Different setting of verbs in past tense

Lately, I noticed that there is a big difference in the composition of the verbs in the past tense. For example:

Ich hätte mir das Bein brechen können.
I could have broken my leg.

Why is the conjugated verb in German the “have”?


It’s hard to explain. I think you conjugate the “have” because it’s the verb that “changes” the tense: Auxiliary verbs express the “information” (tense and subject), and that’s why they get conjugated and not the others “verbs” in Infinitiv or Partizip.

Maybe if you see the structure of the sentence in Konjunktiv in the past similar as the structure of the sentence in “Perfekt”, it will be easier.

Perfekt: :slight_smile: (Subject) + konj “haben”/“sein” + … + Verb im Partizip
Konjunktiv in the past: :slight_smile: (Subject) + “hätte”/“wäre” + … + Verb im Partizip

The difficult part here is that there’s this “können”, because Partizip ist not usual or hasn’t the same meaning for Modalverbs like “können”, so you use Infinitiv + Modalverb im Infinitv —> for e.g. “brechen können”.

I hope, this answer helps you!


The verb ‘haben’ can be used in many forms in the German language.

‘Haben’ can be used as a main verb to express possession of something. For example, ‘Ich habe eine rotte buch’ (I have a red book). ‘Haben’ can also be used as an auxiliary verb in order to conform another grammar structure, for example ‘Perfect’, for example, ‘ Ich habe schokolade gegessen’ (I have eaten chocolate)
I’m not a pro at Grammar but I hope this helps!

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