I don't really understand what the fuss is about. In English people can say "we are going to grab a coffee" and it is still clear they do not mean one coffee for the whole group. I think that essen ein X could mean the act of eating X. They might eat more than one sandwich per person or one of them might not be eating at all. Uncountable nouns do not have an article in cases like that; "Wir essen Reis" (we eat rice), but you can't say "Die Frauen essen Fischsandwich" because Sandwich is a countable noun.
My explanation is limited by my focus on whether it should be with or without article. I hadn't considered the difference between a sandwich and sandwiches until now. This oversight might be caused by the fact that people state that it's "extremely confusing" or that they "don't like it" without offering an alternative. It's very easy to be negative, but it's not helpful unless you come up with a good reason why it should be different.
If you have trouble with "The women eat a sandwich" try reading it like this: The women eat a(n occasional) sandwich. "The women eat sandwiches" can mean that they generally eat sandwiches in the way that the Japanese eat sushi and the Italians eat pasta. By saying "a sandwich" you can distinguish that it is an event that doesn't happen all the time. "Essen" can be translated as "to eat", "eat", "are eating", "do eat" and even "are going to eat" depending on the context. That might cause some confusion with people who are used to the way in which English treats its verbs. I hope that my example made the sentence more accessible to them.
Sorry for repeating your point Tiago_Moita. I actually came here because I saw your reaction on my stream; I wasn't following this thread but I'm always happy to share my knowledge :-)
Not at all, I wasn't being sarcastic, you really were more clear, and thorough btw. I have a fairly good command of English, but I'm not much of a teacher, as my knowledge is mostly empirical and I go by intuition. Stating the sentence in the plural left no room for doubt. Nice one.
Yeah, I think this sums it up best. I'm really surprised by how many comments this thread has had. There are sentences in languages that are FAR more idiomatic than this. I don't really think this is that idiomatic. "Hey you have time for lunch? Let's grab a sandwich". I've said this before and it's the exact same thing: It's implied that we're not grabbing a single sandwich. "The women eat a fish sandwich", sure it sounds a little weird in English, and probably could be stated better like "Die Frauen essen fischsandwiche(sp?)" to indicate "sandwichES". Or in my joking post below it actually could be taken literally, if they are sharing one. But I think the more correct, idiomatic part of it is that this doesn't make sense in English directly, and makes perfect sense in German to mean "The women EACH eat a fish sandwich".
And it's 12:28, and all this talk of sandwiches is making me hungry, so... I think I'm gonna go make a SINGLE sandwich, unless one of you wants me to make one for you as well (or WE can share mine) ;)
It might just be 2 women who weren't very hungry where one said to the other "Hey, you wanna split a fish sandwich? I don't think I can eat a whole one." to which the other responded "Ok, sounds perfect."... eins Fischsandwich, zwei Frauen... Die Frauen essen ein Fischsandwich. :P
Maybe many women are eating a giant fish sandwich. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-b2KtJbth5mw/UIgFZKaj7EI/AAAAAAAABCk/bISt2cyfKcs/s1600/DSC_0925.jpg
- for example in a restaurant a group ( women and men ) is ordering something ... you can say:
- "Die Frauen essen eine Suppe und die Männer trinken ein Bier"
- in this case the waiter knows for sure "each woman wants to eat her own soup" and "each man wants to drink his own beer"
- more clearly:
- "Die Frauen essen zunächst eine Suppe und die Männer trinken erst ein Bier"
but of course "Die Frauen essen eine Weihnachtsgans" can also mean they all share one "The women eat a Christmas goose"
- the sentence "Die Frauen essen ein Fischsandwich" without further context could to be misunderstood ; but not really in a normal conversion between two German speaking people
see what >"Lenkvist"< and >"Tiago_Moita"< has written
My opinion is also: not necessarily. If they all eat their own fish sandwich, you would say it like the translation. You wouldn't bother saying "The women eat their own fish sandwich". If you said that, you would probably trying to make a point, like "They're not sharing ( / they're not allowed to share). Each one eats her own." I suppose it's the same in German then.
I don't know if I'm right but my best guess would be that it must be a neuter article because the base noun is neuter. The Fisch being masculine doesn't affect the article because it functions more like, well not an adjective I don't think, but more like an "add-on" to give detail. I would assume that articles would agree with the base noun rather than change based on compound words of several nouns.
I think the biggest issue people have with this sentence is that there are two possible translations because of the way verbs work in German, and you're all only looking at one possibility rather than the other, more commonly used, one.
Yes, it can mean, 'The women eat a fish sandwich', which isn't technically incorrect but is uncommon and thus sounds odd. However, the sentence can also be translated to, 'The women are eating a fish sandwich', which is a much more common construction in English.
For example, someone might say very casually, 'Oh, they're out having a sandwich' or drinking a coffee or something, and no one would question it, and we know that probably means they each have their own sandwich or coffee.