"They could not hear us coming."
Translation:Sie konnten uns nicht kommen hören.
>but "nicht" modifes "konnten"
How can you be sure of that? There are 3 verbs and 1 "nicht". Why do you think that it modifies konnten? I was under the impression that "nicht" modifies the verb which stands after it, or the verb that stays RIGHT before it - should be "konnten nicht uns kommen hören", I suppose.
A bit of research leads me to think that it all hast to do with "double infinitives", but I still cannot find a good enough reference for that topic.
Well, my unsophisticated understanding is a kind of glued-in grammatic knowledge from Germanic exposure since childhood. I "know" it goes that way, same as I do in English -- even though my German has never been fluent.
But since you're asking, and since I want a more sophisticated understanding, I've done a bit more fishing around; there's a great resource on sentence order at Dartmouth.
As you say, part of what we're seeing is double infinitives, but the other part is simply placement of "nicht" -- and what's happening here is that "nicht" is following the indirect object of the verb it's modifying -- "uns"; search on "placement of nicht":
I've had a brief look at double infinitives. So far, I've understood the ones I've come across intuitively, but there are clearly some sharks in those waters.
Yeah, the Dartmouth it was, where I stumbled on "double infinitives" referenced as "double infinitives" :)
Well, I can only envy you your German exposure, but I always want to see the proper rules properly defined. Hope I will find some.
So far I can only guess, that we can see "double infinitive" as one verb, and then, as you say "nicht" goes after "uns" in this case.
Pity we don't have someone who was properly taught German to help us on this thread.
I would explain it like this....
In this sentence we have three verbs in the following order: konnten, hören, kommen.
As I assume we all already know, when we have two verbs in a 'regular' sentence, we push the second verb to the end as is standard in german. For example... "I will eat later" has two verbs, "will" and "eat" that we would translate to german as "ich werde später essen."
Going back to our original sentence above, hören is the second verb in this 'regular' sentence and accordingly appears at the end after kommen. It seems and kinda even sounds strange to my american english ears, but... it is what it is.
Hope this helped.
Yes, word order really matters in German. It's really hard for us English speakers. This sentence makes me think that I will never be able to really speak German. Read it, yes, but speak it? It would really have to seep into my brain in order to think this way. Spanish, fwiw, is so much easier.
Reading is easier because you have unlimited time to form your opinion of what a sentence means. This is where podcasts and newspapers comes into the mix, just full immersion and maximum practice and you'll know how to form sentences because you'll have seen it before. Good luck!
Pleeease someone explain why there is only one clause here, this is making me question everything I know about german. :'D 'kommen' seems to be independent of the 'konnten - hören' Satzklammer, I don't understand how it fits inside of it rather than in a separate clause...
Five years too late lol, so you've probably long since figured this out. But for the benefit of anyone else who might be wondering, a small group of verbs form the infinitive by just chucking the other verb on the end like modals do. When you add a modal to it, you get modal + double infinitive.
There's a good explanation here: https://www.colanguage.com/double-infinitive-german
The topic of this section is the preterite tense. Is it necessary to include such complicated grammar in the example? Multiple verbs should be left to a later stage.
So I followed the following link regarding the placement of "nicht" on another thread - http://www.canoo.net/services/OnlineGrammar/Satz/Negation/Stellung/nichtkontrast.html?lang=en
Is "nicht" placed where it is in this case because "nicht" must appear directly before both the infinitives?
The placement of "nicht" is confusing to me a bit.
I'm surprised to see that its proper place is right in the middle of the object clause ("us coming"), rather than either before "horen" or after "konnten."
Is this the way it always is? Is there any good way to understand this or is it just the way it is?
Well, I am still confused. To me, the suggested order makes it very unclear which verb is being negated: konnte or kommen. While hearing someone not coming is hardly an option, I could easily think of English examples where the difference becomes crucial:
"They could not see us running" (we ran, but they could not see us) vs. "They could see us not running" (we were not running, and they could see that).
How would you express this distinction in German if the position of "nicht" is fixed?
I'm wondering, too. I can understand "nicht" being where it is, because I think that "nicht" needs to be either following or before a verb, and here it is clearly before "kommen hören." But like rkaup, I also don't understand why it can't follow "konnten." I have seen sentences where it is fine to do that such as "Ich konnte nicht zu Ihnen gelangen."
I'm not a native, but fluent. The sentence is correct and quite normal. Your suggestion "Sie konnten nicht hoeren dass wir kommen." is not quite the same. It is not as immediate in terms of referring to audibly perceiving the actual sounds of people coming into the room or whatever.
Some people are having difficulty with könnten and konnten. The first is conditional, the second is past tense. We often say "could" for the past tense in English, but to be clear, the translation of konnten is better understood as "were able to ".
In the modal structures, "nicht" always comes before the infinitive verb or verbs, as in this case, which is (are) always at the end of the sentence. Thus, "Sie konnten uns nicht hören" oder "Sie konnten uns nicht kommen hören"
This is really confusing with "nicht" right next to "kommen" instead of next to "konnten", the translation looks a lot like it was to "They could here us not coming." That of course would be hearing the sounds of silence. To me, the hardest part of learning German is the word order. I find that strange because with all the inflection of words, one would think that the word order would be less strict than in English not more strict.