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Here's a link to the full article.

By this point I'm familiar with how newspaper articles often use "sollen" combined with the present perfect (i.e. haben/sein with a past participle) to express that something "supposedly" happened in the past. For example, if the headline stated, "Jim Jordan soll Sprecher des Repräsentantenhauses geworden sein," it would mean that, according to some unconfirmed information, Jim Jordan has already become Speaker of the House. I hope I'm correct so far.

Here, "sollen" is used in combination with a verb not in the past tense. I assume that it means something in the same vein, i.e., that there is some amount of uncertainty that Jordan will become Speaker. When I run the headline through Google Translate, it yields "Jordan is set to become Speaker." But "set" is way too strong - as the article itself explains, it is very unclear whether Jordan will be able to win the Speakership (Jordan has thus far simply been nominated by the Republicans, which he achieved by getting a majority of the votes of the House Republicans, but to become speaker, he'll need a majority of all votes, including Democrats). "Set" implies something that is very close to being achieved - so that's a factually wrong description of the situation at the time the article was published.

So I'm wondering what level of certainty "soll" actually implies in this context, assuming I'm on the right track at all with this uncertainty theory. Can someone please try to fully explain this particular use of "sollen"?

(Note - I obviously know that sollen has other meanings, but for the time being I'm only really interested in this particular meaning - the one that occurs so often in the media.)

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  • Note that this use of German «sollen» is very close to its English cognate “shall”.
    – mach
    Nov 8, 2023 at 22:38

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First, the “supposedly” meaning is also possible for future events. I would say that “morgen soll es regnen” would fall into that category, which expresses that rain is forecast for tomorrow.

The usage in your example is different, however. It means that people want this to happen or plan that this happens. Who these people are needs to be determined by context, but it is assumed that they are sufficiently relevant for this not to just be their idle wish.

I think this is comparable to the “ich soll zum Schweigen gebracht werden” from another question, which just means “they want me made silent”, with the “they” left to context.

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  • "ich soll zum Schweigen gebracht werden" doesn't mean "they want me dead" but "they want me muted" - that might be accomplished by killing someone, I give you that, but that is by far not the only option and it is not the correct translation. If I want to "silence all the nay-sayers" there are other options than genocide to accomplish that - for instance to make a success out of what they said "no" to.
    – bakunin
    Oct 17, 2023 at 15:15
  • @bakunin, I agree, I just came back to change that.
    – Carsten S
    Oct 17, 2023 at 15:48
  • Thanks @CarstenS... Without the article as context, is the headline indeed ambiguous in that it could also be interpreted as uncertain information (i.e. that Jordan is said to have the speaker job secured) rather than indicating what some people want?
    – cruthers
    Oct 18, 2023 at 12:34
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    As a native German speaker, I can confirm that the headline was, to me, indeed ambiguous in that sense and I had to read (part of) the article to find out which sense was intended. Knowing spiegel.de, I wouldn't exclude the hypothesis that this was intentional. Oct 23, 2023 at 22:00

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