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?
No, dass does not work at all I’m afraid. Dass introduces a subject or object clause – a clause which basically stands in for a noun. For example in Ich weiß, dass er schläft, dass clause is the object – it occupies the same slot as die Antwort does in Ich weiß die Antwort.
But that’s not what we’re dealing with here. In “everything (that) I know”, the subclause is a relative clause: It serves as a further explanation on “everything”. So one might think that it should be das (with only one s) should work, as it does in das Haus, das ich gekauft habe. But unfortunately after neuter pronouns (as well as a small number of other things such as nominalised superlatives like das Beste, was mir je passiert ist “the best thing that ever happened to me, or if the relative clause refers to the whole main clause as in Er ging nach Hause, was seinen Chef sehr ärgerte “He went home, which made his boss very angry”), we use was instead. (Or wo(r)- + preposition if the relative pronoun appears together with a preposition in the relative clause).
So was is the only correct one here, das would be an understandable mistake, and dass does not work.
@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.
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 think it falls under the category of idiomatic phrases. Maybe this will help:
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’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.
Ihn is accusative because the preposition über wants accusative when it doesn’t refer to a literal position above.
Was is also accusative (although it’s difficult to see because the accusative is identical to the nominative) because it’s the object of weiß, and wissen (like the overwhelming majority of verbs with a single object) wants its object to be in accusative case.
The preposition über (pay attention to the umlaut!) governs dative case if and only if we are talking about a position above something (for example: Das Bild hängt über dem Spiegel. “The picture is hanging above the mirror.”). In all other usages its noun has to be in accusative case.
This is a riot! I translated this sentence beginning with the word "that" just five minutes ago. Duo said it was wrong, that the word should be "this." So, this time, I used the word "this" and Duo said that the alternative translation starts with "that," and yet he marked "that" wrong five minutes ago! Go figure!