Many languages have a subjunctive mood but German has a conjunctive. However is the German conjunctive just a different name for the same mood?

If the two are different what is the difference? If not why the different name?

I've had conversations with German speakers insisting that German doesn't have a subjunctive.

  • I've never heard of this 'conjunctive', and German as a foreign language texts (in English) always talk about a 'subjunctive' mood. The wikipedia article on the subjunctive in German uses the term 'conjunctive'. This leads me to believe that it is simply nomenclature in English for phenomena that are functionally similar to the subjunctive. Have you seen any other references that say anything similar of different?
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 1:30
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    @Mitch While studying German I always heard Konjunktiv I & II. My guess is that since in English you have "subjunctive" they use that term to make it easier for you, while in Italian we have the "Congiuntivo". Although, like I said, this is just a quick guess... I actually never heard the German Konjunktiv being called subjunctive until this question.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 10:38
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    Two different terms for the same thing in grammar as is so often the case. Both terms mean the second mood beside indicative. Of course German, French, English etc use this second mood in different ways, but that is a matter of grammar, not a matter of how this second mood is called.
    – rogermue
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 5:03

2 Answers 2


The words subjunctive (from Latin subiunctivus, "connective, subordinating") and conjunctive (from Latin coniunctivus, "connective") normally mean exactly the same thing and refer to exactly the same mood, as far as different languages can be compared. In modern English, conjunctive is seldom heard; it is normally always subjunctive. So it would make perfect sense to call the German Konjunktiv in English subjunctive, if you must use an English word. If you use a German word, however, the only option is Konjunktiv.

It should be noted that Proto-Indo-European probably had two separate moods, conjunctive/subjunctive and optative ("expressing a wish"). Both moods were still present in classical Greek; but they had fused into one mood in (Pre-)Latin, which only had a conjunctive/subjunctive that did the work of both. In (Proto-)Greek, the optative was mainly marked by /i/, whereas the conjunctive/subjunctive was marked by a lengthening of the theme vowel. The unified successor mood that emerged in most Indo-European languages acquired various other formal properties.

It should also be noted that both moods already had several, quite different functions each in Greek, so that their names are not very accurate descriptions if one considers what they mean in Latin—nor could there be accurate names for such complex moods.

The Latin names of the mood, coniunctivus and subiunctivus, were both used from late Antiquity onwards. Among the modern languages, some use a form of coniunctivus, some subiunctivus, and some both. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) explains it quite well for Latin and English:

Both modus conjunctīvus and m. subjunctīvus were used by the Latin Grammarians of the 4th c. Isidore Orig. i. viii. 4 (a 640) has only conjunctīvus, ‘quia ei conjungitur aliquid, ut locutio plena sit’. Littré cites subjonctif ou conjonctif from Meigret 1550. In English use Subjunctive was the usual name until comparatively recent times. It is now used by some in a narrower sense than Conjunctive: see quot. 1871.

  • 1730–6 Bailey (folio), The Conjunctive (or Subjunctive) Mood of a Verb.
  • 1755 Johnson, Conjunctive, adj..(In grammar.) The mood of a verb, used subsequently to a conjunction.
  • 1824 L. Murray Eng. Gram. (ed. 5) I. 152 Some grammarians apply, what is called the conjunctive termination, to the persons of the principal verb, and to its auxiliaries, through all the tenses of the subjunctive mood.
  • 1871 Publ. Sch. Lat. Gram. 96 The Conjunctive Mood is for conceptive statement: as gaudeam si absit. When this Mood appears in principal construction, we call it the pure conjunctive, as gaudeam: when it depends on another Verb, it is called Subjunctive, as absit.
  • Ibid. 167 Examples of the Conjunctive Mood used Subjunctively.

The interwiki links from the English Wikipedia page Subjunctive nicely show how the languages are split between both terms. Some of these languages might use both terms.

  • Bahasa Indonesia - Modus subjungtif;
  • 中文 (Chinese) - Traditional 虛擬語氣, Simplified 虚拟语气.
  • Croatian - Hrvatski konjunktiv, aorist i kondicional;
  • Czech - Konjunktiv;
  • Danish - Konjunktiv;
  • Dutch - Aanvoegende wijs (when describing other languages, also conjunctief or coniunctivus);
  • Esperanto - Subjunktivo;
  • Finnish - Subjunktiivi;
  • French - Subjonctif;
  • German - Konjunktiv;
  • Icelandic - Viðtengingarháttur;
  • Ido - Subjuntivo;
  • Italian - Congiuntivo;
  • Japanese - 接続法;
  • Latina - Coniunctivus;
  • Magyar - Kötőmód;
  • Norwegian - Konjunktiv;
  • Polish - Tryb łączący;
  • Portuguese - Modo subjuntivo;
  • Romanian - Conjunctiv;
  • Russian - Сослагательное наклонение;
  • Spanish - Modo subjuntivo;
  • Swedish - Konjunktiv;
  • Walon - Suddjonctif;
  • Why the [ and ] in that list?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 17:23
  • @Ale: I just copy-pasted it from the Wikipedia article. On Wikipedia, [[countrycode:articlename]] is used to create the links to the same article in a different language that you normally see on the left of each page (if available).
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 17:25
  • @Ale: Sure, if you're in the mood for it! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 17:36
  • Ok, done. I don't think there are any, but if someone finds mistakes, please correct them.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 18:58
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    Portuguese uses both subjuntivo (BP) and conjuntivo (EP). Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 21:08

To add further to cerberus's interesting answer and mitch's comment, conjunctive and subjunctive are not fully similar from a functional point of view. I recently asked on GLU, why German prescribes the use of modus instead of tempus for marking indirect speech. So this is one important difference vs. most other languages using tempus or no marking at all for indirect speech. Being a german native speaker and having Latinum, I never heard ther term Subjunktiv in a language course. So hippietrail is imo right here, it doesn't exist in German.

  • 2
    You seem to be saying that the Konjunktiv can't be called a subjunctive in English because it does not perform the same function as in Latin? I don't think that is a valid argument, because 1.) we're talking about the English word, not a German word: no-one would say "Subjunktiv". 2.) The conjunctive/subjunctive performs different functions in different languages: in no two IE languages is it the same, I believe, regardless of whether the language in question uses a word based on coniunctivus or subiunctivus. Heck, Dutch even uses aanvoegende wijs! But it's still the same mood.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 16:45
  • @cerberus latinum is a language degree you earn for attending latin language courses for several years in Germany. Neither there, nor in english, german, spanish courses I ever heard the term "Subjunktiv". They share similar & identical functions, but not the same, as the indirect speech example shows.
    – Hauser
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 16:59
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    See the list of the names of the Wikipedia articles in my answer. If am to follow your reasoning, each languages uses its subjonctif, subjunctive, coniunctivus, Konjunktiv, subjuntivo, congiunctivo, etc. differently, and therefore each is an entirely separate mood. One should only use the word subjunctive for the mood in English, because the Spanish subjuntivo and the Italian congiunctivo etc. all function more or less differently from the English subjunctive. That is a valid argument, but I find it impractical.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 17:19
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    The German Konjunktiv and the Latin coniunctivus are no closer together than the English subjunctive and the German Konjunktiv. It makes no sense to differentiate English and German but not any other two languages. Whether a language uses a form of coniunctivus or subiunctivus tells you nothing about whether their respective functions resemble each other more or less closely; the choice is almost entirely arbitrary. Oh, and I know what the Latinum is, and I like it! We don't have a word like that in Dutch: it's just Gymnasium.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Oct 30, 2011 at 17:21
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    By this reasoning we also must not generalize most basic linguistic terms like definite article, plural, and preposition because they all apply differently to each language. Commented Oct 31, 2011 at 7:38

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