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In an article on Bild, I've noticed a sentence that puzzled me because of the use of "sollten" (past) in the beginning of a subordinate conditional clause, although the main clause is in present. I don't understand the tense, and I don't understand why at all a modal verb, namely "sollen", had to be used here:

Sollten beide wegen Vergewaltigung für schuldig befunden werden, entscheidet das Gericht, ob sie eine Jugend- oder Erwachsenen-Strafe bekommen.

Compare it to another use of this modal verb in the same article:

Um 22.30 Uhr sollen die Angeklagten aus einer Gruppe männlicher Jugendlicher heraus zu Nina gegangen sein: ...

In this second example, I understand that it conveys an epistemic modality (necessity given our knowledge) (and the event took place in the past, that's why the perfect form under "sollen"). But my first example can't be explained as epistemic modality (as far as I can understand): it's not about a supposed event, it's about a condition.

Would the two rewordings (see below) without "sollten" sound ungrammatical or have a different meaning?

  1. Werden beide wegen Vergewaltigung für schuldig befunden, entscheidet das Gericht, ob sie eine Jugend- oder Erwachsenen-Strafe bekommen.

  2. Würden beide wegen Vergewaltigung für schuldig befunden, entscheidet das Gericht, ob sie eine Jugend- oder Erwachsenen-Strafe bekommen.

4 Answers 4

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Here “sollten” isn’t past, it’s Konjunktiv II, “should they”. It makes it clearer than your suggestion (1) that this is only one possible outcome. On the other hand, “würden” in (2) makes it a hypothetical and would also require Konjunktiv II in the second part, “…, entschiede das Gericht…” or “…, würde das Gericht entscheiden…”.

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Your two alternatives are both completely fine, and can be used with about the same meaning.

The difference is only very tiny and in the speakers eye on how likely or unlikely s/he considers the condition to become or be true:

"Sollten..." is a simple matter-of-fact on the condition and consequence (Should both be found guilty...)

"Werden..." is in my ears in this case really identical to the form of "Sollten": (If both are found guilty...)

"Würden..." makes it sound like a guilty ruling is very unlikely.

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  • Ah, thanks for evaluating my alternatives, and also for giving the English analogue ("Should both be found..."), which has exactly the same modal and tense and which I haven't paid attention to before in English! Jan 14 at 23:08
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"sollen": modal verb, so we have a variation in the modal verb itself, and in the infinitive which goes with it:

Du sollst das Bier trinken (indicative, present, with infinitive present): I'm really pushy to make you drink the beer.

Du solltest das Bier trinken (concjunctive 2, with infinitive present): I recommend you to drink the beer.

Du sollst das Bier getrunken haben (indicative, present, with infinitive past): People claim that you had consumed the beer, but I suspect that this is maybe not true.

Du solltest das Bier getrunken haben (conjunctive 2, with infinitive past): It would have been better if you had consumed the beer.

UPDATE

Here is another case:

Falls du das Bier getrunken haben solltest (conjunctive 2, with infintive past), musst du es bezahlen: In case you have consumed the beer, you have to pay it.

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  • Thanks for explaining the difference in meanings through comparison of the different combinations! But how would the use of your 2nd form, which you interpret as a recommendation, make sense in the condition in my example? (Sollten beide wegen Vergewaltigung für schuldig befunden werden, entscheidet das Gericht, ob ...) I felt that in the context of a condition, it's not a recommendation, but something else I couldn't feel/understand very well. Jan 15 at 17:49
  • @imzIvanZakharyaschev: The sentence in your question uses "sollen gegangen sein", hence it's my 3rd form (gegangen sein -> infinitive of perfect tense). Someone claimed that they went there, but the writer of the sentence doesn't have a proof whether or not it's true. Jan 16 at 6:40
  • The main sentence in my question is Sollten beide wegen Vergewaltigung für schuldig befunden werden, entscheidet das Gericht, ob ... Other sentences were examples, whose sense seemed to be understood by more or less well. I want to understand how "sollten" is used in my main example sentence, what it adds to the meaning. Jan 17 at 0:58
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    @imzIvanZakharayaschev : Ah, right. This is a shortcut to "Falls beide schuldig befunden werden sollten, ...", and this is K2, because we don't know whether they are guilts or not. You are right that I should add this variation to my answer. Jan 17 at 9:27
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Apart from the distinction between past tense and Konjunktic, note that this is in fact a conditional clause with omitted conjunction. That is, it is possible to rephrase

Wenn die Sonne scheint, dann bin ich fröhlich.

like this

Scheint die sonne, bin ich fröhlich.

So read the sample sentence as

Falls beide wegen Vergewaltigung für schuldig befunden werden, dann entscheidet das Gericht, ob sie eine Jugend- oder Erwachsenen-Strafe bekommen

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  • But in your first example with rephrasing, you keep the same tense-mood, either with "wenn" or not. When you rephrase my example sentence with "falls", you drop "sollten" and use present tense. So, the rephrasing doesn't help to understand the intricacies of the use of "sollten". Jan 17 at 0:53

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