Strange things in German -commas,capitalisation of adj. etc.

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Woods
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Strange things in German -commas,capitalisation of adj. etc.

Postby Woods » 2014-03-30, 21:23

Do I have to write a capital letter after “alles,” “nichts,” “viel,” “etwas,” “wenig” and “allerlei?” It’s written in my grammar that the following adjective “usually” starts with a capital letter, but I don’t like it like that. Will it be correct the other way around?
Last edited by Woods on 2014-04-16, 11:03, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby Levike » 2014-03-30, 21:33

I think ... not.

But in that case isn't the adjective considered to be a noun?
Like in Spanish when you say lo bueno.
Nem egy nap alatt épült Buda vára.

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby kevin » 2014-03-30, 21:38

No, the other way wouldn't be correct. They need to be capitalised in these cases. You may want to have a look at the official rules for the details and some examples.

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby Woods » 2014-04-10, 8:23

In my mind, if in the combination “etwas Größeres” something is to be considered as a noun, it would be “etwas.” But it seems I’ll have to twist my mind a little bit.

Thank you for the link. In holds even more shocking examples:

der zuletzt Genannte
das zu Beachtende
das dort zu Findende

:shock:

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby linguoboy » 2014-04-10, 15:09

Woods wrote:In my mind, if in the combination “etwas Größeres” something is to be considered as a noun, it would be “etwas.” But it seems I’ll have to twist my mind a little bit.

Would it be easier to wrap your mind around if you considered this to be a noun in apposition comparable to expressions like "his friend Douglas" or "my favourite tea, Earl Gray"?
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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby Woods » 2014-04-10, 21:02

Not really, what's more we don't have any nouns here :|

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby linguoboy » 2014-04-10, 21:18

Woods wrote:Not really, what's more we don't have any nouns here :|

What you have is a pronoun and substantivised adjective, both of which function as nouns. Same idea.

Cf. "the poor themselves". "Themselves" is a pronoun, "poor" is a substantivised adjective, and they're in apposition with each other.
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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby Woods » 2014-04-11, 8:34

something Bigger

When you look at it, doesn’t it look more like something is the noun and bigger is the adjective?

And then we have:

the last Mentioned
what is to be Observed
the one to be Found there
(or I guess the one to be found There, since it seems the last word always takes the capital letter)

In these cases my feeling is that the last, what and the one sound most like nouns, since they do the action and the associated adjectives and verbs just give more information about the type of thing the pronoun (or adjective in the case of last) actually is.

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby kevin » 2014-04-11, 11:59

Woods wrote:something Bigger

When you look at it, doesn’t it look more like something is the noun and bigger is the adjective?

If you wanted to interpret it like this, wouldn't you have to change the word order and probably add a determiner, too? Like a bigger Something bzw. ein größeres Etwas - which you can correctly say in some contexts, but it's not the same thing.

And then we have:

the last Mentioned
what is to be Observed
the one to be Found there
(or I guess the one to be found There, since it seems the last word always takes the capital letter)

I think capitalising "Found" is more correct because that's the substantivised adjective and "there" is only an adverb referring to it. It just happens that the adjective is always placed last in the German syntax.

In these cases my feeling is that the last, what and the one sound most like nouns, since they do the action and the associated adjectives and verbs just give more information about the type of thing the pronoun (or adjective in the case of last) actually is.

At least "what" and "one" don't even exist in the German version, they are part of the substantivised adjective. "zuletzt" is an adverb, too, not an adjective. Perhaps it's just not the right approach to discuss German grammar with English examples.

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby linguoboy » 2014-04-11, 12:54

Woods wrote:something Bigger

When you look at it, doesn’t it look more like something is the noun and bigger is the adjective?

You're creating a false dilemma by begging the question.

Woods wrote:And then we have:

the last Mentioned
what is to be Observed
the one to be Found there
(or I guess the one to be found There, since it seems the last word always takes the capital letter)

So in "the aforementioned", where's the noun? And if "aforementioned" can function as a noun, why can't "mentioned"?

Woods wrote:In these cases my feeling is that the last, what and the one sound most like nouns, since they do the action and the associated adjectives and verbs just give more information about the type of thing the pronoun (or adjective in the case of last) actually is.

So in "his friend Douglas", "Douglas" doesn't simply give more information (i.e. the name) of the friend in question? What is "Earl Grey" doing in "Earl Grey tea" if not giving more information about what kind of tea it is?

Nouns can stand in a modifier relationship to other nouns in Germanic languages like English and German. I really think that's a better way of thinking about these constructions than forcing one to play the role of "adjective".
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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby Woods » 2014-04-12, 11:50

Kevin, these are my translations of the German examples, the closest I was able to come up with. We’re still having the original examples in mind, in German.

Linguoboy, okay, you got me with the “aforementioned” :) I’m still not able to process the rest, but it’ll come with time.

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby linguoboy » 2014-04-12, 14:26

Woods wrote:Linguoboy, okay, you got me with the “aforementioned” :) I’m still not able to process the rest, but it’ll come with time.

It helps to know that whatever traditional grammatical categories and rules you learned in school are hopelessly inadequate for describing how English actually works. There are a lot of constructions which grammarians label "wrong" rather than try to account for, or just sweep under the rug entirely.
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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby Woods » 2014-04-15, 21:32

I’ve never had a problem with English grammatical constructions, actually – it always seems logical and practical. But German totally messes me up sometimes. The first thing that stroke me was punctuation – they separate the subordinate clause even in a five-word sentence, and it’s like a rule, you have to do it. If the comma is not there to divide your thought into separate ideas, doesn’t it become useless and problematic rather than any good?

I would like to ask the German speakers about this too – is it considered that I don’t write correctly if I skip the commas when the phrase is short, and use it rather to separate ideas than to separate clauses and follow punctuation “rules?”

Here’s the first example from the Duden:

Er weiß, dass du ihn nicht leiden kannst.

Why would anyone put a comma here? Actually you cannot convince me about this one. I'll never write like that, unless I'm taking an exam or something and I have to show that I know the rules, even if I don't want to follow them. My question is rather, how incorrect it's actually considered to use the commas when I think it's useful, not when I "have to" according to rules?

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby kevin » 2014-04-15, 21:49

If you already have an opinion, I won't argue about the usefulness of the rule - but be aware that I am used to having a comma there and if it's missing, it makes the text harder to read for me. So as usual with spelling rules, following them is a matter of respect towards the readers.

And it's not like English doesn't have useless commas. Today, I went to the cinema. Who needs a comma there? German does fine without it.

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby linguoboy » 2014-04-16, 2:02

Woods wrote:I’ve never had a problem with English grammatical constructions, actually – it always seems logical and practical.

Because it's your native language! It's no more or less "logical and practical" than German, but you assimilated the rules before the age of reason without having to think about them or learn them explicitly. For kevin, it's the same situation, only in reverse.

Woods wrote:The first thing that struck me was punctuation – they separate the subordinate clause even in a five-word sentence, and it’s like a rule, you have to do it. If the comma is not there to divide your thought into separate ideas, doesn’t it become useless and problematic rather than any good?

Comma usage is notoriously arbitrary; even grammarians of English can't agree on proper usage. (Case in point: the Oxford comma. Some English-speakers use it, some don't; the Germans never do.)
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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby Woods » 2014-04-16, 10:45

linguoboy wrote:Comma usage is notoriously arbitrary; even grammarians of English can't agree on proper usage.


That’s what I like about it! You don’t “have to,” you just think and when it makes sense to you you put it there. Yo go “okay, here I said something which makes sense and now I’m going to think what else I’ll say so that I make my thought complete.” You stop for a moment, even if it’s a very short moment, and you mark this by a comma. For example, “Today, I went to the cinema.” You write “Today…” and it gives the time the action happens. This is something already. You don’t have to be ready with the second part of the sentence, which is a separate entity. When you are, you finish: ”…I went to the cinema.” You can also skip the comma if you don’t want to write it and nobody will be mad at you. But in “Er weiß, dass du ihn nicht leiden kannst,” when I say „Er weiß,“ I haven’t finished yet. It’s not like somebody’s asking me „Does he know“ and I’m answering “Yes, he does.” The thought is not yet complete. Why would I put a comma, which in my mind corresponds to a pause, if I’m just about to say what I want to say and I haven’t finished yet? So therefore the comma in German is not there to divide thoughts into separate entities but to show grammar?

linguoboy wrote:Because it's your native language!


It’s not :) My native language is Bulgarian, and English is the third language I started to learn after French. I was about sixteen years old when I was starting to speak any English.

Actually Bulgarian also puts a comma before its equivalent of “dass,” which I guess its outdated grammarians stole directly from German or some other major language that does the same, if there’s any. I have no respect for this “rule” though and I’m annoyed by people who do and even more by those who insist on it. However, Bulgarian is not a language spoken by 200 million people and it’s therefore easier to slide out of the standard. It’ll be more okay for me not to write the commas than for the average person to mess up basic grammar and use versions of the words that are strikingly not standard. They tend to do this quite a lot though. I don’t. I follow the rules of standard language as far as I find them useful. If I write something in very good Bulgarian and somebody who missed grammar lessons in primary school and never caught up tells me about my missing commas, I’ll just laugh at them. I don’t like these commas and I don’t use them, period. And it’s because they mess me up, not because I want to argue with the others or something else.

Back to German – will Germans be mad at me if I can’t make myself do it?

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Re: Capitalisation of adjectives

Postby linguoboy » 2014-04-16, 15:27

Woods wrote:That’s what I like about it! You don’t “have to,” you just think and when it makes sense to you you put it there.

Not quite. If you're writing for yourself, then do what you like. But if you're writing to get graded or paid, then you're expected to follow a particular style guide and whatever arbitrary rules for comma usage they favour.

Woods wrote:Why would I put a comma, which in my mind corresponds to a pause

There's your whole problem: That's an association you've made, but it's not what a comma uniquely represents.

Woods wrote:
linguoboy wrote:Because it's your native language!

It’s not :) My native language is Bulgarian, and English is the third language I started to learn after French. I was about sixteen years old when I was starting to speak any English.

Wow. For an L3 speaker of English, you're remarkably fluent.

Woods wrote:Back to German – will Germans be mad at me if I can’t make myself do it?

I don't know that they'll be "mad at you". They'll just assume you're ignorant, careless, or both.
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Re: Strange things in German -commas,capitalisation of adj. etc.

Postby Car » 2014-04-17, 10:41

Plenty of natives don't know how to use commas or practically don't use them, but it makes reading the texts harder, if not practically impossible. It might not make sense to you (no, they do not mark a pause), but if you know where they should be, it feels weird and is harder to read if they're missing and you might indeed come across at ignorant, careless or both.

If you don't use any at all, people might stop reading your texts because it's just too difficult and they expect the writer to make an effort to write legibly.
Please correct my mistakes!

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Re: Strange things in German -commas,capitalisation of adj. etc.

Postby Woods » 2014-04-20, 21:32

I like your replies – they’re critical, but in the same time neutral. We’ll see what kind of feeling I’ll get when I learn some more German.


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