German is Easy – QAS -1

Hello everyone,

and welcome to the very very firstest episode of our new series… and you are the stars. Or better,your questions are. You guys ask a lot of questions and many of them are really interesting. But so far,they have been kind of buried in the comment section. And I don’t have a search function on the page…. because… in your face.
But seriously, I figured it would be a pity to just have all those cool questions sit there at random places and so I decided to just collect the ones that are not related to the topic of a certain post, give them a headlines and make a nice bundle for all of you to read … or ignore :). So.. willkommen zu

German is Easy – Q A S

The S stands for stuff, by the way. And stuff stands for questions I have, polls, random learning tips, analyses of idioms, cool links, tons of ads in disguise and of course lots of fun selfies of me and my team…. meh… I guess that doesn’t quite qualify as a selfie but anyway.. without further ado, let’s just get the first question…

when to Not use da-words

The reader Diego, who asked that, has found the following sentence in one of the posts:

  • Tut mir leid, wenn ich dich mit dem, was ich gesagt hab’, verletzt hab’… es war nicht so gemeint.
  • I’m sorry if I have hurt you with what I said… I didn’t mean it.

And the question is this:

  • Why is it mit dem instead of damit, and would damit be correct as well?

A very good question. I mean… in the article on da-words (find it here) we’ve learned that, as soon as we’re not talking about persons, we’re supposed to not say with that, from that, of that and so on but rather therewith, therefrom, thereon,… or in German damit, davon, daran, darauf etc.

So… would damit work in the example, too? The answer is no. It would be wrong. And the reason is “connectedness”.The dem and the  was-sentence that follows are one unit. The dem alone doesn’t mean anything.

  • Ich wollte dich mit dem nicht verletzen.

With WHAT? The dem is a pronoun but there is nothing to replace here. It gets its meaning only from the was-part. On the other hand the was-sentence is totally and fully dependent on the dem(das). Just like here…

  • Der Mann, der auf den Bus wartet, singt.
  • The man(,) who waits for the bus(,) sings.

It actually doesn’t matter whether it is optional or not on a content level – it must come right after man. It cannot be moved.

  • The man sings, who waits for the bus…. nope

It is part of the who-box. And it’s no different in the original example.

  • das, was ich gesagt habe

That is one unit. It’s one box. We can fuse mit and dem into a da-word but we cannot fuse mit and dem,was ich gemacht habe. In English this is more obvious, actually

  • I didn’t mean to hurt you with what I said.

Here, there is no that  but German grammar, clunky lad that it is, kind of needs it.

  • Ich wollte dich mit was ich gesagt habe nicht verletzen.

Some people might say that but it is not correct German.
All this is of course not only true for mit dem but for all da-words. We can only sort of fuse pronoun and preposition if the pronoun is the whole what-box itself.

  • Das, was du gekocht hast, war sehr lecker. Ich habe viel davon gegessen.
  • That, which you cooked, was very tasty. I ate a lot of it/that.

Here, we can use a da-word because the that is “complete”. It replaces something.

  • Ich habe viel von dem, was du gekocht hast, gegessen.
  • I ate a lot of what you’d cooked.

Here, we cannot use a da-word the whole box is dem, was du gekocht hast, and not just dem. … and it kind shows in English where there is no that/it.

If you want you can try out some of your own examples in the comment, but now let’s move on to the next one

Translating “ago” – “vor” and “her”

This question comes from Elliott and it is about the two German ways to indicate how long ago something is… one with vor and one with her. But what’s the difference? Are they interchangeable?

The answer is no.

  • I moved to Germany 3 years ago.
  •  Ich bin vor drei Jahren nach Deutschland gezogen.
  • Ich bin drei Jahre her nach Deutschland gezogen…. hyper-wrong

You cannot just plug in her instead of vor, and the reason is grammar. Vor is a preposition, her is not…. it’s a… uhm … not sure actually…. uh… meh probably an adverb.
It kind of works like lang in the following sentence

  • Der Film ist 3 Stunden lang.
  • The movie is 3 hours long.

But anyway, Vor 3 Jahren, or any other time for that matter, is a proper when-box. You can use it to answer the question when? satisfyingly.

  • “Wann?”
    “Vor 3 Jahren.”
    “Achsooo.”
  • “When?”
    “3 years ago.”
    “Ohhh, I see.”

Drei Jahre her  is NOT a when-box.

  • “Wann?”
    “Drei Jahre her.”

This sounds wrong, grammatically and as an answer,  because 3 Jahre her alone is nothing. It’s not one box, it can’t stand alone. It only works as a whole sentence.

  • Es ist 3 Jahre her.

So although it looks an awful lot like 3 years ago, the better translation actually is

  • It’s been 3 years.

What’s handy about the her-phrasing is that instead of es I can just insert whatever event.

  • Marias letzte Raucherpause ist 15 Minuten her.
  • It’s been 15 minutes since Maria’s last smoking break.

Now, could I say the same thing using vor? Of course.

  • Marias letzte Raucherpause war vor 15 Minuten.
  • Marias last smoking break was 15 minutes ago.

So… vor and her can be used to express the same thing. But the phrasings are quite different.

  • … vor  ___  [time-measure]…
  • Etwas ist ___ [time-measure] her.

In practice, the vor-version is used more often for all the daily stuff while the her-phrasing is used for vague, stand alone indications.

  • “Hast du Thomas mal wieder gesehen?”
    “Ja, ist garnicht so lange her.”
  • “Have you seen Thomas again some time?”
    “Yeah, not that long ago actually.”

Yeah… the two phrasings do look a lot alike… but mind the ist. It understandable without, but it sounds quite wrong.

All right, that’s it for the questions. Now let’s get to the stuff

Today’s stuff

First of, with great intensity I am currently procrastinating an overhaul of my links page. And now I am looking for audio-stuff like audio books or something that is fit for beginners and intermediates (besides Deutsche Welle). So if you have any idea, that would be great.

Finally, I’ve gotten an email from a reader in which he introduced a book-project and I think it might be interesting for you so I’ll give it a quick review here… and no, I get NO money for it :).

So… the project is called Interlinear Books and it is a bilingual book… but it is a little bit different.
Bilingual books usually have one language on one side and a proper translation on the other. Interlinear books have the translation right under the original and it is a pretty literal, word for word translation.

Als Thomas erwachte, hatte er einen Schädel. Wo war er gewesen? Wie war er nach Hause gekommen? Und am wichtigsten, wer war die mysteriöse Schöne, die da leise schrachend neben ihm im Bett lag. When he woke up, Thomas had a pounding headache. Where had he been? How had he made it home?  And most importantly, who was the mysterious beauty lying next to him, snoring silently.

This is how it’s done in the usual bilingual books. And this is how Interlinear Books does it

Als Thomas erwachte, hatte er einen Schädel. Wo war er gewesen?
As Thomas          awoke,      had    he      a             skull. Where was he been? 
Wie war er nach Hause gekommen? Und am wichtigsten,
How was he    to       home          come?           And most importantly
wer war die mysteriöse Schöne, die da leise schrachend neben ihm im Bett lag.
who was the mysterious beauty, who there silent snorring      next to him in   bed  lay.

I have to say, that this example is NOT an excerpt so their translation of that very sentence might look different but I think I captured the vibe at least.
There is one German book out so far and they chose Franz Kafka’s “Verwandlung”… you know… that story where a guy wakes up being a bug.

So… what do I think about this approach? Well, I have to say that I don’t like interlinear books. I want to be able to read in my target language and for that I need a dictionary but I don’t need to know how a particular translator would phrase it in my own. It eats up time and, if my own phrasing had been different, I’d be left unsure… like… oh, this is how this translates? Is my own version wrong?
Interlinear books doesn’t force feed me a translation. They offer me word for word translations and it is up to me to make a sense of that. And that is a plus and a minus. Having the literal translation right under the original pretty much saves me the search in a dictionary. Also, some many words have a few multiple translations and they guys from Interlinear Books have chosen the most relevant for that context, which is a plus. The big downside however is the sentence structure. I guess we’ve all been there. We know every single word in a sentence and yet it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Well, this bilingual book  won’t help us then because it just shows us what we already know… a weird sequence of known words.

So… the way I see it, is that the book basically spares me the dictionary, and that’s a good thing. But I think  following the German sentence structure as closely is detrentam… dertman.. dermenta… uhm… can cause more confusion that it helps solve… especially when they are based on actual literature… which tends to be more complex than the average text book.
The price is 20 dollars which I find a bit expansive, and I probably wouldn’t buy it. But I don’t like bilingual books. Or books in general for that matter. Books are gross, ewwww! But that’s just me. I would LOVE to hear what you think about this idea. I mean… everyone learns differently and for some of you this might be JUST the thing you’ve always wanted. Here’s the link so hop over and check it out for yourself:

And that’s it for today. This was our very first episode of German is Easy – QAS. If you think, it sucks then it will also be the last episode :). Let me know if you know of some cool audio sources for German that are fit for beginners,  let me know what your thoughts are on the book, if you have follow up question, go right ahead and if you have any other random questions… about German, about cooking, about relationships… go right ahead and leave them in the comments and maybe we’ll talk about them next time. And yes, there will be a real post this week too.
I’m going to the bathroom now to pop a pimple and you’re left with too much information :)
Bis bald