Perfect passive subjunctive with modal verb... in a subclause

  • 25
  • 12
  • 2

I just got very confused trying to translate the following sentence:

"...that it could have been interpreted differently"

It seems to combine Passiv:

"It is interpreted" = Es wird interpretiert

...with Perfekt:

"It has been interpreted" = Es ist interpretiert worden

...with Konjunktiv II:

"It would have been interpreted" = Es wäre interpretiert worden

And this is where I get unsure, trying to add the modal verb. Could it be:

"It could have been interpreted" = 'Es wäre interpretiert worden können' (???)

That doesn't seem right... From memory when you've got a modal verb in Perfekt you need haben as the helping verb instead of sein. Then I think we need the Ersatzinfinitiv, but this doesn't apply to the Partizip II of the main verb? So:

"It could have been interpreted" = Es hätte interpretiert werden können

Ok... then in the subclause with so many verbs at the end, the helping verb stays at the head of the pack instead of going to the end as usual:

"...that it could have been interpreted" = ...dass es hätte interpretiert werden können

But then I'm not certain about how to expand this with details, since the examples I could find here are rather simple. Perhaps:

"...that it could have been interpreted differently" = '...dass es hätte anders interpretiert werden können' or ...dass es anders hätte interpretiert werden können?

I'm reminded at this point that there's only one past-tense form of such constructions - we've lost the characteristics of either Perfekt or Präteritum and there's no way to expand it into some kind of Plusquamperfekt. I think this corresponds to English, but at this point I think my brain is a little fried!

[EDIT: I just found this quiz, which indicates the second construction is correct - with the supplementary information coming before the helping verb, which remains stuck firmly in the strange position at the head of the verb pileup.]

1 year ago


The German translation "... dass es anders hätte interpretiert werden können" is perfectly fine, and you are right, the declinated verb form "hätte" is not placed at the end. You can also replace the passive by an active "man" construction: "... dass man es anders hätte interpretieren können."

1 year ago
  • 25
  • 12
  • 2

I think this exercise helped me realise why such Passiversatzformen exist!

...well, until I tried to form an equivalent using the ist zu interpretieren construction! Maybe ... dass es anders zu interpretieren gewesen wäre?

1 year ago
Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.