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Past, present, future

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Feb. 14th, 2014 | 09:19 pm

Here's a great example of an intriguing German sentence:

War jetzt morgen eigentlich Probe?

It actually works in fairly well in English, too: "did we have a rehearsal now tomorrow?". That's past, present and future, all in one and the same sentence. Neat!

On a side note, you can shorten this one further to, say, the following:

War morgen Probe?

I.e. "was [there a] rehearsal tomorrow?", which is also rather intriguing. German, like English, is a language that lacks a proper future tense and resorts to auxilliary verbs to form it; in practice and in colloquial German, especially spoken German, however, the present tense is employed instead (so-called futurisches Präsens). But this sentence goes a step further and uses the past tense to talk about the future, which I think is fairly remarkable.

(On could of course say that it merely desugars to "War es in der Vergangenheit geplant, daß morgen Probe sein wird?"; but then one could note with equal justification that the futuric present tense in the equivalent example, "ist morgen Probe?", desugars to "Ist es jetzt wahr, daß morgen Probe sein wird?", so the futuric past is as valid IMO as the futuric present.)

Side note: I'm torn between translating "futurisch" as "futuric" and "futuristic", respectively. The former appears to be virtually unknown/unused in the anglophone world, but while the latter's much more common, it strikes me as simply wrong, or at the very least misleading. Thoughts?

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Comments {11}

Party Rabbit

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from: redlemon
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
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That is interesting. I admit, I stared at the first sentence for a moment because, although I know all of the words (except Probe), I was having some difficultly making out the meaning. Out of curiosity, I plugged it into Google Translate and got this: "Was now tomorrow actually sample?" Just goes to show how useless Google Translate can be.

I still have issues with how German doesn't really have the Progressive tenses the way English does. We really love our auxiliary verbs here.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 10:44 am (UTC)
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Hah, yeah, Google Translate is really quite useless at times; that "translation" is just all the words translated individually, without regard for context.

I still have issues with how German doesn't really have the Progressive tenses the way English does. We really love our auxiliary verbs here.

You sure do. And interesting to hear that that cuts both ways; progressive tenses really tripped me up when I was learning English, precisely because German doesn't have them and because I never really conceptually distinguished between, say, simple and continuous present.

I always thought that this was one bit where it'd be easier for an English speaker to learn German, seeing as how you didn't even have to care which tense you were using in English. Out of curiosity, what's tripping you up about this?

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Party Rabbit

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from: redlemon
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 01:37 pm (UTC)
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It is easier once you get used to the idea and stop trying to translate word-for-word. The first few weeks tend to be the worst as one tries to say "I am studying" by saying "Ich bin studieren". It doesn't work, but it sounds more natural to an English speaker the first semester.

Personally, for me, the past progressives still give me a little bit of a hard time. It's worse with Präteritum because the auxiliary is already there and it's very easy to slip a "hat" into a "hatte". If I want to say, in English, "I was studying", I sometimes automatically do a direct translation into "Ich war studiert". It's completely wrong, but sometimes those auxiliaries just creep in.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 03:38 pm (UTC)
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The first few weeks tend to be the worst as one tries to say "I am studying" by saying "Ich bin studieren". It doesn't work, but it sounds more natural to an English speaker the first semester.

Ah, right, I see.

I think the confusion there stems from the fact that the present participle in English can function both as a noun (i.e., a gerund) and an adjective. To give an example, take "running"; in the statement "running is good for your health", it's clearly a noun, whereas in "a running man is faster than a walking man", it's an adjective.

In the continuous tenses, the participle also acts as an adjective, albeit predicatively ("the horse is big") rather than attributively ("a big horse"). When you translate it as "Studieren", you're essentially turning it into a noun: "I am [the] studying", which sounds equally wrong in English. (The German sentence could also be read as having an infinitive instead of a noun, especially when the word's lower-cased: "I am to study", essentially. This actually makes sense in English again, as in e.g. "Sorry, I can't come over to play, I am to study for my upcoming test or I won't get dessert tonight", but that's a different meaning, and an equivalent construction does not exist in German.

You can translate the continuous tenses by using the present participle in German without the result being grammatically incorrect: "ich bin/war studierend". However, this is not something you should do, since grammatical correctness nonwithstanding, nobody actually ever says that. :)

(Well, for the continuous tenses, that is. It can be an acceptable translation otherwise, e.g. "er kam auf Vergebung hoffend zu mir", "he came to me hoping for forgiveness". But this is a participial construction acting as a temporal subordinate clause — something completely different.)

As for the continuous tenses — you can also sort of translate (more in the geometric sense than the linguistic one) them using nouns (corresponding to English gerunds); for example, for "I am studying", you could say "ich bin/war am/beim Studieren" (both prepositions are equally acceptable here, I think). This isn't a direct translation of the continuous tenses, though: meaning-wise, it's closer to saying "I was involved with/dedicated to/participating in studying" or so. That said, I don't think there's an exact translation back into English for "dabei sein, etwas zu tun", precisely because that is exactly what the continuous tenses are used for in English (so you don't need a separate verb to express the same thing).

I'd advise against using this construction all the time, though. It works very well when you e.g. want to emphasize a specific moment in time, say "ich war gerade am Studieren, als er plötzlich durch die Tür hereinstürmte" / "I was just studying when he suddenly burst in through the door", but in general, simply saying "ich studier(t)e" will be the better choice for now. You'll pick up all the subtleties and nuances as you keep learning. :)

Edited at 2014-02-15 03:52 pm (UTC)

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Party Rabbit

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from: redlemon
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
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Exactly. We've learned a few of the nuances (like "ich bin/war studierend" construction) but warned that they aren't often used and it was only to just familiarized us with them, so we wouldn't be caught off guard.

Really, my trip ups just come from speaking off hand. When I write, I can usually see what I'm doing and re-read it to check what looks and sounds correct. When I speak, it's easier to slip up and put in familiar English constructions.

As I get more involved and used to hearing German, the constructions start to sound more natural and I can pick out issues in my speech better. Currently, I can hear inaccuracies in present tense and present perfect. My simple past is a little more spotty, but we only learned it last semester, so I'm guessing I just need the practice. And as long as I keep going, I'll be able to start picking out more idioms and nuances of grammar.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 04:47 pm (UTC)
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When I write, I can usually see what I'm doing and re-read it to check what looks and sounds correct. When I speak, it's easier to slip up and put in familiar English constructions.

I know exactly what you mean. It's the same for me with Icelandic — and English as well, in a way, insofar as that I'm often finding it more difficult to express myself in spoken English as eloquently as I'd expect to be able to in written English.

As I get more involved and used to hearing German, the constructions start to sound more natural and I can pick out issues in my speech better. Currently, I can hear inaccuracies in present tense and present perfect. My simple past is a little more spotty, but we only learned it last semester, so I'm guessing I just need the practice. And as long as I keep going, I'll be able to start picking out more idioms and nuances of grammar.

Absolutely. Practice is crucial ("das A und O, as one might say in German), and the more you practice, the more you immerse yourself in the language, and the more you use it, the more you'll soak it up and develop a feeling for what's right and what isn't.

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fargowolf

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from: fargowolf
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 02:08 am (UTC)
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"was [there a] rehearsal tomorrow?

Replace "was" with "is" and I believe that would provide the necessary future tense.

"Is there a rehearsal tomorrow?" Better yet: Is there a rehearsal planned/scheduled for tomorrow?"

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Mikazo

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from: mikazo
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 06:29 am (UTC)
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I could imagine hearing "was" in certain contexts - the implication being, "was there a rehearsal (planned) tomorrow?" The implied planning having been done in the past.

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 10:45 am (UTC)
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That's pretty much what I wrote. :P

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Mikazo

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from: mikazo
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 10:58 am (UTC)
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Ahh, guess I didn't read it carefully enough. XD

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Schneelocke

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from: schnee
date: Feb. 15th, 2014 10:40 am (UTC)
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But "is" is the present tense; if you wanted to use the future, you'd have to say "will there be a rehearsal tomorrow?". (Using the auxilliary "will" because English doesn't have a real future tense, either.)

Edited at 2014-02-15 10:51 am (UTC)

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