"Als ze harder waren, zouden we ze niet kunnen eten."
Translation:If they were harder, we would not be able to eat them.
I came here to post the same thing. The given translation for English contains an awkward shift in tense.
This would translate as: Als ze harder waren geweest, zouden we ze niet gegeten kunnen hebben.
The awkward thing is that it seems to translate as "we could not them eat"? Do the "zou" and the "kunnen" have to be together to mean could?
Yes, from what I have understood.
eten: to eat; gegeten: eaten (making 'eten' and 'eaten' kind of false friends); gegeten hebben: have eaten;
zou(den): would; kunnen: can, be able to; zou(den) kunnen: could (litterally: would can), would be able to
You would use 'hen' if you were talking about eating persons. Since the sentence is probably about eating things (like apples), you use 'ze'.
Just to clarify, this is about the second 'ze' in the sentence.
I think there's more to this. And although I'm not a linguist, I'll have a go at explaining this.
'Ze' can be used for everything including people. (Also in the sentence above.) 'Hen' only refers to people.
Distinguishing between people (hen) and objects (ze), may formally be 'more correct', but in practice you hear both and I wouldn't say it's wrong.
Example: Don't let them wait! -> Laat ze niet wachten!
This is perfectly fine. You could also use 'hen' to sound a little more formal.
The only case I can think of when you pretty much have to make the distinction, is when 'them' is used as an indirect object (meewerkend voorwerp).
Examples: 1. I give the ball to them. -> Ik geef de bal aan hen. 2. I will buy a gift for them -> Ik zal een cadeau voor hen kopen.
In these sentences you can use 'ze' to sound a bit more casual and a little less formal or stiff, but you can't stress the 'ze' and preferably you should speak quickly and confidently. If you don't, it sounds a little off :)
I'd like to hear what other native speakers think!