Waffen und Bomben für Anschläge kosten viel Geld. Terroristen entführen daher Ausländer und kassieren Millionen an Lösegeld.

What is the meaning of the preposition "an" here? Is it used with the noun "Millionen", or with the verb "kassieren"? I would understand it better if it were replaced by "von", "für" or "als".

  • Good question! I'm a native German speaker but I have no idea why it is "an". All I know is that any other preposition would sound totally wrong. Looking forward to the answers myself :) Sep 27 '14 at 7:31

The meaning of the phrase is, as LiGe already said, "millions of ransom".

The preposition "an" has a lot of functions. One of them is to combine a noun that describes some undetermined quantity with an object:

Mangel an Lebensmitteln (example mentioned in the Duden)
Überfluß an Zeit
Reichtum an Rohstoffen

These phrases are translated with "of": "lack of food" etc.

At least to some speakers the plural of "Million" (and other large powers of ten) seems to work the same way in the context of money (maybe because it can be conceived as a synonym for "Unsumme" ("vast sum"), which is definitely an undetermined quantity), so constructions like "Millionen an Steuergeldern" are quite common. I didn't manage to google a single source that deals with this specific use, so nobody cared so far, or it is really nothing special or worth investigating, or I didn't try hard (or smart;-) ) enough. But I think that it is this pattern that explains the phrase. It emphasizes the "very much" aspect of "millions", like "a vast sum of ransom".

Note that in many of these cases you could also use "von", but for a completely other reason. Seeing the sum as something you could count the "normal" case would be to use the genitive, e.g. "Millionen goldener Münzen" ("millions of golden coins"). However, if you have a genitive plural that could not be recognized as such (e.g. due to missing adjectives), you use the dative or a "von" construction. So instead of "Millionen Münzen" you would say "Millionen von Münzen". This would also apply to the plural of "Geld", and so you end up with "Millionen von Steuergeldern". However, this approach doesn't work well with "Lösegeld": in the singular form it misses the grammatical justification, so it sounds like poor grammar. And the plural form "Millionen von Lösegeldern" would introduce an ambiguity: millions could be understood as the total amount of money, but also as the number of payments.


It is comparable to millions of ransom

von would also be possible but sounds a bit weird.

  • Rather than adding a comment you can also give additional information to your post using the edit button. This helps to improve posts over time. It'd be cool if you could add some more details on the usage of the preposition "an" vs. "von", perhaps with some examples?
    – Takkat
    Sep 27 '14 at 7:00

Normally I think one would say "Millionen Lösegeld" as in "Millionen Sterne". Sometimes, as in your example, you can find "an" or even "von" (I think) between number and the following noun comparable to English "of". I think it is colloquial language of some speakers, I wouldn't consider it standard language.

  • I disagree, Millionen Lösegeld sounds strange, since it combines a plural with a singular, which is different from Millionen Sterne. I assume the ugliness of the phrase derives from its sloppiness, since what is probably meant is several or even many [but likely no millions] payments, adding up to millions of [currency unit of your choice].
    – guidot
    Jan 10 '20 at 14:18
  • @guidot Millionen Lösegeldzahlungen, yes quite possibly. But Million- in rogermue's example can be understood like myriad, much. Plural -en is frequently indistinct from case inflection -en, which, yes, might be a bit confusing. Adding a second -en and rendering it as an because of prosody is not that much better, if that's what happened. Another problem here, speaking of ugly, might be that English often prefers to understand plural where morphemic -s is indistinct between plural and genitive's ... or was it the other way around: e.g. maths, surely mathematic's education
    – vectory
    Jan 12 '20 at 15:22
  • @guidot: "Millionen Euro an Lösegeld" wird aber genauso gebildet. "Millionen Lösegelder" auf Deutsch, das wäre inkorrekt, aber so lautete der Satz ja nicht. Jan 12 '20 at 18:54

A humble guess says it should be in and was originally akin to millions in ransom (which I hope is somewhat correct). Why it shall not have been in anymore, I'd say because it become confused with Anteile an [einer Firma bspw.], cp again shares in ....

Mix in a bit of French, stirr and let sit for a couple hundred years, the longer the better. What comes out is an.

I'll concede that Millionen in Lösegeld poses almost the same question. But only almost. I agree that an does not seem to make sense here--that's my only point.

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