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Use of Infinitive Verb (Aufbringen) in Conjunction with Modal Verb (Können)

Here is another sentence I’ve been struggling with: „Sie sagt aber, sie könne die 50 DM Strafe nicht aufbringen.“ Why is könne used here instead of kann? Is it because it appears in a conjunctive clause introduced by the word „aber“?

Also, why is „aufbringen“ used here instead of „bringt auf“? Does it have something to do with the fact that after the modal word „können“ the infinitive should be used, as in English? Or does it have something to do with the word order that in a conjunctive clause the verb should be moved to the end? If so, then if we remove „Sie sagt aber“ from the sentence, can we say „Sie kann nicht bringt die 50 DM Strafe auf“?

October 23, 2017



Hi, as you correctly said, könne is the conjunctive form of kann. And it is used here for indirect speech. You also would use this construct without aber.

Aufbringen is used because you must apply the infinitive form when using the indirect speech.

With this phrase, you wouldn't even change the word order in direct speech: Sie kann die 50 DM-Strafe nicht aufbringen.


Hi Thorus, Thanks so much for the helpful comment. I had no idea the use of können is (partially) determined by whether the speech is direct or indirect. This all makes sense now. One more question though: If we use the infinitive "aufbringen" in a direct speech such as "Sie kann die 50 DM-Strafe nicht aufbringen," when would we ever use the form "bring- auf"?


When sticking to the 50 DM theme, you could say: "Sie bringt die 50 DM-Strafe (nicht) auf".
So, when there is no other (¿auxiliar?) verb conjugated. (As a rule of thumb.)

I can't tell you a better rule, but maybe a few more examples when we split and don't split a verb will help you.

  • abholen (to pick someone up) Ich möchte meine Tochter von der Schule abholen./Kannst du mich abholen? - Er holt sie ab.

  • heimgehen (rare for going home) Ich möchte heimgehen./Ich will heimgehen. - Ich gehe heim.

  • aufsteigen (in the sense of: a club promotes in the sports ligue) Unser Verein wird aufsteigen (future tense, wird = auxiliar verb)/Unser Verein kann aufsteigen. - Unser Verein steigt auf. (present tense)

If there is an auxiliar verb (I'm not sure if you'd count können, wollen, mögen as auxiliar verbs - would be strange - but the rule also applies to them), this verb is the only one which is conjugated. If not, some other verb will be.


These additional examples of separable verbs are very helpful. Vielen Dank! As best as I can tell based on my Internet search, there appears to be no specific rules that govern separable vs. inseparable verbs (http://www.vistawide.com/german/grammar/german_verbs03.htm). It seems to be just another one of those things that need to be memorized rather than explained by rules :P

As for whether können counts as an auxiliary verb, I think the answer is yes. Based on the following website, a modal verb in German is equivalent to an auxiliary verb in English (http://www.arts.gla.ac.uk/stella/lilt/modauxger.htm). Thanks again!



Oh, yes, these are modal verbs (Modalverben). A name that I've not heard of for decades :D

I'm glad I could contribute something to make German a bit more clear.
In the course of time you'll develop a feeling for determing separable and inseparable verbs. But this site seems to be a good source. I'll keep it to build up my own German grammar data base!


Haha, I don't think that "native speaker's instinct" will ever kick in, but I certainly hope one day I can develop the "feel" for it without having to overanalyze everything :p


Hi Leigh,
Thorus pretty much addressed everything in your question, but I just wanted to add my thoughts.


Though "könne" is a Konjunktiv I form of "können", in English we would call that subjunctive, not conjunctive.
I just want to make that distinction, because in English conjunctions separate and link clauses, which is what the term "conjunctive" refers to. The "subjunctive" refers to a mood, indicating a hypothetical scenario or a conditional scenario; in contrast to the "indicative" mood, indicating a factual scenario.

This distinction means that regardless of clauses, the subjunctive or Konjunktiv can be used simply to show some form of condition. Put simply "Konjunktiv I" is used for reported or indirect speech, and "Konjunktiv II" is used for hypothetical/conditional scenarios.

To illustrate this by editing your example, a dialogue could look like:

Susan: „Was hat sie denn gesagt?“

Heike: „Sie könne die 50 DM Strafe nicht aufbringen.“

For those wondering "Why use the Konjunktiv I?":
It distances the speaker from what they are saying.

"When would someone want to distance themselves from what they are saying?"
I can think of two main instances:

  1. The news. This is where you hear about 90% of Konjunktiv I used. This is so you know they are simply reporting on what happened, rather than speculating and making assumptions.

  2. You don't agree with what you are saying. Let me give an example:

Hans: „John, du bist ein blöder Idiot!“

John: „Mesut, was hat er gesagt?“

Mesut: „Er sagte, du seiest ein blöder Idiot!“

The Infinitive

Does it have something to do with the fact that after the modal word „können“ the infinitive should be used, as in English?

Exactly right.
Just as in English, in a present tense clause you conjugate the first verb, then the remaining verbs will all be in the infinitive.


Hi Adam, Thanks so much for pointing out the difference between a conjuctive clause and a subjunktive (Konjunctiv I) clause. As you can see the confusion can easily arise from the similarity between the English word „conjunctive“ and the German word „Konjuntiv.“ The examples you provided are also illuminating.

So, if I’m understanding correctly, the subjunctive/konjunctiv clause in the sentence „Sie sagt aber, sie könne die 50 DM Strafe nicht aufbringen“ is introduced by the word „aber“ that is followed by an indirect speech in this particular case because we are reporting the woman‘s claim. In other cases where a direct speech follows the word „aber,“ then it is no longer a subjunctive claus, such as „Ich sage aber, ich kann die 50 DM Strafe nicht aufbringen,“ correct?

Thanks also for confirming that the infinitive „aufbringen“ should be used after the modal verb „können,“ just like English. What a relief to find some parallelism between the two lagnauges—makes learning so much easier


Adam worked the the use of and the differences between conjunctive and subjunctive/Konjunktiv very well out. Also big thanks from me. (Btw.: You also have some kind of verb separation in English: work something out :D Isn't it?)

/quote In other cases where a direct speech follows the word „aber,“ then it is no longer a subjunctive clause, such as „Ich sage aber, ich kann die 50 DM Strafe nicht aufbringen,“ correct?

Yes. In your phrase from your 1st post, aber is followed by the subjunctive/Konjunktiv. And in "Ich sage aber, ich kann die 50 DM-Strafe nicht aufbringen", it's not.
"Aber" just introduces a contrary idea; just like "but" in English does (most times).


Hi Thorus, Thanks for confirming my question. I now get a much better sense of the difference between direct and indirect speech and how the distinction changes verb conjugation. I don't know if anyone has done a comparative psycholinguistic analysis comparing German to English, but I definitely think the fact that Germans go to such great length to turn a verb into so many different forms must say something about their collective intellect and national character. As Adam pointed out, to Germans it is important to distance oneself from a reported speech, which certainly says a lot about the German people's sense of responsibility and discipline.


That's an interesting thought! I once heard in a political language context that the language one uses influences the way he thinks and vice versa.
As you say it, the subjunctive is often used in German news, whereas French and English news use this construct more rarely - but maybe I just recognise the subjunctive in German easier than in other languages.

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