Warum ist er spät dran? (why is he late?)
Is there a difference between "Warum ist er spät" and "Warum ist er spät dran"? Is there a subtle difference in meaning? Can you explain? Danke.
You can't say "Er ist spät", it needs to be "Er ist zu spät". "Er ist spät dran" usually means he is still in the progress of doing something. "He is running late" would be the English equivalent. Whereas in the first case he simply is late, just that in German we say "he is too late".
Thanks Meike, but I have seen Er ist spät, even in some of the exercises on Duo. Why?
He is too late would mean that he missed out on something. He is late (Don't they say this in German?) simply means he is not here when he should have been.
That's the thing, we would say "zu spät" even when he's just late and hasn't missed out on anything yet (or I guess if somebody's late then we consider them having missed out on the time when they should have been there) . I guess you can say "er ist spät" but I would say it's rather colloquial. What we would say as an alternative is "Er verspätet sich" but clearly that's not what you are thinking of. Are you sure you don't mean "es ist spät"?
Actually, when German kids start learning English we need to point out that while they would like to translate literally from German into English "he is too late", English speakers do not say that but just say "he is late". It's one of the harder things for them to learn because it sounds just not quite right to German ears - at least in the beginning :-)
Instead of saying Er ist spät, which as Meike pointed out sounds a bit clumsy in German, you could say Er hat Verspätung or Er ist verspätet. Both of those mean basically the same thing and sound a little more natural, if also perhaps just a bit more formal, in my opinion.