What is the subjunctive?

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The subjunctive ‘mood’ of a verb stands in contrast to a verb in the indicative ‘mood’. While the indicative form states facts: ‘I am at home’, the subjunctive is often used in imagined situations, such as wishful thinking: ‘If only I were at home’.

Two subjunctive forms in German
There are two different subjunctive forms in German, Konjunktiv II and the less common Konjunktiv I:

• Konjunktiv I is based on the infinitive form of the verb and usually occurs in indirect speech to indicate what somebody has said:
Er sagte, er sei krank. He said he was ill.

• Konjunktiv II derives its form from the simple past tense and is often used in hypothetical situations and conditional sentences:
Dann hätte ich mehr Zeit. Then I’d have more time.
Wenn ich reich wäre, müsste ich nicht arbeiten gehen. If I were rich I wouldn’t have to go to work.

It can also be used to express wishes and to add a degree of politeness:
Ich wünschte, du wärest hier. I wish you were here.
Könnten Sie mir sagen, wo das Rathaus ist? Could you tell me where the town hall is?

Furthermore, the Konjunktiv II forms can also be used in reported speech.