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The Perplexing Use of Vom

Like most beginners of German, I’m struggling with the German artiles associated with different cases and genders. In my reading, I came across the following sentence: „Den vom Verteidiger vorgebrachten entschuldigenden Notstand kann ich nicht erkennen und beantrage die Höchststrafe: lebenslangen Freiheitsentzug.“

The best I can make of the article „Den“ and the preposition „vom“ is that „Den“ is used here because Verteidiger is masculine in the accusative case, Correct? But I have trouble understanding why „vom“ is used here. I understand „vom“ is a contracted form of „von dem,“ which can mean „from the“ or „of the,“ and „dem“ is used because Verteidiger is masculine in the dative case, but I am perplexed by its use here right after Den, which makes double „the‘s“ in the sentence. I’m also perplexed by its word order: why does it appear before Verteidiger and not before or after voergebrachten?

I think I must have picked one of the toughest materials for beginners of German like myself. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

October 25, 2017



Den is not the article for the Verteidiger in this sentence, but for the Notstand. The sentence literally translates to:

The (by the defender brought up) excusable state of emercency can I not comprehend ....

The Notstand is is the Akkusativ case because it is a direct object (I cannot comprehend the state of emergency). Therefore the article is 'den'.

The Verteidiger is in the Dativ case, because the preposition von (by) rules the Dativ. Von dem = vom, therefore 'by the defender' translates to 'vom Verteidiger'.


In other words, there are two adjectives between "Den" and "Notstand":

  • "vom Verteidiger vorgebrachten" (I guess this would be more properly called an adjectival phrase?), and
  • "entschuldigenden".

I think I would translate "entschuldigenden" as "excusing", rather than "excusable". So the speaker is saying that the state of emergency does not excuse ... whatever it was that was done.

Or possibly the speaker is saying that the claimed "excusing state of emergency" did not exist? This is certainly tricky stuff for a beginner!


In this context I would use exculpating as translation for entschuldigend.


Yes, that's a great improvement! Exculpatory might be even better.

  • 1129

Das ist auch meine Meinung.


Great point! "Excuse" is more colloquial, and "exculpate" is more formal, as is this case. As for the appropriate adjective form for "exculpate," it does appear that "exculpatory" is the common word used in a legal context (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/exculpatory). Haha, I learned a new English word today. Danke shöne, everyone!


Yes, "vom Verteidiger vorgebrachten" is playing an adjectival role here, as is "entschuldigenden", though I don't think you could call either of them an adjective as such. As to the translation, I'd go for something like "I cannot recognize the excusing emergency which the defendant pleads... ", though it's not very elegant English. "The mitigating circumstances" might be a more natural but less accurate translation for "den entschuldigenden Notstand". The "recognition" here is most likely "the law does not allow me to take this into account" rather than "I don't know what you're on about" :).



I don't know about German, but in English, it is possible to use the past participle as an adjective, which is called a participial adjective (http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/adjectives/what-is-a-participial-adjective.html). In this context, I guess "vorgebrachten" is the equivalent past participle in English, which means something like "brought up," "put forward," or "presented by" the defendant. As for the word "entschuldigenden," I think I did come across some reading that talks about how a German verb can be turned into an adjective by adding some kind of ending (e.g., http://coerll.utexas.edu/frames/node/381). As for the English translation for "kann ich nicht erkennen," I agree "I do not recognize" may not be appropriate in the legal context, even though it is literally correct. Instead, I have heard "I take objection in" more often in court TV.


On participial adjectives, I'm happy to concede the point :). I looked it up in Hammer's mighty German Grammar and Usage, which doesn't mention the term "participial adjective" at all, but does have

13.5.2 The Adjectival use of the Participles
a. Most German present and past participles can be used as adjectives

which neatly sidesteps whether Hammer thinks they are adjectives, but they follow it immediately with

b. Like other adjectives, they can be used as nouns

which seems to settle the matter, at least as far as they're concerned.


Hi Pont, Thanks so much for referring me to Hammer's mighty German Grammar and Usage. (I love the word "mighty," by the way :-) I have been learning German without following any textbooks or attending any classes. I think it's definitely time for me to get a good reference book. Vielen Dank for the helpful resource and your continued support on my lonely journey!



Hi Judith, it’s like a light bulb that you just turned on in me! Now it makes much more sense to me the way you explained it. I always ask a couple of native German speakers before I post a question here, and I was told Den is used here to refer to Verteidiger, which of course was very perplexing to me because it is immediately followed by vom. Now that you pointed out Den actually refers to Notstand, which is a direct masculine object in an accusative case, then everything comes to light now because this certainly helps to explain why there is a „vom“ immediately following Den.

Thanks again for the enlightenment.



"Den vom Verteidiger vorgebrachten entschuldigenden Notstand kann ich nicht erkennen und beantrage die Höchststrafe: lebenslangen Freiheitsentzug.“

You can rephrase that: Den entschuldigenden Notstand, den der Verteidiger vorbrachte, kann ich nicht erkennen ...


That's an excellent point! I was just wondering if we could re-arrange the word order to bring the article "Den" and the word "Notstand" closer together to reduce confusion. If German were parallel to English, the word order would be „Den entschuldigenden Notstand vom Verteidiger vorgebrachten...“ (The exculpatory state of emergency presented by the defendant...). Can we say it this way instead of "Den entschuldigenden Notstand, den der Verteidiger vorbrachte..."?


You can say "Den entschuldigenden Notstand, vom Verteidiger vorgebracht, konnte ich....". This is, I think, the closest you can get to the English style.


mlynarova already explained it pretty well, but if you want a gentle introduction to that pesky "vom Verteidiger vorgebrachten" construction, Yourdailygerman is (as always) a good bet.


Haha, I didn't believe anything about German could be "gentle," until I read about this website Yourdailygerman you recommended here. Thanks so much for easing my anxiety!!!

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