I am a student of English and German language (non-native) and I compare English-German sentences for my diploma thesis from the semantic and syntactic point of view. I have English sentences which I gave for the translations into German to German native speakers. However, I am not sure about some German sentences I've got, mostly semantic roles I can assign to individual clause elements. May I say this in German?

  1. Dieses Buch hat 1000 Kopien verkauft.
  2. Dieser Preis verkauft dein Haus nicht.
  3. Der Taucher riss sich das Trommelfell.
  4. Das Schiff brach sein Ruder.

The sentences are basically of the same structure therefore I put them together into one question, I hope it´s all right this time.

  • A small clarification:LOCATIVE is a semantic role (as AGENT, PATIENT, or INSTRUMENT), not a case (even if we do have LOKATIV as case in Slovak)
    – Lenka
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 14:45
  • @rogermue: May you maybe then recommend where (in linguistics) may I ask my questions?
    – Lenka
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 14:49
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    @Lenka - I thought of Stackexchange Linguistics. I'm not familiar with this "semantic roles" grammar and I think you should give a link where a survey about the various roles is given. And perhaps you should say what practical importance semantic roles have for language teaching, Most learners can't handle traditional terms.
    – rogermue
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 15:19
  • 3
    I believe the question is much better now. All these example sentences (though grammatically correct) don't really work well in German. If they do in English we may need the English counterpart, and ask what was wrong with the German translations. It likely is all the same issue, and I'd love to see what people think about this.
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 15:28
  • Actually, I think you should take out (3) because it's a reflexive structure while the others are not. A follow up question could be how to assign semantic roles for these reflexive structures which can be built for 1 and 2 as well (Das Buch hat sich 1000 mal verkauft, Das Haus verkauft sich für einen Preis)
    – Emanuel
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 23:58

4 Answers 4


Dieses Buch hat 1000 Kopien verkauft.

That sentence would say that the book is the one who is selling copies (of whatever). So unless you mean a living book that is standing at the cash desk and handing out copies for money, that sentence is not correct. What you probably wanted to say is that 1000 copies of the book were sold, that is:

Von diesem Buch wurden 1000 Kopien verkauft.

Dieser Preis verkauft dein Haus nicht.

Well, since prices usually don't sell houses, it is of course true that this one doesn't either. But you probably wanted to tell that the house won't get sold for that price. That is:

Für diesen Preis verkauft sich Dein Haus nicht.

Der Taucher riss sich das Trommelfell.

This is an interesting case: It sounds wrong to me, but I couldn't say why. The sentence has the same structure as the undoubtedly correct sentences

Der Taucher brach sich das Bein.


Der Taucher verstauchte sich die Hand.

Nevertheless, your sentence doesn't sound right to me, and I would say:

Dem Taucher riss sein Trommelfell.

Das Schiff brach sein Ruder.

That sentence would mean that the ship actively broke its rudder. It also has not the same structure as the previous example, since the "sich" is missing; that is, copying the structure of the previous example would result in

Das Schiff brach sich das Ruder.

However that sentence sounds wrong again; it sounds like anthropomorphizing the ship. Since a ship is an object, you would instead say:

Das Ruder des Schiffes brach.

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    Dem Schiff brach das Ruder. Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 18:36
  • 2
    In the second example you say that prices don't usually sell things. Well, neither do houses and still you gave "Das Haus verkauft sich" as a correct translation. It is, but based on the reasoning it shouldn't be. Also, we could say "Das Buch hat sich 1000 mal verkauft"
    – Emanuel
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 23:56
  • Genitiv ist für Experten; selbt viele Deutsche tun sich schwer, Sätze im Genitiv zu bilden. Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 14:53
  • Because of the analogies you mentioned (brach sich das Bein, verstauchte sich die Hand, holte sich eine Kopfplatzwunde, …) the diver sentence is possible. However, according to my understanding only if it was in the process of diving that the accident happened, or if the diver had been introduced beforehand.
    – Jan
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 23:15

A small addition if I may. Several people have stated that this sentence is wrong:

Dieses Buch hat 1000 Kopien verkauft.

And they are correct in this assessment from a grammatical standpoint. However there is a phrase where the book is the actor that - grammatically - does the selling:

Dieses Buch hat sich 1000 mal verkauft

which literally translates to

The book sold itself 1000 times

This phrase would be considered correct and is commonly used. The implication - via the reflexive construction - here is, that the book actively displays/projects certain qualities that make it desirable, and the person buying it is just reacting to it. We see similar phrases / constructions with other objects of (perceived) high value. In a more-or-less joking fashion this is sometimes actually acknowledged - when a product is in high demand and requires little advertising, people say:

Das verkauft sich (fast) von selbst

This (almost) sells itself

Again, you can see the implied personification of the object here.

  • @Konadi...thank so much, I assumed as well that Das Buch verkaufte 1000 Kopien ist wrong, but may I ask, when I have the sentence Das Buch verkaufte sich 1000 Mal, is 1000 Mal obligatory? May I say Das Buch verkaufte sich. or I have to always add this ´how´ meaning: 1000 Mal, schnell, gut etc. ?
    – Lenka
    Commented Mar 21, 2015 at 12:06
  • @Lenka: Just saying Das Buch verkauft sich to a lot of people would feel like it's missing information. When you see it written like that, it's usually implied that people bought the book - in contrast to the tens of thousands of books that are released every year and never find any significant audience. So basically if you don't give the how, the implied default is well. A context I know it from (without the how) is when testing a product (let's say a new flavour of ice cream). Management would ask "So, did it sell?", implying in relevant quantities. etc.
    – Konadi
    Commented Mar 23, 2015 at 8:49

For question #1, I think if we apply anthropomorphic qualities to the the subject, we can say it has a degree of volition, which I think would make it agent.


I'll try to answer your question. First I have to say that I've never heard of the locative in the german language and I am a native speaker. Not sure if the locative even exists in the german language.

1) Das Hotel kann 30 Leute beherbergen.

Das Hotel: agent

2) In diesem Raum haben 20 Personen Platz.

Here, if you are not sure about the agent, you can try to the change the structure: 20 Personen haben in diesem Raum Platz. Now it's easy to see that "20 Personen" is the agent.

3)Dieser Raum fasst 20 Personen.

Dieser Raum: is the agent.

4) Diese Ausgabe des Lehrbuches hat ein neues Kapitel hinzugefügt.

Diese Ausgabe: agent

5) Dieses Buch hat 1000 Kopien verkauft.

Not possible. Correct version would be: Es wurden 1000 Kopien von diesem Buch verkauft (1000 copies of this book have been sold) wurden: supporting verb

6) Dieser Preis wird nicht dafür sorgen, dass du dein Haus verkaufen kannst.

Dieser Preis: agent I don't think there is an instrument in the german language.

7) Dieser Preis verkauft dein Haus nicht.

This is borderline german. I would suggest: Mit diesem Preis wirst du du dein Haus nicht verkaufen. (With this price you won't sell your house) Wirst (werden): supporting verb

8) Der Taucher riss sich das Trommelfell.

This is possible.

9) Das Schiff brach sein Ruder.

Not possible. The ship can't break its rudder in german. It sounds silly. You have to restructure the sentence: Die Ruder des Schiffs brachen. Here I use the genitive form of the noun. Whose rudder did break? Those of the ship! Wessen Ruder brachen? Die des Schiffs!

10) In dieser Ausgabe der Lehrbuches gibt es ein neues Kapitel?

If it is a question, correct form would be: Gibt es in dieser Ausgabe des Lehrbuchs ein neues Kapitel? "Es" is an addition to the verb "gibt" (geben). Geben + es is often used in german language. Example: Es gibt vieles im Leben, das man nicht erklären kann. "Es" is an unpersonal subject. "Ein neues Kapitel" is an object.

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    ad 4) You can't say "Diese Ausgabe des Buches hat ein neues Kapitel hinzugefügt", a book edition can neither do nor have that in German. Instead: "Dieser Ausgabe des Lehrbuches wurde ein neues Kapitel hinzugefügt" or "Diese Ausgabe des Lehrbuches enthält ein neues Kapitel". cf. 10) Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 8:27
  • True, same as in "Das Schiff brach sein Ruder."
    – user15248
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 9:12

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