In English, I can write things like

The sign says "Stop".

The webpage said that it had already finished.

Can I likewise write

Das Schild sagt "Stoppen Sie".

Die Internetseite hat gesagt, dass es schon beendet ist.

in German? If not, what's an alternative construction that works?

(If I have bungled the "arbitrary filler" parts of these examples, please also say -- or edit my question directly.)


While sagen can be used the way you did in your examples, it is far less common than in English. The usual way to express that something is written somewhere would be using the verb stehen:

Auf dem Schild steht "Stop".

In diesem Buch steht, dass Amerika nicht von Columbus entdeckt wurde.

Stehen can be used whenever text is written on some kind of object, no matter whether it is permanently there or might be changed later. When talking about a display of some kind (where the text might change), a popular alternative option would be anzeigen(to display):

Die Informationstafel zeigt an, dass der Flug 30 Minuten verspätet starten wird.

There are more options for indirect quoting that are not reserved for written texts:

Nach diesen Angaben...
Diesen Angaben zufolge...
Laut diesem Schild ist der Zutritt untersagt.

and many more (would be hard to create a truly comprehensive list).

  • Thanks! Since I'm still learning basic vocab, I'll try to remember anzeigen and stehen for now. – j_random_hacker Jul 17 '14 at 18:00
  • 1
    "Auf der Informationstafel steht dass der Flug 30 Minuten verspätung hat" You can always use "steht" when something is written somewhere. – elsni Jul 18 '14 at 22:05
  • @elsni Yes, that is true - edited. – Hulk Jul 19 '14 at 6:42

Both will be understood and are used informally.
Depending on context you can also use:

Auf dem Schild steht nichts. Nothing is written on the sign. +
Das Schild zeigt die Entfernung an. shows, displays +
Das Schild warnt vor Kängurus. warns +
Das Schild bedeutet "Stop". means
Das Schild drückt Unzufriedenheit aus. expresses
Das Schild weist mich auf etwas hin. indicates +

Die Internetseite teilt mir etwas mit. notifies +
Die Internetseite meldet einen Fehler. reports

+: Can be used for the other block, too.

Note that when referring to books, it's in dem Buch steht.

  • Thanks! Since I'm still learning basic vocab, I'll try to remember anzeigen and stehen. – j_random_hacker Jul 17 '14 at 17:59
  • That should get you through most situations. – user6191 Jul 17 '14 at 18:06
  • Depending on context notify can be a translation for mitteilen, but I think in this context it doesn't fit. However, the only verb which comes to mind is to tell, which is not that good either. – Em1 Jul 17 '14 at 18:25
  • 2
    Auf dem Schild steht nichts. Auf dem Schild steht die Entfernung. Auf dem Schild steht eine Warung vor Känguruhs. Auf dem Schild steht "Stop". – elsni Jul 18 '14 at 22:08
  • 1
    @elsni The sign can express the unhappiness of a protester for example. You are right that in my example that is not specified, but what would an unhappy sign be? A frown? Then again we're back to expressing someones unhappiness. (Of course there are things like personification, but that's just not the ususal context.) A sign can indicate things, even without an index finger. Just because you wouldn't use them doesn't mean it's not possible. – user6191 Jul 19 '14 at 6:00

To complement the other answers: one case where "sagen" is actually pretty common are computer messages.

"Mein Computer kann die Datei nicht öffnen. Er sagt, er kann sie nicht finden."

Maybe (speculation!) it is because many people think of their computer as some kind of creature.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.