Is the subjunctive (what I learned in school as "Konjunktiv 2") Ger. "wäre" ("Ich wäre gern ..." - I'd like to be ...) cognate to "were" even for singular person ("*als ob ich sicher wäre " - as if I were sure)? It's not as easy to search for as I'd like.

Or did that happen only after "thou" fell out of use (I had to ask why "you" needed plural inflection, although it's so obvious, that stem from "you" being originally plural only).

There's a overlap with ell.stackexchange, if I wonder whether I better had use "would" constructions or "was" (the same way I used "needed" not just as past-tense above) instead. Sorry, let's focus on the etymology of 1. p. sg. subjunctive "to be".

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    Don't forget that there is also this form: "It is required that he be dutiful." I think what you mean is the past subjunctive. Dec 15, 2018 at 10:55
  • @tobiornottobi: that were konjunktiv 1 "Er sei sorgfältig". "wäre" is Konjunktiv 2. Will update. Konjunktiv 2 is used for irrealis, hypotheticals, etc. and competes with "würde" (from werde?). Just saying for completenes sake.
    – vectory
    Dec 15, 2018 at 17:35
  • True. It was clear that you meant the past subjunctive but you didn't clearly state it. So, I mentioned that there is also a present subjunctive. Btw, I would say your sentence should be "that [would be] konjunktiv." – If it were..., that would be.... Dec 15, 2018 at 17:53

1 Answer 1


It should be a cognate because the stems of the past subjunctive/Konjunktiv irrealis/II forms are the stems of the old preterite plural(and 2nd singular).

Compare the obsolete paradigm of sterben: ich starb, du stürbest, er starb, wir sturben, ihr sturbet, sie sturben. > the second stem + an originally different ending (causing the umlaut) lead to ich stürbe. The new paradigm became: ich starb, du starbst, er starb, wir starben... ich stürbe.

That's why the Konjunktiv forms are the same in every person and number.

Edit: as jknappen suggested, here's more about the two stems–

There used to be two stems for the preterite past of strong verbs differing in "ablaut" (a Proto-Indo-European vowel alternation further complicated by German(ic) sound changes)
sterben, starb, sturben.
In New High German [either the 1st or the 2nd stem] fell out of use and [one of the stems]. was used for every person and number. This lead to a clearer relationship of form and function, since the same tense and mood now had the same stem. But [when] the second stem [didn't survive in the indicative, it] sometimes survives in the Konjunktiv preterite mood with an Umlaut: stürbe.

Edit2 – Oh, I just remembered that it wasn't always the stem of 1./3.sg that was kept. For example reiten, ich reit, wir ri(t)ten. Here the second stem survived. In English and Scandinavian, though, the first stem survived rode, re(i)d.


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