Because it uses a case system the German language has a more flexible, though more complicated structure than English. This lends itself to strange constructs and games with language. Take, for example, the sentence:

"Die, die die, die die Äpfel gestohlen haben, anzeigen, werden belohnt."

As you can see that is five times the same word in a row - but the sentence makes perfect sense. It says:

"Those who report those who have stolen the apples will be rewarded".

The trick is that the German word for "those", "who" and "the" (in this case) is all the same, which results in a total of five "die"s. The sentence structure can be twisted to have them all in sequence. Note that while all the "die"s, regardless of meaning, are pronounced the same, the commas do change the pronounciation and rythm of the sentence. This is what gives the spoken sentence structure. Speaking of commas: There is a famous anecdote which my German teachers repeatedly told me, which is meant to impress upon pupils the importance of using commas the right way.

"There once was a Czar before whom a man came who hoped to gain pardon. The man had been sentenced to go into exile in Siberia, a dire punishment only little better than the death penalty. The Czar listened to the man's plea but was unmoved by it. So after the man had left, he told his scribe "Begnadige nicht, nach Sibirien!", meaning "Do not pardon him, send him off to Siberia.". The scribe however, who did not share the Czar's cruelty, wrote "Begnadige, nicht nach Sibirien!". This sentence, different from the first only in the position of the comma, means "Pardon him, do not send him off to Siberia.".

Returning to the subject of word repetitions, you can increase the number of repetitions by abandoning the requirement that the sentence make sense. Its grammar and syntax are still correct. The sentence I mean is:

"Pflanzen Pflanzen Pflanzen Pflanzen, pflanzen Pflanzen Pflanzen Pflanzen."

Now this one confuses even native speakers of German. Let's try to take it apart till it makes "sense", yes? First off, "Pflanzen" means "plants", as in the plural of "plant".

The word "pflanzen", with a lower case p at the start, means something different: "to plant" - the verb. Also, the first "Pflanzen" in the sentence is actually a "pflanzen", but it's capitalised because it's at the beginning of the sentence. So you see, there are two verbs and six nouns in the sentence. Now let's see what it actually means translated into English.

"If plants plant plants for other plants, then plants plant plants for other plants."

Still confused? Read it through a couple of time and pay attention to which words have an s at the end and which ones do not. Speak it out loud. Got it? Good.

Now, the "if" would be a "falls" or "wenn" in German, but it can be left away optionally. That's just a shortcut German has developed just like "is not" can be written "isn't" in English. And just as in English, the "then" is not obligatory in German. The "for", which would be a "für" in German, can also be left away - another option for shortening sentences.

Of course nobody in his or her right mind would ever actually use such a sentence. But it illustrates how far you can stretch the language.

(After writing these last few paragraphs I have a serious problem with accidentially writing all verbs as "to plant". (After planting these last few paragraphs I plant a serious problem with accidentially planting all plants as "to verb".))

After this sentence of terrifying shortness we now come to the realm of devastating lenght.

In German, compound words are not made by just writing two words next to each other as in English. "Chicken soup" has to be written as "chickensoup" in German. This can lead to some very long words. From this aspect of language a strange game has evolved. It can be played alone or with several participants. It works like this: You start with a single noun, let's say "cap".

English:                     German:
cap                          Kappe

The next player (or you, if you're playing alone) adds on an additional noun. The new combination has to make a modicum of sense - it ideally should be something that really exists. This is easy at the beginning but becomes much harder as you go on. Let's say the word is "rim".

cap rim                      Kappenrand

The next player adds yet another word, and so on and on and on...

cap rim cleaner              Kappenrandputzer
cap rim cleaner's uniform    Kappenrandputzeruniform

Till you reach the point where your mind can't hold the whole word anymore.

Kappenrandputzeruniformsfabrikmanagersfrauenpudelfängergildenmaskottchen

cap rim cleaner's uniform-factory manager's wife's poodle catcher guild's mascot

Another fun thing you can do is make loops. This is a simple one:

Kappenrandputzeruniformskappen...

cap rim cleaner's uniform cap...

You can play the game in English too, but I have never tried it. In German it's probably a bit easier since German-speakers are used to long words anyway. The same goes for long sentences, which brings us to the next exhibition: the German way of the long and incomprehensible sentence.

Of course you can make sentences of arbitrary lengths in both languages, but only in German is this art actually practised. Using commas, one routinely strings together any number of sentences which could perfectly well stand on their own. In fact, long sentences are usually considered literary. You might have noticed a tendency towards long, complicated sentences in this writeup. This is because my first language is German, which influences my style. I am however nothing compared to the horrors of classical German literature. Consider, for example, the first sentence of the book "Der Abenteuerliche Simplicissimus", which was written in the seventeenth century:

"Es eröffnet sich zu dieser unserer Zeit (von welcher man glaubt, daß es die letzte sei) unter geringen Leuten eine Sucht, in der die Patienten, wenn sie daran krank liegen, und so viel zusammen geraspelt und erschachert haben, daß sie neben ein paar Hellern im Beutel ein närrisches Kleid auf die neue Mode mit tausenderlei seidenen Bändern antragen können, oder sonst etwa durch Glücksfall mannhaft und bekannt worden, gleich rittermäßige Herren und adelige Personen von uraltem Geschlecht sein wollen; da sich doch oft befindet, daß ihre Voreltern Taglöhner, Karchelzieher und Lastträger; ihre Vettern Eseltreiber; ihre Brüder Büttel und Schergen; ihre Schwestern Huren; ihre Mütter Kupplerinnen oder gar Hexen; und in Summa ihr ganzes Geschlecht von allen 32 Anichen her also besudelt und befleckt gewesen, als des Zuckerbastels Zunft zu Prag immer sein mögen; ja sie, diese neuen Nobilisten, sind oft selbst so schwarz, als wenn sie in Guinea geboren und erzogen wären worden."

The number of words? One hundred and fifty-two. No, I'm not going to translate it. It's written is horrible seventeenth-century German. I wouldn't enjoy it. Nor would you enjoy reading it, I assure you.

Another fun thing about German syntax is that it is almost always possible to put the main verb at the very end of the sentence, however long it might be. Therefore you can have sentences which make no sense whatsoever until you've read them to the end and found the crucial main verb which tells you what the sentence is all about. Let's take an example from the anecdote about the czar.

"In den Tagen als es in Russland noch Zaren gab, regierte in Moskau ein sehr strenger und unbarmherziger Herrscher, der, obwohl er schon alt und gebrechlich war, keine Gnade gegenüber den Schwachen zeigte, und zu dem eines Tages ein Mann kam, der wegen Steuerbetrugs zum Exil in Sibirien verbannt wurde, was in dieser Zeit einem Todesurteil gleichkam, und der, nachdem er stundenlang in der Vorkammer des Zaren warten musste, schliesslich doch hereingelassen wurde und dem Zaren mit zitternder Stimme und unter Aufgebot seiner letzten Kräfte seine Geschichte erzählte und ihn sodann um Gnade bat."

Notice the lack of periods? The word "bat", meaning "beg" as in "for mercy" is the verb this whole monster of a sentence is about, but it only appears at the very end. Note that this sentence works perfectly fine in German. I don't think that this is the case with the English translation. (which keeps the single-sentence structure intact)

"In the days when there were still czars in Russia, there governed in Moscow a very severe and incompassionate ruler, who, though he was old, did not show any mercy for the weak, and to whom one day came a man who had been sentenced to exile in Siberia because of tax evasion, a punishment which in those days effectively meant his death, and who, after having to wait for hours in the anteroom of the czar, was finally admitted and then told his story with the last of his strength and with a broken voice and then begged the czar for mercy."

Oll Korrect?


I already foresee a veritable hailstorm of complaints and corrections from German-speaking noders. That's just my pessimist nature. Anyway, you know that "Create Writeup" does not mean "Reply". /msgs are welcome. Do not despair if I do not correct within the minute.
Thanks to Siobhan for suggesting various corrective measures for this green, yet slightly rectangular and raspberrish writeup.

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