Black Cat

Going not gentle into that middle age.

This Delightful German Language

Filed under: Expat,Language — 19 December 2006 @ 5:02 pm

For the amusement of English speakers who haven’t had the pleasure of learning this excellent German language, I present a prime example of how much information a German can pack into the subject of a sentence, before he has reached the first verb. On Sunday I was scrolling through the teletext news for the television station ZDF, and came upon the following bit of news. The subject of each of the sentences is in blue in both the original and the literal translation, and the conjugated verb is in red. In the third example, I’ve rewritten the sentence to move most of the description of the reactor to a subordinate clause, as is prefered in written English.

(Original German sentence:)
Der erst im Juli wegen eines Kurzschlusses vorübergehend vom Netz genommene schwedische Atomreaktor Forsmark 1 muss aus Sicherheitsgründen wieder abgeschaltet werden.

(Literal English translation:)
The most recently in July due to a short circuit temporarily from the network removed Swedish atomic reactor Forsmark 1 must for safety reasons again (be) turned off.

(Better English:)
The Swedish atomic reactor, Forsmark 1, which was removed temporarily from the network most recently in July due to a short circuit, must be turned off again for safety reasons.

««« §§§§§§§§§§§§§§§ »»»


  1. IAMB:

    Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said something about the problem with reading books in German is that you have to wait until the last chapter to get to all the verbs?

  2. judy:

    He did indeed say that. I will do a similar post regarding the amassing of verbs at the end of a sentence when I get a great example from “real life”. One of the results of this verby bit of grammar is that Germans tend to be very good listeners. Americans interrupt all the time, because they (ahem, we) think they know how a sentence is going to be finished. Germans can’t be sure, so they have to listen — to the end. It’s really refreshing. I regularly delude myself into thinking that I have pithy important things to say, just because it appears that someone is listening.

  3. Brenda:

    Someone sent me this and I thought you would like it since it goes well with this entry. Probably what IAMB was refering to above:

    xcerpt from Samuel Clemens:

    The Germans have another kind of parenthesis, which they make by splitting a verb in two and putting half of it at the beginning of an exciting chapter and the OTHER HALF at the end of it. Can any one conceive of anything more confusing than that? These things are called “separable verbs.” The German grammar is blistered all over with separable verbs; and the wider the two portions of one of them are spread apart, the better the author of the crime is pleased with his performance. A favorite one is REISTE AB–which means departed. Here is an example which I culled from a novel and reduced to English:

    “The trunks being now ready, he DE- after kissing his mother and sisters, and once more pressing to his bosom his adored Gretchen, who, dressed in simple white muslin, with a single tuberose in the ample folds of her rich brown hair, had tottered feebly down the stairs, still pale from the terror and excitement of the past evening, but longing to lay her poor aching head yet once again upon the breast of him whom she loved more dearly than life itself, PARTED.”

  4. Thomas:

    So the question is: Does the structure of the language influence the structure of the thoughts? When german is such a complicated language can there be any easy thinking for germans, or are germans inherently more trained to complex abstract models?
    Okay, don’t want to start a flame war here.
    The question is rephrased therefore: Is there actually grammatical structures which the english language should have for the sake of greater expressivness?
    Or is english simply perfect?
    Judy: Can you feel a german pressure on your thoughts?

  5. Black Cat » Verbal Precision — Virtue or Vice?:

    […] Home « This Delightful German Language […]

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