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My mother tongue is German but I'm unsure if the below sentence is correct. I've stumbled upon this phrasing here and there.

Später würde sie sich jedoch für etwas anderes entscheiden.

The sentence references an action in the past. But from the narrated point of view it lies in the future, which I guess is why it's so oddly phrased.

The Konjunktiv (würde sie sich ... entscheiden) adds uncertainty which makes it sound weird, because the action has already happened. It would sound normal just with Präteritum:

Später entschied sie sich jedoch für etwas anderes.

My guess is the würde is falsely adopted from English.

Though, later she would decide for something else.

Or is this correct German?

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    German article as an addition to the already existing answers: blog.leo.org/2016/02/29/vorzukunft-in-der-vergangenheit Their example even uses Futur II as seen from the past ("sobald der Regen aufgehört haben würde").
    – HalvarF
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 10:29
  • Wenn deine Muttersprache Deutsch ist, warum stellst du dann in einem Deutsch-Forum eine Frage über einen Aspekt der deutschen Sprache in einer anderen Sprache als Deutsch? Rund 95% aller Antworten hier in German.stackexchange werden von deutschen Muttersprachlern gegeben. Es gibt hier die Regel, dass alle Antworten und Kommentare der Sprache der Frage folgen sollten. (Ich widersetze mich gerade ... Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 11:13
  • ... absichtlich dieser Regel.) Wenn du als deutscher Muttersprachelr also Fragen in einer Fremdsprache stellst, nötigst du andere deutsche Muttersprachler, mit dir in dieser Fremdsprache zu kommunizieren, obwohl das Thema der Kommunikation genau die deutsche Sprache ist. Das ist absurd. Bitte stelle deine Fragen das nächste Mal auf Deutsch. Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 11:13
  • @HubertSchölnast: please answer and comment in the language OP asked, as you yourself commented on countless answers and comments. This SE accepts two languages, German and English, and OP an choose either of them. It is not our place to second-guess his motives. Just for example one possible reason might be that a question and answer in English would be of more use for non-native speakers.
    – bakunin
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 15:22
  • @HubertSchölnast Das hier ist meine erste Frage, woher hätte ich das sofort wissen sollen? Ich habe kein Regelwerk gesehen. Sehr viele Fragen hier werden in Englisch gestellt, deswegen habe ich das auch so gemacht.
    – osfl_
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 22:43

2 Answers 2

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It's a bit difficult to judge your examples out of context, but I assume that a Konjunktiv is not intended, because of the "später". Then the meaning is that, at the time currently talked about, there is an expectation of a later event (the decision). If you replace "würde sich entscheiden" by "später entschied sie sich anders", you have moved the time of the narration (i.e. the temporal vantage point) to a later time. (Cf. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempus#Grundlagen:_Situationszeit_und_Betrachtzeit)

I don't know why the form looks like a Konjunktiv, but there is nothing wrong with this German construction. It is a "relative tense" of a kind that recurs in the languages of the world, sometimes called "prospective aspect". See: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prospektiv_(Grammatik).

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  • Thanks, that Wiki article explains it perfectly. I had just never heard of this grammatical aspect before.
    – osfl_
    Commented Nov 17, 2023 at 22:35
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The construction is definitely correct German and doesn't sound weird at all. I don't think it is adopted from English, it's just that two related languages underwent parallel developments.

In English, past subjunctive would can express a desire (now archaic except in conjunction with rather).

(A) I would rather go fishing.

It can also be used to express the future in the past.

(B) He would later come to regret this decision.

In German, the past subjunctive würde can be used to express a desire in conjunction with gerne or similar.

(A') Ich würde lieber angeln gehen.

And it is used to express the future in the past, as in your example.

(B') Er würde diese Entscheidung später noch bereuen.

This is a case of homonymy that is usually easily resolvable from the context. Especially, (B) and (B') do not have a modal component (expressing a wish or irrealis mood), despite the fact that the respective forms would, würde can do so in other contexts.

Später entschied sie sich anders or er bereute diese Entscheidung are normal narration and do not have the reading of "future in the past", i.e. foreshadowing of that which has not yet been narrated.

For sollte in the same function as würde in (B') see https://german.stackexchange.com/a/43553/; a general reference is the Duden grammar, 8th/9th edition, paragraph 782. (The reworked 10th edition doesn't have a similar section; paragraph 311 there is much less helpful.)

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