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Complex Sentences--Kafka Example
In this section, we will try to develop a strategy for attacking sentences like this one from Kafka's novella Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis):

Er lag auf seinem panzerartig harten Rücken und sah, wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob, seinen gewölbten, braunen, von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch, auf dessen Höhe sich die Bettdecke, zum gänzlichen Niedergleiten bereit, kaum noch erhalten konnte.

Commas
Commas actually do the hardest work for you, because in German, any two clauses are usually separated by a comma. Thus, the commas separate the sentence into its component parts for you. The chief exception is that clauses joined by und or oder are only separated by commas if they are both complete main clauses (i.e. both include a subject and a verb).

Sie fuhren nach Hause und sahen einander dann stundenlang in die Augen [no comma: 2nd clause omits subject]
They drove home and then looked in each other's eyes for hours

Sie gingen nach Hause, und sie kochten Barney [use a comma: both are complete main clauses]

Wir essen Barney, wenn er tot ist und wenn er gar ist [no comma after und because a subordinate clause follows]
We will eat Barney if he is dead and if he is done [in the sense of: cooked]

Since these combinations of sentences with coordinating conjunctions cause little confusion, we will ignore them; our method will be to separate the sentence into the pieces determined by the commas.

Semicolons

These separate parts of the sentence which could be complete sentences on their own. One can therefore investigate the two parts independently.

What can we expect to find?
Commas can indicate the following:

...the main clause(s) (verb in second position).

...subordinate clauses (verb in final position).

        ... relative clauses (these are a type of subordinate clause).

...infinitive clauses. These consist of an infinitive with object(s), or modifier(s), or both):

Ich habe keine Zeit, den Hund zu baden
I have no time to bathe the dog (object)

Wie bringt ihr es fertig, so schnell und so elegant zu essen und gleichzeitig fernzusehen?
How do you manage to eat so quickly and so elegantly and to watch TV at the same time? (modifiers)

Recall the subordinating conjunctions
um...zu = in order to ohne...zu = without... [doing X] (an)statt...zu = instead of [doing X]

Hunde leben, um zu essen
Dogs live in order to eat

Wenige Leute gehen in Deutschland spazieren, ohne in Hundemist zu treten
Few people go for a walk in Germany without stepping in dog mess

Anstatt sich diszipliniert zu duschen, liegen Katzen herum und lecken sich sauber
Instead of showering in a disciplined manner, cats lie around and lick themselves clean

...appositions. These describe a noun, but contain no verbs (this distinguishes them from relative clauses). They are in the same case as the noun:
Rex, der hungrigste Hund der Welt, verlor plötzlich seinen Appetit.
Rex, the hungriest dog in the world, suddenly lost his appetite.

Lisa, seine Besitzerin, hatte sein Essen in die Badewanne gestellt.
Lisa, his owner, had put his food in the bathtub.

Ich gebe Rex, dem hungrigsten Hund der Welt, einen Knochen
I give Rex, the hungriest dog in the world, a bone

...interjections, e.g. ja, oh, eh, nein, oh weh--these are nothing to worry about
Oh ja, Rex ist sehr schmutzig.
Oh yes, Rex is very dirty.
...series. These can be series of clauses, or just of words [no commas before und or oder in a series of words; the rule given above applies for und or oder in a series of clauses]
Rex ißt Hühner, Mäuse, rohe und gekochte Eier, rohe Kartoffeln und Haare.
Rex eats chickens, mice, raw and boiled eggs, raw potatoes, and hair.

Lisa füttert den Hund, versucht ihn zu baden, füttert ihn wieder und geht dann ins Bett.
Lisa feeds the dog, tries to bathe him, feeds him again, and then goes to bed.

...commas inserted for clarity where they are grammatically not necessary [rare]

Finding the main clause(s)
This should be your first step in analyzing a complex sentence. The main clause will have the verb in second position (or in first position for questions or commands) whereas dependent clauses will have it in final position.

Exceptions
1. Conditional sentences omitting "if" are dependent clauses with the verb in first position.

Ist Barney böse, so frißt er die lächelnden Kinder
If Barney is mad, he eats the smiling children
2. If speech or thoughts are reported without using the word daß, the verb is in second position, even though the clause containing the reported speech is subordinated to the clause containing the verb of saying or thinking. E.g. in the sentences:
Er sagt, er habe keine Zeit.
"Er sagt" is the main clause; "er habe keine Zeit" is subordinate.

Sie denkt, sie könne schwimmen.
"Sie denkt" is the main clause; "sie könne schwimmen" is subordinate.

3. Rare: when als is used instead of als ob or als wenn to mean as if, the verb is in second position, even though this als is a subordinating conjunction.
Sie sieht aus, als hätte sie viel getrunken
She looks as if she had drunk a lot

Example

Let us return to our sample sentence, numbering the parts separated by commas:

(1) Er lag auf seinem panzerartig harten Rücken (1a) und sah, (2) wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob, (3) seinen gewölbten, (3a) braunen, (3b) von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch, (4) auf dessen Höhe sich die Bettdecke, (5) zum gänzlichen Niedergleiten bereit, (4a) kaum noch erhalten konnte.

First, look for the main clause(s). This should have the verb in second position. This is only true of (1), where "Er" occupies first position, and is followed by the verb "lag." The main clause is therefore

(1) Er lag auf seinem panzerartig harten Rücken [=he lay on his armor-hard back]

This is connected by "und" to another main clause, which is not separated by a comma because the subject ("er") is not repeated. This second main clause, beginning with "und sah" is interrupted by the subordinate clause

(2) wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob [=when he lifted his head a little]

Now (3a) - (3c) form a series. They contain no verb, and constitute a series of adjectives giving more information about "Bauch," in this case, that it is bulging, brown, and separated by ark-shaped "stiffenings" [i.e. ridges][extended adjective!]. The main clause interrupted by (2) is thus:

(1a) und sah [(2) wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob] (3) seinen gewölbten, (3a) braunen, (3b) von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch [=and saw [when he lifted his head a little] his bulging, brown, by-ark-shaped-ridges-separated belly]

Next, (4) is a relative clause subordinate to the second main clause. It describes "Bauch." It is itself interrupted by the apposition (5), which contains no verb, and describes the "Decke" [=blanket]

(5) zum gänzlichen Niedergleiten bereit [ready to glide down completely]

The complete relative clause is thus

(4) auf dessen Höhe sich die Bettdecke [, (5) zum gänzlichen Niedergleiten bereit,] (4a) kaum noch erhalten konnte. [=at whose [i.e. the stomach's] summit the blanket [ready to glide down completely] could hardly maintain itself.

One can now put the pieces together into an elegant translation:

He lay on his armor-hard back, and saw, when he lifted his head a little, his bulging, brown belly, which was separated by ark-shaped ridges, at whose [i.e. the stomach's] summit the blanket, ready to glide down completely, could hardly maintain itself.

A diagram of this sentence might look as follows:

(1) Er lag auf seinem panzerartig harten Rücken

(1a) und sah,

(2) wenn er den Kopf ein wenig hob
(3) seinen gewölbten, (3a) braunen, (3b) von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch,
(4) auf dessen Höhe sich die Bettdecke,
(5) zum gänzlichen Niedergleiten bereit,
(4a) kaum noch erhalten konnte.

Summary
You will find this process increasingly easy with practice. The moral of the story for now is: use the commas to separate out the clauses, look for the main clause, and then work piece by piece. Of course it would be ridiculous to do this with every sentence, but if a sentence gets you lost, this is a way to break it down and understand its structure.



   
 

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