Continuing the discussion I started yesterday on Mark Twain’s reproaches of the German language, I will begin this post by discussing those troublesome verbs.
Even if you don’t speak German, you probably already know the curious habit of placing the verb at the sentence in many situations (most secondary phrases, after most conjunctions, most tenses etc). This effectively means that when you are speaking, you must know precisely what you are going to say and not make it up as you go along, which is what I do most of the time. As I was trying to follow these rules, I would often forget about the verb, which is so incredibly important that I just can’t understand why someone would want to leave it at the very end. Unless, this forces your interlocutor to listen to everything you say, to cling on to your words until the very end of the phrase. You could look at it this way: German is like a film on a commercial channel: the suspenseful moments are perpetually interrupted by advertisements and you have stand by and watch all of them if you want to find out what the outcome is.
“In German, one may find ten different sentence parts, and they are all equally troublesome”
While scrolling through the German press during the late nineteenth century, Mark Twain found the way the texts were constructed impossible to follow because of the mile-long phrases.
“As far as I could estimate, the verb is constantly followed by a pair of helping words used as accessories, such as „haben, sind gewesen, gehabt haben, geworden sein“ or similar curious conglomerations. In this manner is the monumental phrase finally brought to an end.”
Considering the rule with the verbs located at the end, this situation leads to a conglomerate of verbs you can hardly figure out to which sentence they belong precisely.
“In German there is also the habit to separate or rip apart the verbs. This entails that one half of the verb is placed at the beginning of a phrase, while the other half is placed at the very end.”
These are the verbs I hate the most. If you think you have already understood what the person in front of you is saying before finishing the sentence, you are wrong. The preposition at the end may change the meaning completely. Sometimes it’s a wonder to me how the Germans can keep track of the words they used but only partially, so that they don’t forget to drop the rest by the end. It’s a true test of attention to details if you ask me.
Here is a hilarious example of a “trennbares Verb” (separable verb) which is lost in the phrasal construction.
„Als die Koffer gepackt waren, reiste er, nachdem er mutter und schwestern geküßt und noch einam sein angebetetes Gretchen an die Brust gedrückt hatte, die in ihrem weißen Musselinkleidchen, eine einyige Tuberose in den prachtvollen Wellen ihres vollen braunen Haares, fast ohnmächtig die Treppe heruntergewankt war, noch bleich von den schrecken und aufregungen des verflossenen Abends, aber voll Verlangen, ihr armes schmerzerfülltes Haupt noch einal an die Brust dessen, den sie mehr liebte als ihr Leben, lehnen zu dürfen, ab.“
But don’t worry, this doesn’t happen during conversations. You will have to split the preposition from the verb, but if you keep the phrase as simple as possible, it won’t become bothersome. Here you can find a list of the most common separable verbs and a simple example of how to use them.
“Each German noun has a certain gender, but in the way this is established there is neither reason nor method.”
“In German the girl is neutral, the turnip on the other hand isn’t.”
Ah, English, such a marvelous language that doesn’t require that you memorize the gender of nouns! If only things were so easy in all other foreign languages. However, there some rules that decide the gender, so you might have to take a look at this list. You will encounter sufficient words with these endings to make the effort worth it entirely.
“When a German is to deal with a word that designates a certain trait, then he must decline it and will not cease to do so until the last bit of reason is declined in advance.”
My “favourite” by far is the way adjectives are declined according to grammar cases. Forget about the declination of articles, that’s easy. The tables explaining how to correctly decline the article together with the adjective are the real deal.
Nominativ: mein guter Freund
Genitiv: meines guten Freundes
Dativ: meinem guten Freunde
Akkusativ: meinen guten Freund
Nominativ: meine guten Freunde
Genitiv: meiner guten Freunde
Dativ: meinen guten Freunden
Akkusativ: meine guten Freunde
“Who has the intention to go to the asylum, should attempt to memorize the various declinations forms; that person will see how quickly he becomes saturated with this.”
Try not to focus on these rules at the beginning, they might make you give up saying anything at all. This is probably the part that most foreigners master the least, but it doesn’t matter, since if you talk fast enough, they won’t be flagrant.
I will conclude this post with some positive aspects, the pronouns are easier to remember. The syllable „sie“ stands for the following: “she”, “her”, “it” and “they”. So, even you have to use your memory less, you will have to listen carefully to what is being said so that you make sure you understood who is doing what.
Tomorrow I will discuss about those famous long German words, how they are formed and what were Mark Twain’s recommendations for improving the language.