfekt — facts
  • Präteritum / Plusquamperfekt — narration
  • Futur I / Futur II — assumptions
  • Konjunktiv I / Konjunktiv I Perfekt — hearsay
  • Konjunktiv II / Konjunktiv II Perfekt — counterfacts
  • Konjunktiv I Futur I / Konjunktiv I Futur II — hearsay assumptions
  • Konjunktiv II Futur I / Konjunktiv II Futur II — replacement for Konjunktiv II / Konjunktiv II Perfekt

Futur II is a perfect tense. Those hearsay assumptions are seldom used and Konjunktiv II Futur I / Konjunktiv II Futur II you have probably learned about as the würden-Konjunktiv II.

On top of that simple scheme, Northerners use Präteritum in place of Perfekt for the auxiliaries, the modals and a few very common verbs. Not more than a handful. The more southern the speaker is from, the less verbs are mangled that way.

And that's all. Does it blow your mind? Very good.

(Okay, that's not really all. Some southern dialects have the concept of double perfect instead of Plusquamperfekt for example because they don't like the Präteritum forms at all. Not even for haben and sein. But that's dialects and you should forget about it for now.)

So if you wonder how to phrase something, first ask yourself if you want to mark the action as completed. As that means you have to use a perfect tense. Otherwise use a simple tense. And then ask yourself whether you want to mark something as facts, narration, an assumption, hearsay, or as a counterfact. Then select the proper mood/tense combination.

Whew … so simple! Why don't they teach it that way?

I have no idea.

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