Conditional Clauses in German Grammar

Introduction

Conditional clauses are dependent clauses that are introduced by the subordinating conjunction wenn. They express that an action will only take place under certain conditions. Conditional clauses can describe realistic situations as well as hypothetical ones.

Learn the rules for constructing real and unreal conditional clauses with Lingolia’s online German grammar lessons. In the exercises, you can practise what you have learnt.

Example

Mutter: „Markus, ich will heute Nachmittag einen Kuchen backen. Kannst du mir helfen?“

Markus: „Wenn ich heute Nachmittag Zeit habe, helfe ich dir.

Mutter: „Markus, kannst du mir beim Kuchenbacken helfen?“

Markus: „Wenn ich Zeit hätte, würde ich dir helfen. Aber ich muss noch Hausaufgaben machen.“

Mutter: „Jetzt ist der Kuchen fertig. Du wolltest mir doch helfen!?“

Markus: „Wenn ich Zeit gehabt hätte, hätte ich dir geholfen. Aber meine Hausaufgaben …“

Advertisement

Real Condition

Real conditional clauses describe a realistic situtaion. A condition which we believe is fulfilled, or could become fulfilled. We use the present tense in the both the main clause and the conditional clause.

Example:
Wenn ich Zeit habe, helfe ich dir.If I have time, I’ll help you.

Unreal Present Condition

Unreal conditionals describe a condition that is not fulfilled in the present. In both parts of the sentence, we use the subjunctive II (Konjunktiv II) for situations in the present (or the würde form).

Example:
Wenn ich Zeit hätte, würde ich dir helfen.If I had time, I would help you.
Wenn ich Zeit hätte, hülfe/hälfe ich dir.If I had time, I would help you.

Unreal Past Condition

Here, we describe a condition that was not fulfilled in the past. In both parts of the sentence we use the subjunctive II (Konjunktiv II) for situations in the past.

Example:
Wenn ich Zeit gehabt hätte, hätte ich dir geholfen.If I had had time, I would have helped you.

Notes on the Construction

The condition is located in the dependent clause and begins with wenn. Wenn is a subjunction – the finite verb must come at the end of the clause. (see list Conjunctions and Sentence Construction).

Example:
Wenn ich Zeit habe, …If I have time, …
Wenn ich Zeit hätte, …If I had time, …
Wenn ich Zeit gehabt hätte, …If I had had time, …

The action that depends on the condition is located in the main clause. If a clause begins with a condition (dependent clause), the subject of the main clause comes after the finite verb.

Example:
Ich helfe dir, wenn ich Zeit habe.I’ll help you, if I have time.
→ Wenn ich Zeit habe, helfe ich dir.If I have time, I’ll help you.