Die Verantwortlichen müssen Konsequenzen ziehen

The above seems to be conjugated in the present, but the meaning seems to indicate that it is making a statement about the future. So, I want to ask, would be correct to say that usage of modal verbs is also a way to achieve future tenses?

2 Answers 2


You have to distinguish (where possible) between a future tense (an assertion made with respect to a future time) and implications for the future, based on a present-time assertion. The modal verb "must / müssen" expresses a present obligation (and similar things). If the obligation is fulfilled, this will happen in the future, but nobody knows.

It is true that it's sometimes not possible to distinguish neatly between a modal and a future auxiliary, because meanings may develop into a future meaning (grammaticalization). English "will" looks like a present tense form of a modal verb (because there is also "would" which looks like its past tense). In such cases, you have to determine the status from the grammatical behaviour and the semantics of the item.

A short discussion with a few references (in English) is found in https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempus#Futur_mit_modalen_Nebenbedeutungen

  • Btw.: That wikipedia article quotes an example from the linguistic literature "Shall I pick you up at seven?" which is presented in the source as a future tense auxiliary with modal flavour. However, any German would translate it using the unambiguous modal verb "sollen", not with a future tense "werde". It's interesting that the English authors didn't feel the difference.
    – Alazon
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 13:34

There is no tense in German that tells apart present from future. The only time distinction German grammar makes in the tense of the verb is between the non-past and the past.

So you don't have to achieve future tense by some means. As German does not tell that apart by tense in the first place.

But … there's a tense called "Futur I", isn't it?

Yeah. But German Futur I is not about the future. It's about what the speaker assumes to be true about the non-past. So Futur I is a misnomer but as those grammar terms had been loaned from French, we are stuck with it.

Same for Futur II. That's neither about the future but about what the speaker assumes to be true about the past. Compare English future perfect tense. That's the same misnomer. Future perfect functions exactly the same as German Futur II. It's also about the past. (English actually uses a mix of the Germanic and the Romance tense systems.)

German tenses come in seven pairs. The simple tense of each pair is for the non-past, and the perfect tense of each pair is for the past. The pairs differ in the intent of speech.

  • Präsens / Perfekt — facts
  • Präteritum / Pluquamperfekt — storytelling
  • Futur I / Futur II — assumptions
  • Konjunktiv I / Konjunktiv I Perfekt — hearsay
  • Konjunktiv II / Konjunktiv II Perfekt — non-facts
  • Konjunktiv I Futur I / Konjunktiv I Futur II — hearsay assumptions
  • Konjunktiv II Futur I / Konjunktiv II Futur II — drop-in replacement for Konjunktiv II / Konjunktiv II Perfekt

(Futur II is a perfect tense. Hearsay assumptions are seldom used. On top of this scheme, Northern speakers use Präteritum instead of Perfekt for a very few common verbs.)

So what about your example? It's put in Präsens.

Die Verantwortlichen müssen Konsequenzen ziehen.

It's stated as a fact about the non-past. The speaker is sure they have to do it now or later.

Compare Futur I:

Die Verantwortlichen werden Konsequenzen ziehen müssen.

It's stated as an assumption about the non-past. The speaker assumes they have to do it now or later.

  • There are people who assume that the German "werden"-future cannot be distinguished from a modal meaning, but this is controversial. One problem is that the construction "er wird es gemacht haben", in a modal reading, is strictly an assumption about the past (like "er kann es gemacht haben" both similar to "he may have done it"), while in the Futur-II reading it is about the future ("he will have done it (by then)").
    – Alazon
    Commented Jul 26, 2023 at 18:39
  • "That's neither about the future but about the what the speaker assumes to be true about the past. " there is something missing here Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 9:30
  • No, there's one the too many. Corrected.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 13:17
  • I'm not convinced to be honest. Are you conflating "Er wird schon wissen, was er tut" (assumption) with "Schon morgen wirst du dich nicht mehr daran erinnern, was du gerade gesagt hast." (Future, prediction)? Yes, they're grammatically the same, but to say that they the same semantically seems like a huge stretch from the actual use to me.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 16:40
  • The latter is also just an assumption, don't you think? Try stating it in Präsens instead: Schon morgen erinnerst du dich nicht mehr daran, was du gerade gesagt hast. It's still about the future due to the adverbs but it's much more assertive.
    – Janka
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 21:02

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