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I encountered the usage of a German verb + past participle construction when in English one would have used verb + present participle. It is from the fairy tale 'The Frog King or Iron Henry' ('Der Froschkönig oder der eiserne Heinrich'), as follows.

Am andern Tage, als sie mit dem König und allen Hofleuten sich zur Tafel gesetzt hatte und von ihrem goldenen Tellerlein ass, da kam, plitsch platsch, plitsch platsch, etwas die Marmortreppe heraufgekrochen, und als es oben angelangt war, klopfte es an die Tür und rief: "Königstochter, jüngste, mach mir auf!"

Perhaps the relevant bit may be extracted to:

Der Frosch kam die Marmortreppe heraufgekrochen.

To my eyes it looks like:

The frog came crawled up the marble stairs.

when I should have expected:

The frog came crawling up the marble stairs.

In English, the choice between present and past particle would seem straightforward. If the subject of the sentence is the agent of the action in both the main verb and the participle, then use the present. Otherwise, use the past. For example:

(a) The frog came home crying.

(b) The frog came home limping.

(c) The frog came home begrimed.

(d) The frog came home satisfied.

In other words, for (a) and (b), who or what cried or limped? The frog. In (c) and (d), who or what begrimed or satisfied? Not necessarily the frog. Or maybe the distinction can be set out like this:

(a) The frog came home (and was) crying.

(b) The frog came home (and was) limping.

(c) The frog came home (and had been) begrimed.

(d) The frog came home (and had been) satisfied.

These considerations obviously cannot explain the German sample above.

The only possible explanation I can think of is based on the observation that 'kriechen' denotes a movement. Thus, for 'The frog crawled,' German speakers may say:

Der Frosch ist gekrochen.

I then further venture to guess that what a German speaker sees in the extract above might be:

Der Frosch kam (und ist) die Marmortreppe heraufgekrochen.

If this hypothesis is right, then the construction couldn't work for something like 'crying' because it does not denote a movement. So perhaps one must say:

Der Frosch kam weinend nach Hause.

My questions are:

  • Does the quote from the Grimms represent common German usage?

  • What is the psychological account of that usage? (I mean, can you make it intuitive to an English speaker? Like I've tried.)

  • What are the limits on the usage? For example, could one also have used a form of "kriechend" in the quote, or is "gekrochen" the only permissible form? Does what is permitted or mandatory depend on whether the verb denotes a movement (per my hypothesis)?

Particularly critical for me would be whether it is permissible to substitute "heraufkriechend" for "heraufgekrochen" in the quoted passage.

Thank you very much.

Postscript: Based on the answers that the construction is limited to "kommen" I have changed the title to the present one above. (The original title was: When does one use a German 'Verb + Past Participle' construction?) Thanks again for the insightful answers.

  • As you know, there's no Progressive form in German. We use this as a substitute of sorts. Yes, it's very common. – Ingmar Jun 19 '14 at 7:15
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    Note that The frog did not literally cry its way home, but it crawled up the stairs. – Carsten S Jun 19 '14 at 7:17
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1) Yes, "kriechen" denotes movement, and therefore replacing "sein" with "kommen" indicates that this movement is towards the speaker. Actually, "kommen" and a verb of movement is the only example of this construction I can think of at the moment: geflogen kommen ("Kommt ein Vogel geflogen"), gelaufen kommen, ... It works for all tenses: Er kommt geflogen, er kam geflogen, er ist geflogen (ge)kommen [Ersatzinfinitiv], ...

2) "Der Frosch kam weinend nach Hause" is correct and the only way to phrase it, "Der Frosch kam geweint" is wrong. This construction with a P.P.A. is general and works for a wide range of main verbs and participles, as in English. The participle is more like an adjective in these constructions.

3) Yes, it's still common usage, though I think it has the nuance of being a bit old fashioned or dialect.

4) The best explanation I can come up with is the one you already described: It replaces "sein" to add a direction to the movement. There's a similar construction with "gehen", but that uses an infinitive, not a participle: Ich gehe schwimmen, ich gehe einkaufen, ... The meaning is that you go towards some place and then do the other action. In English (and Dutch), the meaning has shifted to mean a future action.

Funnily enough, Japanese has a very frequently used similar construction, with the same nuance as in German, both with "to come" and "to go". Japanese has only one participle-like form, so no distinction between P.P.A. and P.P.P. is necessary.

5) You can say "der Frosch kam kriechend nach Hause", but then the meaning is as in (2): "kriechend" describes the manner during the action. "Der Frosch kam heraufkriechend nach Hause" could with a lot of good will seen as an extension of this construction, but it sounds weird. For use with a past participle, any verb of movement is fine, so "kam gekrochen", "kam heraufgekrochen", "kam herabgekrochen" are all perfectly natural. However, "kam gegangen" sounds weird (because it doesn't add any information, you'd just use "kam").

As said above, so far "kommen" + verb of movement is the only example I can think of. I would classify it as a special construction that does no longer exist in English (or has been simplified to use the P.P.A. in English), while throwing in a present participle as an adjective is a very general construction that exists in both languages.

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    I want to thank both answer givers again. Very reassuring to know that the construction is common but limited to "kommen." @dirkt, can you please give some examples of the Japanese construction you mentioned? – Catomic Jun 20 '14 at 3:02
  • -te iku and -te kuru (~て行く、~て来る), "action oriented toward or from some place"; details e.g. guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/teform – dirkt Jun 21 '14 at 18:21
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Your explanation isn't that far from the truth. Or better, from what I think to be the reality.

The pattern

gerannt/gelaufen/gesprungen/gefahren kommen

is part of standard everyday German and there is even a rather colloquial

angeschissen kommen

I perceive the participle to be part of the verb. So, think of it as a group of phrasal verbs. This is supported by the fact that you'll find the participle at the very end but more importantly the fact that adding the participle can alter the grammar. "Kommen" itself cannot take a direct object.

Ich komme die Treppe.... is wrong

With the additional "heraufgekrochen" it works, which hints at that "heraufgekrochen kommen" is a transitive phrasal verb. Now, certainly "heraufkommen" itself could also take a direct object, but that is just a different adverb so to speak.

The result of the action will be "has run up/crawled up/... the stairs" and, since in German movement verbs take "sein" as an auxiliary, it will have the same structure as an adjective assignment.

Er ist [die Treppe hochgerannt] [müde].

That's the state he is in/at. And in English, you can also reach certain states by "coming".

come clean

come undone

I think it's basically the same underlying idea.

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I felt challenged by your postscript and did a little research (with Google, of course). I found this thesis (in German):

http://www.bcs.rochester.edu/people/fjaeger/papers/ma-thesis-letter.pdf

In 3.12.1 it briefly discusses the construction in your question. More interestingly (at least to me): the following sections and 3.9 list a couple of similar constructions with other verbs than "kommen". Some of them are restricted to certain dialects, others are rather common. Let me quote some of them (with translations that hopefully meet the meaning, but not necessarily the grammatic construction):

Der Graben gehört zugeschüttet. (The ditch should be filled up.)

Das Pferd hat die Fesseln bandagiert. (The horse's fetlocks are bandaged. Note that this is not a perfect tense construction, despite the combination of haben and past participle.)

Ich will die Kaufsumme garantiert wissen. (I want the price to be guaranteed.)

Ich möchte die Ergebnisse graphisch dargestellt sehen. (I want to see the results displayed graphically.)

Sie bekam die Schulden erlassen. (Here debts were forgiven.)

Sie kriegen die Arbeit bezahlt. (They have paid work. - not a real quote from thesis, since its example with kriegen is difficult to translate, so I brought up my own.)

Hans bekommt/kriegt geschimpft. (Hans was given a scold.)

And after reading all this I finally remembered the claim of my local bakery: "Heute schon was gebacken bekommen?" (Already got something done / pulled something off today?)

So you see also gehören, haben, wissen, sehen, bekommen and kriegen are verbs (beside the auxiliary verbs in their normal function) that go along with the past participle.

(N.B. I know that this answer does not address the "core question", but only a side aspect. I would have used a comment if it wasn't too long for it, and I feel it adds some value to the thread and hope others will see it this way, too.)

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A stone came flying. Ein Stein kam geflogen. This difference in construction must be learnt. The idea is the same. "kam geflogen" describes the manner of movement. "kam weinend" doesn't describe a manner of movement.

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As a generalization of Matthias's answer I would like to add that in all the constructions he mentioned the participle is used as an adverbial phrase, which is possible because participles can be seen as adjectives constructed from verbs and therefore also be used in an adverbial manner:

Ich möchte die Ergebnisse graphisch dargestellt sehen
Ich möchte die Ergebnisse sehen - wie? graphisch dargestellt.

In most cases the exact meaning cannot be obtained from this analysis though:

Sie bekam die Schulden erlassen.
Sie bekam die Schulden - wie? erlassen.

This does make sense gramatically (i.e. as far as the sentence structure is concerned), but semantically "erlassen" should not be seen as an answer to the question of "how" she got the debts.

This also works for the original question's sentence:

Der Frosch kam die Marmortreppe heraufgekrochen.

However, in this case we cannot just leave out the "heraufgekrochen" as "Der Frosch kam die Marmortreppe" ist not a valid sentence. Yet "Der Frosch kam die Marmortreppe herauf" is:

Der Frosch kam die Marmortreppe herauf - wie? gekrochen.

One may think that "kriechend" should be more appropriate in this case - and indeed it works:

Der Frosch kam die Marmortreppe kriechend herauf.

For this sentence order, "gekrochen" does not work, while "kriechend" does not work for the other one. I believe the reason why the past participle can be used this way really is the use of "sein" in the Perfekt tense, as mentioned by other answers:

Der Frosch ist die Treppe herauf - wie? gekrochen.

Since "kam" is possible here as well, "gekrochen" does not need to leave. However, note that "Der Frosch ist die Treppe herauf" is colloquial and needs the "gekrochen" to be complete, while "Der Frosch kam die Treppe herauf" does not. ("kommen" itself is intransitive, but the accusative "die Treppe" is used in the notion of the ancient locative case here, which has disappeared. The "herauf" is needed then to indicate "die Treppe" is a direction and not an object.)

To put it in a nutshell, think of "(herauf)gekrochen" either as the main verb of a Perfekt tense construction in both cases (i.e. "kam" as an auxiliary verb) or as an adverbial phrase attributed to the main verb, "kommen" in that case.

  • Gekrochen herauf does not work like Er ist über die Treppe gekommen hoch doesn't. The adverb cannot be moved to the Nachfeld. In the last example, I don't think that (herauf)gekrochen can (or at least should) be interpreted as an adverb. – user6191 Aug 30 '14 at 16:50

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