"They could not hear us coming."

Translation:Sie konnten uns nicht kommen hören.

March 4, 2013



I don't get this. Isn't "Sie konnten uns nicht kommen hören" - "They coud hear us not coming" instead of "they could not..."? If not, how should I say "They coud hear us not coming"? Why not "Sie konnten uns kommen nicht hören"?

May 13, 2013


I don't have a sophisticated understanding of this, but "nicht" modifes "konnten" -- so, "they could not us coming hear." in very broken English.

I have no clue about "they could hear us not coming" .

August 6, 2013


>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.

August 6, 2013


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.

August 6, 2013


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.

August 7, 2013


Sie konnten uns nicht kommen hören <--is correct.

May 17, 2014


I wrote "Sie konnten nicht uns kommen hören." Does the order really matter?

March 4, 2013


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.

December 21, 2013


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!

March 31, 2015


I don't understand why there is no subordinate clause here.

June 5, 2014


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...

November 7, 2014


Yes, it does. Which part of a phrase stands at which place is quite strict.

March 4, 2013


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?

April 26, 2013


Well, I asked a native German friend and she said that:

Yeah, in the case of

mich/dich/sich etc. + verb

you put the negation (nicht) between mich/dich/sich/etc. and the verb

Duolingo definitely needs to talk about this at some point.

May 8, 2013


Thank you!!!

June 17, 2014

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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?

June 9, 2019


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."

May 7, 2013


The problem I'm having here is that I keep forgetting whether it's konnen or konnten. Konnen is marked wrong here.

May 7, 2013


"Können" means "can" and "konnten" means "could": Ich kann dich sehen-I CAN see you Ich konnte dich sehen-I COULD see you Hope that helped :)

April 18, 2014


Ok, I'm no expert, but isn't konnten - could & konnen - can? I'm pretty sure that is what we've been taught but I could be wrong.

December 21, 2013


The sentence looks weird. Perhaps in English we would say "They could not hear us coming." but in German more often "Sie konnten nicht hoeren dass wir kommen." or something else, but not the EXACT translation? Natives?

October 17, 2015


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"

November 3, 2015


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?

March 13, 2016


A bit like Eric Morecombe "I got all the right notes, just in the wrong order" Everyone in this thread happily talks about 'kommen hören' and I got it wrong by using 'hören kommen' Is there a rule or guide that would tell me which verb to use first?

March 19, 2019


I was hoping for some guidance on that as well!

April 6, 2019
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