Confession from a native German speaker

A few months ago, I was explaining to a native German speaker (via Facebook) one of the problems we English-speaking people have with German - long sentences with dependent clauses with multiple verbs. She said we shouldn't feel bad because she has problems with that, too. Instead, she will break the long sentence to a couple of shorter sentences.

May 1, 2019


Für gewöhnlich wird es auch im Deutschen, wie auch in anderen Sprachen die zu eher langen Sätzen neigen, wie dem Russischen aber auch selbst dem Englischen, deren Sprecher sich oft über die übermäßig langen Sätze im Deutschen und zusammen mit Mark Twain über die unmögliche Verbstellung beklagen, in dem mir selbst aber schon des öfteren seitenlange Sätze begenet sind, nicht für den besten Stil gehalten, lange, verschachtelte und über mehrere Themen ausschweifende Sätze zu bilden, mit denen man zu Not auch einen ganzen Theaterabend bestreiten könnte, was aber viele, insbesondere Feuilletonisten, nicht davon abhält gerade in dieser, ach so deutschen Eigenart, ihre Pflicht, ja Berufung zu sehen für die Klasse des deutschen Geisteslebens einzustehen, ein Fähnlein Gleichgesinnter hinter sich zu scharen, und mit oder gegen diese heftigste Dispute über die Klarheit und Ausdruckskraft der Deutschen Sprache zu führen, aber aus vorgenannten Gründen und auch anderen, die ich hier nicht weiter erläutern will, weil sie womöglich doch den Rahmen dieses Satzes sprengen könnten, kommt des doch hin und wieder vor, dass man selbst heute noch, wo doch allein schon wegen der allgegenwärtigen Zeitnot, kurze und prägnante Sätze angebracht wären, solchen Konstrukten begegnet.

May 1, 2019

Maybe I missed a bit, it's late 😀

As in other languages which tend to have rather long sentences (such as Russian, or even English itself, whose speakers often complain about the excessive length of German sentences, and - along with Mark Twain - about the ridiculous placement of the verb, although I myself often encounter page-long sentences in English), in German it is also not generally considered the best style to construct long, nested sentences which range wildly over numerous themes, and which, if need be, could be used as material for an entire theatrical evening (although this does not stop many people - in particular newspaper columnists - from seeing in this oh-so-German peculiarity their duty, nay, even their mission, to stand up for the special quality of German spiritual life, to gather a "banner" of the like-minded behind them, and to conduct, with or against them, fierce disputes about the clarity and expressiveness of the German tongue), but for the reasons mentioned above (and others which I don't want to go into here, as that could exceed the scope of this sentence), one does, however, now and then, still come across these kinds of constructions today, when short and pithy sentences would be more appropriate, if only because of the universal shortage of time.

May 2, 2019

I like it. It's much better structured than mine. Why had I, when reading it, to think about Tristram Shandy and Sterne?

May 3, 2019

Oh, and there was me aiming for an English Proust to your Thomas Mann 😊

Yes, the decipherment of your lovely spirals and suspended chords into the straight lines of a mostly analytic language adds a bit of structure, but somewhat flattens it too. More like a blueprint for the German fairytale castle.

I prefer yours, it was certainly the most fun Duolingo sentence I've done in a while 😉

May 3, 2019

No way that was all just one sentence. Impressive.

May 3, 2019

As long as English uses subordinate clauses attached to a string of words, that cannot stand alone as a sentence without the main clause, an English sentence can continue forever as well. We just tend to reword things to end the sentence and generate a new main clause when we feel the words are getting too long together.

But also keep in mind, as learners, we have to use more brain power in order to think about the simplest of things, much like a young child. Children's books often break down the information into bite sized pieces of information. Grab an English text book on a really dense topic, and you will find some killer sentences that feel like they are a page long. (those are the books I like to read.)

May 1, 2019
Learn German in just 5 minutes a day. For free.