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A lot of times, I notice that things are worded differently in German than they would be in English. If you translate word for word, the resulting German sentence is awkward.

One case of this seems to be to "finish" something in English. I've spent a little time trying to find an equivalent German word, but it doesn't seem to exist, at least not exactly.

I've heard it is usually translated as "fertig machen", but I don't really see how that works in all cases.

For example: How would you translate the sentence "I finished reading the novel." to German?

My try:

Ich habe den Roman fertig gemacht zu lesen.

I can't imagine that is correct.

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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

First of all, you're right that a German sentence sounds awkward if translated word-by-word. The case is, it is wrong to do so. You never should translate like this but read and understand your source and then phrase the translation in new words.

However, in your case, a native German would say something along these lines:

Ich habe den Roman zu Ende gelesen.

Ich bin mit dem Buch durch.

A bit more broad, about the word finish. In your sentence we already met zum Ende kommen which is one possible translation. A few others are:

  • aufhören, enden, beenden
  • fertig werden
  • zu Ende gehen, zu Ende bringen, zum Ende kommen
  • fertig sein mit

Note that the English word to finish has several slightly different meanings and connotations. As a German I sometimes have to weigh up between to finish and to complete which both can mean zu Ende bringen. That's the same problem you encounter right now.

However, the perfect translation comes from context. For instance

He finished off his drink

is translate as

Er trank sein Getränk aus.

where the word finish isn't translated directly. That's what I meant in my first paragraph.


Addendum:

Ich habe den Roman fertig gelesen.

is grammatical correct. But it does sound slightly odd to me. However, in some regions of Germany as well as in Switzerland this version is commonly used.

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I would accept Ich habe den Roman fertig gelesen, even though I'd expect this in a colloquial context. Ich habe den Roman zu Ende gelesen would be more formal. –  Thorsten Dittmar Oct 23 '12 at 14:08
    
"Ich habe die Novelle (es war doch eine Novelle!) ausgelesen." wäre meine einfachste Antwort. "Ich habe die Novelle fertig/aus/beendet" ginge auch. "Ich bin mit der Novelle durch." oder "Ich habe die Novelle fertig." –  user unknown Oct 24 '12 at 0:13
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Das englische novel heißt auf Deutsch aber Roman. Ich habe den Roman ausgelesen finde ich sehr umgangssprachlich, Ich habe den Roman aus ist aus meiner Sicht gar kein vernünftiger Satz, Ich habe den Roman beendet würde ich dann sagen, wenn ich als Autor gerade fertig wäre mit Schreiben des Romans (Ich habe das Lesen des Romans beendet trifft es dann). –  Thorsten Dittmar Oct 24 '12 at 7:01
    
fertig gelesen is widely used in Switzerland. I agree though that it sounds slightly odd to me, thinking of "German German". –  Matthias Meid Oct 24 '12 at 8:41
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Ich habe fertig! ;) –  John Smithers Oct 24 '12 at 9:37
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There are a couple of options in Yiddish which I haven't seen mentioned so far. Endigken sometimes works, as in "er hat ge-endigt durch-blaettern die zeitung" (he finished leafing through the newspaper). Someone has mentioned the aus- prefix, which is similarly used in Yiddish, but the ab- prefix is also quite versatile, as in "er hat dem labn brot ab-gegessen un das glas wein abgetrunken". But the nuance shifts somewhat depending on the context. For example,

"Er hat dem hund ab-geschossen"

doesn't mean he finished shooting the dog, it means he shot the dog to death. I wonder if these constructions are also found in German?

(BTW, my grammar is a little unreliable, but it is a fact that in Yiddish we don't distinguish between dem and den. I remember well from second-year German learning about how the choice of inflection for "das Hund lauft under dem/den Tisch" depended upon whether the dog was seeking refuge under the table or running around in circles under the table. This fine distinction does not manifest itself in Yiddish.)

EDIT: On reading the other comments and answers, I think maybe we can generalize a little further. The prefixes ab-, aus-, and er/der can all indicate the carrying out of an action to completion. This is not the same as finishing an action, but it fullfils that function when it occurs in a phrase where you say, for instance: "nach habendig ab-gegessen..." (after having eaten to completion), which would be equivalent to the English "after having finished eating". The choice of prefix seems to depend on the nature of the completion, e.g. aus-schoepfen when it is an act of depletion, durch-blaettern when it an act of passing through from end to end, and der-schiessen when it is an act of finality. I cannot come up with a ready generalization for the ab- prefix (perhaps filling?). Perhaps someone else can do better.

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In German: Er hat den Hund erschossen. or Er hat den Hund abgeschossen. while the first is more common and the second doesn't necessarily mean shot to death. –  Em1 Oct 24 '12 at 13:31
    
Ouch! I got my prefixes confused! Yes, in Yiddish it's also erschossen (except we say DERschossen). In my defense, I should say that my examples of "geendigt" and "ab-gegessen" were taken from reliable literary references. So I would still ask if those usages are mirrored in German? –  Marty Green Oct 24 '12 at 15:11
    
That's interesting, and reminds me of terms used in the Austrian military: "Abrauchen!" or "Ausrauchen!" and "Abessen!" are orders to finish smoking/eating. I've never heard these words anywhere else, though. Likewise, there is "absitzen" (getting off a vehicle/horse), which is known more commonly, I think. –  phg Oct 25 '12 at 10:38
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The others have pretty much already answered you, but I'd like to add one aspect:

Take a closer look at your example

I have finished reading the novel.

Note that you have two verbs there, "to finish" and "to read". In German, the meaning of the verb "to finish" is translated with the adjective "fertig" or the phrase "zu Ende", which behaves like an adjective. So two English Verbs equal one German verb with a preceding adjective in this case.

So if you have two verbs in English (one of them "to finish", indicating that the action of the second verb has been finished), don't try to mirror this construction -- just say "fertig/zu Ende + [German translation of second verb]":

Ich habe den Roman fertig gelesen.

or

Ich habe den Roman zu Ende gelesen.


Whoever told you about "fertig machen" was only referring to constructions where "to finish" is used with a noun, e.g.:

I have finished the painting.

Here, you obviously need a verb in the German sentence, too:

I habe das Bild fertig gemalt.

It is very common to just say:

Ich bin fertig.

and to infer what you're finished with from Kontext.


NOTE: "fertig machen" is often used in the sense of "to beat someone up" (similar to "to finish someone off", but less lethal... :))

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Alles richtig. Möchte nur hinweisen, dass man auch eine zweite Argumentation anfügen könnte um auf ein anderes Ergebnis zu kommen. Reading kann auch das Lesen bedeuten, entspricht also einem substantivierten Verb. Man kann daher auf den Schluss kommen: Ich habe das Lesen beendet. Wobei man das in dem Kontext schon mal gar nicht sagen würde, und man dadurch - und das ist der springende Punkt - eine ganz andere Nuance dem Ganzen verpasst. I've finished dancing -> Ich habe mit dem Tanzen aufgehört. -> Ich habe die Tanzschuhe an den Nagel gehängt. –  Em1 Oct 23 '12 at 14:48
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To bully someone could be a proper translation. –  Thorsten Dittmar Oct 23 '12 at 14:50
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@Em1: Grundsätzlich interessanter und richtiger Gedankengang. Allerdings wird nur im Deutschen ein Schuh draus, weil "finished" im Englischen immer den Abschluss einer bestimmten Handlung beschreibt, also nicht im genannten Sinn verwendet werden kann. Es schwingt immer "fertig" oder "zu Ende" mit. (Darum finden native speakers auch Deutsche so lustig, die sagen "I've finished smoking". Ich glaube David Sedaris hat das auch mal erwähnt. Für ihn klingt es so, als ob der Sprecher eine feste Anzahl Kippen gehabt hätte, die jetzt eben aufgebraucht sind...) –  Mac Oct 23 '12 at 15:08
    
@Mac Mist. Die Tatsache war mir vorhin entgangen. –  Em1 Oct 23 '12 at 15:24
    
Zwei Verben: "Ich habe aufgehört die Novelle zu lesen". Würde ich allerdings als "vorzeitig augehört" interpretieren. –  user unknown Oct 24 '12 at 0:17
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I finished ... can be translated as Ich bin fertig mit ... in contexts where you're talking about a process of doing something. So:

I finished reading the book.
Ich bin fertig mit dem Lesen des Buches.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you've read the entire book, but for now you're not reading anymore. To say that you've actually read the entire book, you'd say something like:

Ich habe das Buch zu Ende gelesen.

The following, however, can indicate both: Being finished for today and also being finished in total:

I finished my homework.
Ich bin fertig mit meinen Hausaufgaben.

There may be situations where there are better expressions, though. For example in the context of eating, I'm finished can either mean

Ich bin satt.

or

Ich bin fertig mit Essen.

The first has the connotation that you can not eat any more, the second has the connotation that while you're still a bit hungry, you'll stop for now.

Can I clean up?
Ja, ich bin fertig mit Essen. (aber nicht notwendigerweise auch satt)

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+1 for the differences between done for now and completely done. However, I guess Ich bin fertig mit Essen is slightly odd since this is a daily process, so you never come to an end. –  Em1 Oct 23 '12 at 14:12
    
I meant Ich bin fertig mit Essen in the course of the same dinner, for example. Just like Ich bin fertig mit meinen Hausaufgaben refers to the current homework and not all homework I'll ever have to do in the remaining years of school. –  Thorsten Dittmar Oct 23 '12 at 14:19
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I know that. Another example: Ich bin fertig mit der Arbeit (für heute). The phrase fertig sein always feels to me like an overall completed action. You'd also likely say Ich bin für's erste fertig do diminish the idea of completion, wouldn't you? –  Em1 Oct 23 '12 at 14:22
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I tried to make things a bit clearer in my answer, though I agree that usually fertig sein comes with some additional particle to explain the context. –  Thorsten Dittmar Oct 23 '12 at 14:24
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