German Grammar Explained /

"Sollen" as a reproduction of indirect speech

You might already be familiar with the modal verb sollen.
But sollen has another function that is particularly useful for gossiping.
Imagine a conversation between two neighbours:
Hast du gehört? Bernd soll im Lotto gewonnen haben. Er soll sich einen brandneuen Porsche gekauft haben. Have you heard? Apparently Bernd won the Lottery. He's seemingly bought himself a new Porsche.
Nein, das stimmt nicht. Er hat lange gespart und sich einen günstigen Gebrauchtwagen gekauft. No, that's not true. He's been saving up for a long time and got himself a cheap used car.
Sollen doesn't translate very well into English when used for this, but you can loosely think of it as meaning things along the lines of "it seems that", "it appears that", or variations of these. We use sollen to talk about things that have to do with others that we think are true, as well as to repeat things that we've heard others saying or that we have read somewhere. The point i to say something while at the same time expressing the thought that we are not quite sure if what we are saying is completely true or accurate. We're distancing ourselves from it even as we're saying it. Rumors!!
This is called the subjektive Bedeutung von sollen (the subjective meaning of sollen).
The structure remains the same as it usually is with sollen.
  • in the present tense: sollen + infinitive.
  • in the past tense: sollen + past participle + infinitive.
Present tense
Superfoods sollen gut für die Gesundheit sein. Superfoods are meant to be good for you.
Angeblich sind Superfoods gut für die Gesundheit. Superfoods are allegedly good for your health.
Past tense
Bernd soll im Lotto gewonnen haben. Bernd apparently won the lottery.
Man sagt, Bernd hat im Lotto gewonnen. The word is that Bernd won the lottery.
If you're not sure if something is true or not, then you can use this type of construction :)