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I often find myself writing sentences like this (a real example) which obviously make sense to my German readers but are obviously written by someone who thinks in an English sentence structure:

Wenn es Kunden gibt, von denen du erzählen möchtest, die nicht auf dieser Folie dabei sind, sag bitte Bescheid, damit ich sie hinzufügen kann:

What strategies can I employ to give sentences like this more of a German sentence style?

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3  
I'm not saying it's good style but isn't using long nested sentences typical for Germans? –  musiKk Aug 18 '11 at 10:19
4  
I'm German and I always write sentences like that. Now it's dawning on me maybe I was an Englishman in my last life. :-> –  herzmeister der welten Aug 18 '11 at 17:04

5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

In German it is quite easy to make overlong sentences by using subordinate clauses (Schachtelsätze), like in the example you gave. A "German sentence style" is hard to define. There are no general style rules on how to make a content more easily legible in German. My personal rules of thumbs are

  • to take care to build short sentences by using as few commas as possible.
  • use conjunctions like "und".
  • avoid meaningless or unnecessary fillers.

Thus evolving alternatives could be e.g.:

  • Wenn es Kunden gibt, die Du erwähnen möchtest und die noch nicht auf dieser Folie sind, gib mir bitte Bescheid, damit ich sie hinzufügen kann.
  • Gib mir bitte Bescheid, sollten Kunden, die Du erwähnt haben möchtest, noch nicht auf der Folie stehen[, damit ich sie hinzufügen kann].
  • Bitte gib mir Bescheid, ob schon alle [Dir wichtigen] Kunden auf der Folie stehen. [Ich kann sie dann noch hinzufügen].
  • Sollten noch [wichtige] Kunden auf der Folie fehlen, gib mir bitte Bescheid.

The parts in brackets are fine to emphasis things but they may be omitted, as this seems perfectly clear.

Usage of "Bescheid" is always with "geben", coming from the original meaning of "Bescheid" as a piece of paper (but is used in all forms of communication today).

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Im a bit surprised none of the former answers uses a participle construction. Its possible and very common in Latin/English. I would go with

Nenne mir bitte noch die (nach deiner Meinung) auf dieser Liste (möglicherweise) fehlenden Kunden, damit ich sie hinzufügen kann

Nenne mir bitte noch die (nach deiner Meinung) auf dieser Liste (möglicherweise) fehlenden Kunden zum Vervollständigen (selbiger)/Hinzufügen (auf die selbige) (no single comma :) selbige you can leave out, its redundant)

The participle construction often avoids a lot of subordinate clauses (again look to English or famous Ablativus Absolutus in Latin). I use it in English on and on. Probably as im biased by alot particples during my Latin years.

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1  
This is a possible construction, but I wouldn't recommend it in this case. Why? In "die nach deiner Meinung auf dieser Liste fehlenden Personen" there are seven words between "die" and "Personen", which is too much in my opinion for easy understanding. –  Hendrik Vogt Aug 18 '11 at 13:45
1  
@hendrik But again, its VERY common in English. I dont know why its so less used in German. There is not a real reason. A native english guy might have more problems understanding a lot of Schachtelsätze (like here) while he is pretty used to participle contstructions and deriving the correct meaning by looking onto the context (like Ablativus Absolutus). If too much words for you, leave nach deiner Meinung off, its redundant too because of the imperative Nenne mir –  Hauser Aug 18 '11 at 13:58
    
Without nach deiner Meinung I find it quite good. The only negative point is that in your version it is implicitly assumed that some names are missing in the list, whereas in the original it starts with "Wenn". –  Hendrik Vogt Aug 18 '11 at 14:03
    
@hendrik correct, thx. I think its clear by context. But you could use möglichen fehlenden Kunden imo. I will add this –  Hauser Aug 18 '11 at 14:19
    
Die (möglichen) finde ich zum Davonlaufen. Das ist doch kein Deutsch! Ein möglicher, fehlender Kunde - soll das ein möglicherweise fehlender Kunde sein? Oder eine ganz sicher auf der Folie fehlende Person, die nur möglicherweise Kunde ist? Dieser Inhalt war in Edwards Satz weder so noch so gegeben. –  user unknown Aug 18 '11 at 14:45

I would characterize your passage as "more German than German," that is, even more convoluted than most German originals, which is a mark of a foreigner.

Specifically, it has some 24 words and five clauses by my count. Most "long" German sentences on this site (by native speakers) have 1-2 fewer clauses, and 5-10 fewer words. They are also often broken up by colons and semicolons, rather than commas.

This is kind of a mechanistic tracking mechanism, but my "first pass" is to try to more nearly approximate true German sentences in length and structure. A deeper study would involve learning numerous actual German constructs, thereby getting a better "feel" for what is and is not typically German.

Hope these strategies move you toward your goal.

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In such cases it often helps to split the sentence in two. Here's my suggestion:

Sind auf der Folie alle Kunden dabei, von denen du erzählen möchtest? Wenn welche fehlen, sag bitte Bescheid, damit ich sie hinzufügen kann.

This strategy is often useful for disentangling complicated subordinate clauses.

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Regarding your example sentence: its structure is grammatically correct, but the Attributsatz

[...], von denen du erzählen möchtest, [...]

just before the relative clause

[...], die nicht auf dieser Folie dabei sind, [...]

is a little confusing when you read it the first time.

If you want to keep it as one sentence I suggest changing the order of these two clauses:

Wenn es Kunden gibt, die nicht auf dieser Folie dabei sind, von denen du [aber] erzählen möchtest, sag bitte Bescheid, damit ich sie hinzufügen kann.

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