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Am I correct that the position of auch can give different meanings to a sentence? For example:

  1. Ich bin auch groß.

    means:

    I have some qualities, one of which is that I am tall.

  2. Ich auch bin groß.

    means:

    I too am tall. (Talking about some other tall person.)

    Does that make sense?

  3. Would

    Auch ich bin groß.

    be correct and if so, which meaning would it have?

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1  
1: imho correct 2: This is not a good sentence in German. The word order is wrong. 3: This you should use for saying what you meant for sentence number 2. –  RoflcoptrException Apr 7 at 15:24
3  
Closely related, almost duplicate. –  c.p. Apr 7 at 18:33

5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Your second sentence is not correct in german. But …

In your first sentence, auch refers to what adjectives could describe you.

Ich bin intelligent und schnell. Ich bin auch groß.

However, this syntax can also be used for the following purpose:

In your third sentence, Auch refers to who is tall.

John ist groß. Auch ich bin groß.

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Hey. Good catch. It indeed can have a second meaning at position 3. I totally missed that. –  Em1 Apr 7 at 15:53
1  
Note that the different meanings of “Ich bin auch groß” may be distinguishable by emphasis: “Ich bin nicht nur intelligent und schnell, ich bin auch groß.” – “Nicht nur John ist groß; ich bin auch groß.” –  Wrzlprmft Apr 7 at 22:19
    
I have to disagree with the first part of this answer. By default, the "auch" actually refers to the verb and I would understand a stand-alone "Ich bin auch groß" to mean that I and another person are tall. It can refer to the adjective too, but that is out of the default just like "Auch ich". You can check that by moving around constituents. "Nicht nur stark und klug, auch groß bin ich." You can interpret the first example that way but it is not the default and you need a specific stress pattern to communicate that (as @Wrzlprmft remarked) –  Emanuel Apr 8 at 16:54

Basically, the position of an adverb can change the meaning of the sentence. This is true for any language. Here's an example for only.

Only he lent me five cents. (= He and nobody else lent me five cents.)
He only lent me five cents. (= He only lent me the money, he didn’t do anything else.)
He lent me only five cents. (= He didn’t lend me more than five cents.)
He lent only me five cents. (i.e. to nobody else)

You can translate these sentence to German and would end up with the same result. Position matters!

However, in your examples it's a little different. First, the second example is grammatically wrong.
And then it becomes difficult. The first sentence can have two different meanings, depending on context. Considering that the tallness is compared to someone else's tallness, sentence one and three mean almost the same thing. There's a very subtle difference, that imho is hard to grasp. In my opinion, the last sentence rather puts emphasis on ich, e.g.,

Du bist nicht der Einzige, der groß ist. Auch ich bin groß.

whereas the first sentence states just the fact that you're tall, too.

That said, there's a second meaning as pointed out by Sam in the other answer. If you listed a few adjectives beforehand, you can add this last adjective only with auch being in the third position.

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+1 for the examples with "only" –  karoshi Apr 9 at 20:56

To map them as closely to English as possible:

1 - I am tall, too.

As other answers have explained, it could mean

  • "Among other attributes, I also possess tallness" (probably emphasized "Ich bin auch groß")

    or

  • "Like the aforementioned person/thing, I also possess tallness" (proably emphasized "Ich bin auch groß"

So the English and German versions include the same ambiguity. But both are also grammatically simpler than making it more explicit (see item 3)

2 - Too I am tall.

This one is broken. I just picked an ordering that wasn't grammatically correct in English, to demonstrate how weird it also sounds in German. (and "I am too tall" means something entirely different)

3 - I, too, am tall.

Explicitly saying that not only is that other person/thing tall, but so am I.

It's worth noting that this is grammatically a lot more complex than item 1, and so while this is much less ambiguous, you'd rarely hear a little kid saying it (in English or German) when trying to measure up to a slightly-older sibling, for example.

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Example 2 is wrong.

Example 1 can both reference the person or the adjective; it depends how you emphasize the sentence:

Ich bin auch groß.
Ich bin auch groß.

Example 3 only references the person.

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You are partially correct. The meaning of auch can changes with its position, but it also depends on the stress.

First Sentence

Ich bin auch groß.

Here, auch is an adverbial referring to sein. Depending on the stress in the sentence it can mean different things:

  • Stress is on groß: "apart from other qualities I have, I'm also tall"
  • Stress is on ich or auch: "apart from other people being tall, I'm tall as well"

Third Sentence

Auch ich bin groß.

Here, auch is an attribute to ich. (Otherwise, verb would be in third position.) So, the meaning is

  • "apart from other people being tall, I'm tall as well"

indepent of the stress.

Second sentence

This sentence is grammatically wrong. It can be read as either the first or second sentence with auch at the wrong place.

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4  
Wait, I would understand the first example to be the same as the second unless there is a very specific stress pattern in place (auch with a strongly rising pitch, falling back down over the course of groß)... @karoshi as it stands this should not be the accepted answer –  Emanuel Apr 7 at 16:51
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I think the same as Emanuel. Those two are quite interchangeable. And while the third is indeed ok, it sounds kind of strange and most people I know would almost always use the first one. "Warum muss ich ins Bett gehen und die Anderen nicht? Ich bin auch groß." –  Flo Apr 8 at 12:06
    
@Emanuel Ah, I forgot about the stress. You're right. –  Toscho Apr 8 at 14:28
    
@Emanuel, so it's not only about word positions, but rather also about intonation and stressed words? –  karoshi Apr 8 at 15:20
1  
@karoshi... it is the same as "nicht"... there isa default-position and if you move it around you emphasize certain things "... auch groß" is the default. As it talks about the verb it can be understood either way (referring to subject or the characteristic). "Auch ich..." not the default. Here the emphasis is put on "ich". –  Emanuel Apr 8 at 16:48

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