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How would you translate the simple sentence:

We write a long letter for our grandfather and a short one for our uncle?

I tried as:

Wir schreiben unserem Grossvater einen langen Brief, einen anderen schreiben wir dem Onkel.

My question is, in general, can the accusative be placed in the first position?

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Take care that accents einen anderen a bit. The receiver would either think you are a poet or you have a certain reason to place it at first position. The common usage would be Wir schreiben unserem Grossvater einen langen Brief, dem Onkel schreiben wir einen anderen. Because the information is that you address two different persons. –  falkb Jun 13 '13 at 6:11
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Your sentence is fine, so yes, the object can be in the first position.

Note, however:

  1. The sentence is not exactly equivalent to the English one (a short one would be einen kurzen, not einen anderen, and you have left out the second our as well).

  2. The result sounds quite elevated, which is mainly due to the chiasmus, I think. Normal word order would be one of those:

    Wir schreiben unserem Großvater einen langen und unserem Onkel einen kurzen Brief.

    Wir schreiben unserem Großvater einen langen Brief und unserem Onkel einen kurzen.

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Oh, thank you very much! You're right, I first had to translate it from Italian to English and I've been sloppy, but the question was about the object. So you're basically suggesting to avoid the repetition of the verb and of the word "Brief". –  martina Jun 12 '13 at 21:37
    
You had already avoided repeating “Brief” in your version. You could eliminate the repeated verb+subject as well – “Wir schreiben unserem Großvater einen langen Brief, einen kurzen dem Onkel” –, but it still has a somewhat poetic tone. –  chirlu Jun 12 '13 at 21:47
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The perceived elevation of language is also due to the replacement of "unser" by "dem" before the Onkel. Addresseing one own relatives by the definite article instead of the possesive pronoun is not common any more. It's old language that therefore sounds poetic or elevated, although is was common language during its age, probably. –  Toscho Jun 13 '13 at 17:43
    
There is nothing 'elevated' or 'old language' about saying 'dem/der Onkel' instead of 'unserem/unser Onkel'. It's perfectly normal. –  TehMacDawg Jun 15 '13 at 2:00
    
If you personally address your relatives in the third person, now that would be perceived as 'Medieval', or, in todays's standards, as a way to mock the other. –  TehMacDawg Jun 15 '13 at 3:00
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Standard sentence structure: «Wir schreiben dem/unserem Großvater einen langen Brief, einen kurzen schreiben wir dem/unserem Onkel.»

In this sentence, «einen langen Brief» is the accusative object (Wen oder was schreiben wir?), while «unserem Großvater» is a dative object. (Wem oder was schreiben wir?)

Both objects can be at the first position respectively:

a) Einen langen Brief schreiben wir dem/unserem Großvater, einen kurzen dem/unserem Onkel.

b) Unserem Großvater schreiben wir einen langen Brief, unserem Onkel einen kurzen.

You would put it this way e.g. in a conversation, when you already agreed to write letters, and now you further clarify or suggest that it should be a long letter for one and a short letter for the other.

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