1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: German
  4. >
  5. "Ich sollte einen zweiten Man…


"Ich sollte einen zweiten Mann finden."

February 24, 2013



Now I have a question about English. Is it possible to say "I should find a second man" in such a way that it would be clearly past? "I should find a second man" seems more like present.


Ich muss ein Mann finden → I have to find a man (present)

Ich musste ein Mann finden → I had to find a man (past)

Ich soll ein Mann finden → I should find a man (present)

Ich sollte ein Mann finden → ??? (past)

I understand the meaning of all the German sentences and I have no problem translating it into my native language, but I'm a little confused about the English translation here.


Oh, I guess I found a way to translate this: I was supposed to find a second man. This is clearly past.

If you are good at German and English, please confirm or disprove! :-)

P.S. I have not tested this translation, it may not work (but if it is correct, I'll surely suggest it as correct).


The problem is, that sollte is not only the past tense, it is also the conjunctive II. Thus, the above sentence can be understood in 2 ways. 1) I was supposed to find a man (in the past) and most of the time you would use it if you did not succeed. 2) I am supposed to find a man and would derive some gain from it, but there are things that stop me.

For example: Ich sollte mein Zimmer putzen. would generally mean I realize my room is dirty, I should clean it, but right now I do not have time/motivation to do it. To refer to the past you would say "ich musste mein Zimmer putzen" if you did do it and "ich hätte mein Zimmer putzen sollen" if you did not.


In English, you could also say "I should have found a second man."


But then you still would not know whether you should have found him now or in the past. "I was supposed to find a second man" is always in the past. "I should have found" may also refer to a situation in the present where only the result is lacking.


That would be: Ich sollte einen zweiten Mann gefunden haben.


The past would be "I should have found a second husband". In my opinion, with the lack of context, husband is a more plausible translation for Mann in this case.


A bit late, but if anyone else is reading: Never translate Mann as husband, or Frau as wife, UNLESS there is a possessive article in front of it. I don't know if that is a hard and fast rule in German, but it certainly is on this site.


Not quite. For once (!) I agree with the DL translation. Ich soll ein mann Finden = I shall find a man (future indicative) Ich sollte ein mann finden = I should find a man (future subjunctive)


Future would be "Ich werde ein Mann finden".


You are indeed correct on the name of the tense in German. I was thinking in English when I wrote. In English there are two modal verbs to support its future and future subjunctive tenses, shall (should), will (would), respectively. Their meanings are distinct. The former 'shall (should)' deals with an imperative meaning. Thus, 'You shall do this' indicates a determined direction to perform something (an imperative for the second case, you) while 'You will do this' is a statement about doing something in the future, referred to as a future indicative in my experience but maybe others have seen other names.The same is true for I shall, he shall, etc. Comparable statements can be made about the subjunctive forms, should, would. I am not sure about the respective tense names given. We do need to be careful about the distinctions between the moods subjunctive in English and conjunctive in German. There is some overlap but not identical.

Having said all that, there does appear to be a difference in German grammars I have consulted. You may know all this already but for clarity let me add a few words. In Soglio's reference below 'soll' is treated as 'should' and 'sollte' is 'should have'. In Kelber I and II, (Ginn, 1955) the present tense 'soll' is 'shall', and the imperfect 'sollte' is 'should'. Maybe German usage has changed over the those years. Do you know? If so, then I'll accept 'soll' as meaning 'should' although I must admit it's a loss to the German language I learnt to read (but not speak fluently) over 50 years ago.

As I understand, 'Soll ich es finden?' still means "Shall I find it?" and not "Should I find it?". Am I correct? There's more to say on this topic but I've said enough for now!


It's too subtle for me because I'm Russian. We don't have so many modal verbs, so these "shall, should, have to, must, ought to" and so on are pretty much the same idea for us, only with different "strength". For me, both "shall" and "should" are fine for "soll".


" I should have found..." shows past completed action.


The present is not should, the present is shall. Should is future in the past.

I don't remember ever seeing the past of shall.


I think he showed it above - 'should have'


"sollte" is not in the conjunctions list of "sollen". What is it?


I didn't know that you modify cardinal numbers? I thought you left them alone?


But "zweite" is an ordinal number, just like "second". In German, ordinal numbers are treated like adjectives.


Oh oops, I meant ordinal haha! And oh ok thanks good to know! :)


Can't you also translate this: "I intended to find a second man" since sollte is past tense?


Intend is vorhaben, thus: Ich hatte vor, einen zweiten Mann zu finden.


I thought "sollte" was in past tense. I thought "Ich sollte einen zweiten Mann finden." meant: "I should have found a second man". And that "Ich soll einen zweiten Mann finden" is "I should find a second man".


While yes, 'sollte' is also the past tense, it is also the subjunctive. 'Soll' is usually translated as 'shall' or 'supposed to', while 'sollte' is translated as 'should'. Your latter sentence would hence be 'I am supposed to find a second man'

The first one can't be past tense, as 'finden' is still in the present tense.

Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.