When reading this German grammar book, I came into this sentence while reading about transposed word order.

Ich bin jetzt nicht so glücklich wie früher auf dem Lande.

This clearly is meant to translate to:

I am now not as happy as I used to be in the country.

Grammatically correct English requires as I used to be in the comparison: the “object” of comparison must be stated. (See here for some examples of what I'm thinking of.) Yet the German clause wie früher auf dem Lande doesn’t seem to have anything of the sort; there is no form of ich war.

As such, does German have a similar rule as English does for comparisons, where the “objects” of the comparison must be clearly specified?

  • 3
    The German sentence is fine. You could have said Ich bin jetzt nicht so glücklich wie ich früher auf dem Lande war, but since there is no danger of confusion it's certainly not required.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 5:08
  • @Ingmar: that makes sense, although I feel like the same could be said of some of those "incorrect" English ones.
    – Maroon
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 5:10
  • Jetzt” is of the same category as “früher auf dem Lande”. What exactly is your concern?
    – Carsten S
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 6:40
  • It should be pointed out that this is an old-fashioned word order that would be considered slightly confusing today. In modern texts it would probably have been phrased "Ich bin jetzt nicht [mehr] so glücklich auf dem Land[e] wie früher."
    – user2183
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 10:05
  • 3
    @HansAdler: Is that really what is meant? I read "Ich bin jetzt nicht so glücklich wie früher auf dem Lande." as "In former times, I used to be in the country. Now, I'm elsewhere and I'm less happy here and now." Your sentence, on the other hand, would rather mean: "I am in the same place as in former times (in the country), but I used to be happier in former times." Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 10:24

2 Answers 2



The sentence is completely fine as it is. It is ambiguous as described in the comments and the other answer. But people speak like that (well, except they don't say "Lande") and they understand each other. There is no need to rephrase it; it is fit for print. Also, the possible double meaning has no bearing on the question itself and is henceforth ignored.

The short version:

Yes, German usually skips as much as possible in comparisons. English doesn't and in some cases can't.

Longer version:

Generally, there are certain parts of a sentence that, if they are repeated in the same sentence in the same function/role, allow you to skip all but one instance. A lot of times this is even called for to avoid sounding incredibly repetitious. The parts for which it is most common are verbs and all kinds of subjects and object.

Ich kann das Fenster auf[machen] und zumachen.
Ich habe gestern mein Fenster aufgemacht, [habe] meine Küche geputzt und [habe] meine Wäsche gewaschen.
Ich habe Kuchen gegessen und [ich] bin in den Park gegangen.

In theory you can think of any of these examples as consisting of two complete sentences where a lot has been skipped.

Ich kann das Fenster aufmachen und ich kann das Fenster zumachen.

Here, we were using the conjunction "und" but you can generalize that view to any conjunction.

Ich kann morgen kommen, aber [ich kann] erst halb acht [kommen].
Du kannst mich anrufen oder [du kannst] mir schreiben.

And the same goes of course for comparisons with "als" and "wie"

Ich habe mehr Geld als Thomas [hat].

In comparisons this is super common and it's also what happens in the example.

Ich bin jetzt nicht so glücklich wie [ich] früher auf dem Land [war].

Number 2: mixing location and time.
In the first part of the sentence, the speaker uses a time indication

English on the other hand is not nearly as skip-friendly with these things.

I can call you or [I can] send you text.

This works but the following not so well... at least I'm pretty sure that it's not as common as in German.

Today, I've found a dollar and caught a fish.

A reason might be that "caught" can be a preterit form of "catch" as well as the past participle. It's not clear and so people would repeat the "have" to have their tense be clear.
Anyway, it's the same for comparisons

He is taller than me … fine
He is taller than I … strange/high brow
He is taller than I am … fine

English has a different paradigm at work and there are different rules when it comes to skipping.

  • However, the long version »ich bin jetzt nicht so glücklich, wie ich früher auf dem Land war« has a comma, whereas the short version »ich bin jetzt nicht so glücklich wie früher auf dem Land« has none.
    – user9551
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 9:50
  • @Loong... well, because it doesn't have a verb in it. The point of the whole theory is that it makes the following two sentence essentially the same structure. "Ich laufe schneller als Thomas." "Ich laufe schneller, als Thomas fährt."... actually, does there even have to be comma?? I think I'll make that a question.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 9:54
  • That was not a question but a remark concerning the example in your answer. Of course, there must be a comma in the long version and there must not be a comma in the short version.
    – user9551
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 10:00
  • "erst halb acht" you forgot an "um" or "ab" there. Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 13:06
  • @CodesInChaos... no I didn't. What makes you think there's something missing?
    – Emanuel
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 13:07

In a written text (which it quite likely is, because "auf dem Lande" would be used only by exclusively educated people with very refined, not to say Mannerist speaking habits), "Ich bin jetzt nicht so glücklich wie früher auf dem Lande" leaves open the question A) whether you were happy when you used to be in the country as opposed to now being somewhere else or B) if your state of happyness has decreased during your stay in the country. So your sentence is like one of those flip images: it can have two different meanings depending on your point of departure. To solve the ambiguity, you should either write:

  1. Ich bin jetzt nicht mehr so glücklich wie früher, als ich auf dem Land lebte.


  1. Auf dem Lande bin ich jetzt nicht mehr so glücklich wie früher.

In your original expression, "früher" looks like the only evidence that you might have wanted to say what is stated in version #2, but in fact it isn't, as it could as well be tied to "auf dem Lande" indicating that in earlier times, you had lived in the country and were happy there, whereas you're living somewhere else now where you are not as happy. But it could as well be that you have a house in the country where you go every now and then, feeling now that being in that house no longer makes you happy the way it used to. To make your point perfectly clear, you should rearrange it either way.

At first I read the English version of the statement in the sense of #1 when I found "as I used to be" firmly connected to "I am now not as happy" with "in the country" being the circumstance of location relating to the whole of the statement. But then I found this had been almost exclusively due to the emphasizing I chose, not to how the units of meaning are arranged in the sentence. And thus I think the English expression has the same problem as soon as you come across it in a written text:

I am now not as happy as I used to be when I was in the country.

I am now not as happy in the country as I used to be.

Of course the emphasis on certain portions of the sentence will perfectly reveal the meaning in spoken conversation. Thus we must always keep in mind the basic differences between spoken and written language. Anyway, the context of a sentence may carry additional meaning rendering your statement perfectly clear, but as a sentence is a basic unit of meaning we shouldn't habitually rely on this.

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