In German, there is another subjunctive form besides that used to express wishes and pose hypotheticals: the special subjunctive (der Konjunktiv I). This form is used to mark indirectly reported speech and can also to express doubt as to the accuracy of indirectly reported speech.
So what is indirectly reported speech? This is when a person is repeating or reporting something that another person has said. In German, as opposed to English, the form of the main verb actually changes to reflect this fact. Whenever quotation marks are used, directly reported i.e. quoted speech is being repeated, but there are none with indirectly reported speech.
Directly reported speech: John said, “I am going to be late.”
Indirectly reported speech: John said that he is going to be late.
In German, removing the quotation marks will have the same effect as in English: the veracity of what is being reported (John is going to be late) is not in question. However, the use of the special subjunctive form of the main verb will make it clear that the person reporting what was said is not claiming that it is absolutely true, and, in some cases, is calling it into question.
Directly reported speech: John sagte, “Ich werde mich verspäten.”
Indirectly reported speech: John sagte, er werde sich verspäten.
In the second example above, the expected conjugated form of “werden” for “er” is “wird.” However, in the special subjunctive, it changes to “werde” in order to make clear that the speaker (the person reporting what John said) is not vouching for what John said; rather, s/he is an intermediary (messenger, if you will).
Some conjugations of verbs in the special subjunctive are identical to their indicative (that is, non-subjunctive) forms, so, in those cases, it is necessary to use the general subjunctive (Konjunktiv II) forms instead. For example, consider the following forms of “haben” in Konjunktiv I:
|haben||Personal Pronoun (singular)||Conjugated Form||Personal Pronoun (plural)||Conjugated Form|
|2nd person formal||Sie||haben||Sie||haben|
Note that the “Sie,” “wir,” and “sie” (plural) forms look identical to the present tense (indicative) form of “haben.” Because of the potential for ambiguity, the general subjunctive forms are instead used, as seen in the chart below:
|haben||Personal Pronoun (singular)||Conjugations||Personal Pronoun (plural)||Conjugations|
|2nd person formal||Sie||hätten||Sie||hätten|
Keep in mind that when reporting what someone else has said, the most common forms used are third person singular and plural (e.g. he said, she said, they said), as, by definition, it is something being reported indirectly. However, first and second person forms to occur.
The special subjunctive form of verbs is derived from the infinitive form, and consists of adding an “e” before the “st” for “du,” adding an “e” and deleting the “t” for “er/sie/es” form, and adding an “e” before the “t” in the “ihr” form. For verbs whose stems end in “d” or “t,” the special subjunctive form (e.g. finden > ihr findet) is replaced with the general subjunctive (ihr fändet).
There is one exception to the rule, and that is the verb “sein.” Here is a table with the forms of “sein” in the special subjunctive:
|sein||Personal Pronoun (singular)||Conjugations||Personal Pronoun (plural)||Conjugations|
|2nd person formal||Sie||seien||Sie||seien|
This form of “sein” may look familiar, as it is very similar to the command form (imperative).