The comma in German may confuse you. It is to indicate a subordinate clause ("was ich über ihn weiß."). The English sentence also has a subordinate(=dependent) clause ("that I know about him"), but it is not as heavily marked. Now, if you're a native English speaker, you've probably been making these clauses all your life without thinking about them. A dependent clause complements the main sentence and cannot stand on its own. So just like in English "that I know about him" cannot stand on its own, in German "was ich über ihn weiß" cannot be separate. In German, they happen to indicate this with a comma. In English putting a comma here would be incorrect.
Just to clarify, you can actually put a comma in there in English, especially if the clauses are long. And, if the subordinate phrase comes first, you must put a comma in. For example, "After playing with the dog, I wash my hands". However, this is also (very slowly) going out of fashion, unfortunately "After playing with the dog I wash my hands" is becoming accepted.
What I've noticed on Duolingo is that when the subordinate clause comes second, there is a comma placed in front of it, whereas in English this occurs when the subordinate clause comes first. Is this correct? Would a comma in German never be placed if the subordinate clause comes first?
@AHolik : kennen should be used when we want to express that we are familiar with a person or a place. wissen should be used when we want to express a fact, something that we have knowledge about.
It’s basically the same idea as with normal (non-indirect) questions. Instead of “preposition + was” you say ”wo(r)- + preposition” (at least in theory; in practice simple “prep. + was” is sometimes heard colloquially, but it can sound a little clumsy). So if the thing after the preposition is the one you’re inquiring about (and it’s not a person, since then you would use wer instead of was/wo(r)-+prep). But in this case the question is not “about what I know” something, it’s “what I know about him”. Does that make sense?
No. The verb needs to go at the end of the sentence. http://german.about.com/library/weekly/aa032700a.htm
I’m afraid not, and for multiple reasons:
- German doesn’t allow you to leave out the relative pronoun like English does sometimes. So you absolutely do need was.
- What I know about him is a collection of facts, not a thing you can be familiar with. Therefore you need wissen instead of kennen.
- Relative clauses are subordinate clauses, so their verb always has to come at the end: was ich über ihn weiß (not *was ich weiß über ihn).
- It’s über, not uber. Do not ignore umlauts; they are different letters than the forms without the dot and replacing them with the base form can often result in a different word (though in this case you’d be lucky and it wouldn’t). If you’re on one of your own devices, install a keyboard layout which allows you to type them (don’t worry; you can switch back to English at the press of a button). And if you’re in an environment where you don’t have that choice, use the base letter + e (ae, oe, ue instead of ä, ö, ü). That’s what we do in environments where we can’t use non-ASCII letters. But you should only do that when there is no other choice because there are also words (particularly names like the city of Oldesloe) which are spelt with a vowel + e to begin with.
I think it falls under the category of idiomatic phrases. Maybe this will help:
Unfortunately the position/direction distinction for prepositions only helps you to identify the case when we’re talking about literal position/directions (or at least metaphors which use the image of a position/direction). Other usages unfortunately have to be just memorised (this is the case in other languages, too, e.g. in Russian в “in” normally uses accusative for direction and prepositional for position, but when used with time nouns it’s always accusative: в пятницу “on Friday”).
For über, when it’s used to mark a topic of discussion/dispute etc (equivalent to English “about”), the noun always has to be in accusative case.
I’m afraid the two-way dative=position, accusative=direction thing only helps you with literally spacial usages. For other meanings the way the space metaphor works is not very obvious so you still have to memorise that. The metaphorical image with the “about” meaning of über is movement “across”, that’s why it uses accusative case.