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".
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 :-)