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  • He showed agreement by nodding.

For the first example, Google translate gives

Durch die Unterzeichnung...

but according to this comment, gerunds and present participles aren't used often in German.

Is there another way to translate these kinds of phrases?

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Unterzeichnung is neither gerund nor participle... it is just a noun. So what's your question exactly –  Emanuel Oct 9 '13 at 19:28
    
Instead of “Unterzeichnung” the simpler “Unterschrift” is also used here. –  Carsten Schultz Oct 9 '13 at 19:51
    
@Emanuel But a gerund is a noun - oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/gerund?q=gerund and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerund. If it's not a gerund, what is this type of word called? As far as the question goes, it remains the same. Is there another way to translate "by + present participle" phrases than the structure used in example I gave? –  Mirov Oct 9 '13 at 20:06
2  
German does not have something like "gerund". Every gerund can be translated in different ways. "By signing" likely will be translated as "Durch ihre Unterschrift" and "by nodding" is "mit einem Kopfnicken". But also "Nickend zeigte er seine Zustimmung" is a valid translation, although a native speaker wouldn't say that in colloquial. Anyway. Your question is quite good, and I'm curious what the ultimate answer will be. –  Em1 Oct 9 '13 at 20:15
    
@Mirov: unfortunately grammar terminology is always only valid within one language. German passive is something different than English passive, German modal verbs hve a different definition than English modal verbs and so on... and as for the word type of "Unterzeichung"... it is a noun... lexically as well as by function. I think you should modify your question and ask "How to translate English gerunds to German" –  Emanuel Oct 9 '13 at 20:25

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There are basically 3 ways that I can think of.

1) Using a noun

For most verbs there are multiple nouns available and which one works best depends on the specific verb and the context. Here's an example with sammeln (to collect)

Die Sammlung, das Sammeln, die Sammelei, das Gesammele

2) Using a side sentence

The subordinating conjunction that expresses this very relation is indem. This is of course longer than a noun but sometimes it might be preferable. For instance if the agent matters.

Indem er das Dokument unterzeichnet, verkauft er seine Seele.

3) Using a prepositional object

This is the longest and most complicated way but again... sometimes it might be the most appropriate

Dadurch, dass er den Vertrag unterzeichnete, verkaufte er seine Seele.

The hard question is when to use which. I'd say that in newspapers and legal writing the noun-version is the one people prefer, but in prose too much nominalization sounds stiff. But the more common the noun is the more idiomatic it will sound to use that and not indem. As far as the last version is concerned... this works well for long and complex actions that require a lot of additional information. The Dadurch already establishes a main sentence so we have kind of a base camp from which we then venture out into an onslaught of side sentences that follow.

Dadurch, dass der Präsident, obwohl er mit der Arbeit seines Ministers nicht zufrieden war, verkündet hat, ihn im Amt belassen zu wollen, hat er...

You can't really do that with indem because it will be really hard to follow. There isn't even a main sentence and we have a second level side sentence.

Indem der Präsident, obwohl...,verkündet hat, ihn im Amt zu belasse, hat er...

For the sake of completeness here is the same with only nouns

Durch die Verkündung seitens des an sich mit der Arbeit des Ministers unzufriedenen Präsidenten, an eben jenem Minister festhalten zu wollen, hat er...

And finally the English version (I don't think I got it quite right though)

By announcing his plans to leave the minister with the work of whom he was not satisfied in office, the president...

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Both examples aren't turns of phrases that you'd expect to hear even in English in a casual conversation. Therefore, I would stick to direct translations:

Durch die Unterzeichnung stimmen Sie dem Vertrag zu.

Er signalisierte Zustimmung mittels Kopfnicken.

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Sollte das nicht „mittels Kopfnickens“ sein? –  Carsten Schultz Oct 9 '13 at 19:46
    
@divby, the English phrases sound completely normal to me. The subject matter is not "casual", but the turn of phrase us utterly ordinary. Your German translations look fine to me (not that I can really tell) but it would worry me if they were somehow unusual turns of phrase. –  Adrian Ratnapala Oct 9 '13 at 20:32
    
„mittels Kopfnickens“: Quite frankly, I don't know. You could well be right. –  divby0 Oct 9 '13 at 21:19
    
With regards to the English originals, there's definitely nothing wrong with them. However, both are formal turns of phrase (borderline Legalese I'd day), which justifies translating them into correspondingly officious German. Neither the original nor the translation are unusual, but they would sound out of place in an informal context. –  divby0 Oct 9 '13 at 21:38
    
@CarstenSchultz canoo.net/services/OnlineGrammar/Wort/Praeposition/Kasus/… "When a singular noun stands alone, it is usually not inflected" –  Em1 Oct 10 '13 at 7:39

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