Yiddish: If I were president

Fat Lenny

New Member
English - New York
In Yiddish, how would one use what is called the past subjunctive mood in English ("If I were president", for example)?
Is it "Oyb kh'volt geveyn"? Is there a construction I don't know that should be used here?
  • David

    Probably posted too long afterwards to be of use, but, for what it´s worth:

    If I were... is not the English past subjunctive, it is the present subjunctive. The past subjunctive would be If I had been .... Either way, present or past, the then clause is in the conditional.

    So in English:

    Present: If + subunctive of to have, had, or to be, were, or for any other verb same as pres: (If he comes, if they bring, if you take); then + conditional aux. would + inf."

    If I were a millionaire, I would be, make, do, go etc...."​

    Past: If + past subjunctive aux. had + p.p.; then + past conditional aux. would have + p.p.:

    "If I had (subj) had (p.p.) a million bucks at the time, I would have..." or
    "Had (subj) I been (pp) a millionaire back then, I would have been, gone, had, done, etc."​

    So in English:
    If I were prez today, I would not be like Bush.
    Had I been prez in 1932, I would have acted like Roosevelt.​

    Unlike English, Yiddish doesn't use the subjunctive at all. In many ways its German grammar has been simplified by use and admixture of Hebrew and Slavic grammars. Past or present, if clause, then clause, Yiddish uses only the present conditional: If + conditional auxiliary verb וואָלטן "would" (איך וואָלט, דו וואָלטסט, ער וואָלט, מיר וואָלטן, איר וואָלט, זיי וואָלטן) + past participle; then + conditional auxiliary verb וואָלטן ("would") + past participle:

    So you are correct:

    If I were president (now), I would not be like Bush.
    .אויב (ווען) כ’וואָלט געווען דער פרעזידענט, וואָלט איך ניט געווענ אזוי ווי בושׂ
    Oib (or Ven) kh'volt geven der prezident, volt ikh nit geven azoi vi Bush.

    If I had been president in 1932, I would have done like Roosevelt.
    .אויב (ווען) כ’וואָלט געווענ דער פרעזידענט ינ 1932, וואָלט איך געטאָן אזוי ווי רוזעוועלט
    Oib (or Ven) kh'volt geven der prezident in 1932, volt ikh getun azoy vi Rozevelt.​
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    Fat Lenny

    New Member
    English - New York
    A dank far der hilf, Dovid.
    I learned Yiddish through Weinreich's College Yiddish and that taught that a conditional statement is formed by using volt + past participle, but I was unsure whether that included any phrases for which English uses the subjunctive mood in one form or another. Thanks for clearing it up for me.

    However, I have to say that when it comes to grammatical terms, you are a bit off. "If I were..." is indeed the past subjunctive mood. The present subjunctive would be the much less common "If I be..." construction. "If I had been..." is actually the pluperfect subjunctive. The past subjunctive mood takes its name from the grammatical tense it is in, not from the way it is used. In other words, "If I were" is past tense because it uses the past tense of the verb "to be".

    Therefore, in English:

    Present subjunctive: Infinitive of the verb, sans "to", or "should" + verb.
    "It is important that you be at your brother's wedding."
    "If you should find my hat, please return it to me.

    Past subjunctive: Preterite form of the verb. In case of "to be", uses "were".
    "If I were your wife, I would poison your coffee!"
    "If I were your husband, I would drink it!"

    Pluperfect subjunctive: Same as English past perfect.
    "If I'd known you were coming, I would have baked you a cake."
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