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Apropos the past participles of modal verbs ...

In the wake of double infinitive constructions a class discussion Monday centered around the past participles of modal verbs.

As mentioned then the official or normal past participles of modal verbs have a ge- and end in -t, that is, they're weak: gewollt, gesollt, gedürft, gemusst, gemocht. But since modals are so often used with infinitives (“ich muss/soll/will/darf es machen”) you often find them in so-called “double-infinitive” constructions (“ich habe es machen müssen/sollen/wollen/dürfen”), in which the past participle of the modal verb looks like an infinitive.

The question arose: so, do we ever see the “normal” past participle? Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes, quite a bit. Here are a few examples from literature:

In Goethe's poem “Abschied” (Farewell) we have:

Was ich gesollt, hab' ich vollendet;
Durch mich sei dir von nun an nichts verwehrt;

And from the poem “Hikmet Nameh” in the “Buch der Sprüche,” (Book of Proverbs) from Goethe's large poem-cycle Der west-östliche Diwan we read:

Als ich einmal eine Spinne erschlagen,
Dacht ich, ob ich das wohl gesollt?
Hat Gott ihr doch wie mir gewollt
Einen Anteil an diesen Tagen!

From Adelbert von Chamisso's short prose piece “Memoire über die Ereignisse bei der Kapitulation von Hameln” (yes, the same Hameln that shows up in those ‘pied-piper of’ stories [see: pie]) we have a regular sentence: ”Hätte er es nicht gesollt? Ist er nicht dem Könige Rechenschaft schuldig über die ihm anvertrauten Truppen [...]”

And finally, from the 13th Adventure of the Nibelungenlied (see: Wagner's Ring Cycle) as translated from Middle High German to New High German by Karl Simrock (1802-1876), we have:

Siegfried ward empfangen / wie man das wohl gesollt,
Mit viel großen Ehren / ein jeder ward ihm hold.

Here the archaic past tense of “werden” appears: “ward” (instead of “wurde”), and doesn't “werden, ward, geworden” just seem like a good strong German verb Ablautreihe? (see also: werfen, warf, geworfen)

In short, the simple, weak participle shows up quite a bit, though perhaps not that much in spoken German in certain regions these days. But if you just want to say “I wanted to have done it,” “Ich habe es gewollt” works well—there is no need for “to do,” (“Ich habe es machen wollen”), unless there is a specific activity/verb you had in mind.

Modal verbs are among the few verbs (along with certain common strong verbs, e.g. kommen, as well as haben and sein) that are found frequently in spoken German (“standard/high German”) in the preterite (“narrative past”), and so it's common to see “ich wollte” and “er sollte” rather than the present perfect (“ich habe gewollt”) formulation. The only past tense formation for the second subjunctive (Konjunktiv II, the conditional), which is built from the past-stems of verbs, is a subjunctive perfect: wäre gekommen, hätte gesungen, etc. But that leads to the double-infinitive constructions: hätte kommen wollen, hätte singen sollen, etc. The result is that in the first few semesters we try to insulate students from the double-infinitive construction (because we think it's a minor topic, grammar is “hard,” and so on) and tell them they'll only need it for “reading knowledge” and because of the way we teach modals they get little exposure except to the preterite forms (an ironic reversal, given the way most other verbs are taught), so the gewollt, gesollt and similar forms start to seem a bit ... foreign.

I also mentioned before class that the Onion A.V. Club had reviewed Steven Bach's book on Leni Riefenstahl, Leni. Today/Tomorrow/Now the New York Times has a review of Bach's book as well as another new one on Riefenstahl by Jürgen Trimborn, a professor of film, theater and art history at the University of Cologne.

And, to conclude, if you want to know more about the 17th of June, 1953, the day of the Volksaufstand in East Germany, then I recommend www.17juni53.de—it is also the birthday of Barry Manilow (1946). Coincidence? I think not.

—March 12 2007