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In the Schlager Kompass, Beatrice Egli sings:

Tief in mir ist noch ein Feuer an.

  • an usually connects with a verb but here?
  • what difference in meaning does the an make, how would it change the meaning if the an were omitted?
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4

It should be almost obvious to English speakers. An sein is what is called a phrasal verb in English, and it translates simply as be on. Saying that “das Feuer ist an” is only marginally more natural in German than saying “the fire is on” in English, but people do say it occasionally, especially colloquially.

If a German phrasal verb is used a lot, it can turn into a separable verb, and if a separable verb is used a lot, it can turn into a prefix verb. Since the intermediate category of separable verbs is unusual and often considered hard, learners of German are probably most aware of it. But the other two categories still exist just like in English.

  • In mir ist ein Feuer. = There is a fire in me.
  • In mir ist ein Feuer an. = There is a fire on in me. = There is a fire burning in me.

Unfortunately the English translations are misleading with respect to connotations. In the first German sentence, the fire sounds more like a potentially dangerous natural phenomenon. In the second it sounds like something in a fireplace, stove or furnace. It can be kindled and extinguished, and it keeps people warm.

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Also here the word »an« is connected with a verb. The verb is »ist«, which is a flexion of »sein« (english: »to be«). »An sein« (engl: »to be on«) means »to be switched on«, »working«, »in progress«. »Das Feuer ist an« (literally: »the fire is on«) means, that the fire is burning.

The meaning of »In mir ist ein Feuer« (without »an«) is: »There is a fire in me«. If there was a kind of fire that is not burning, this kind of fire could be meant, but it also could be a burning fire that is inside.

In »In mir ist ein Feuer an« means: There is a fire burning in me.

Since a fire is always burning, it in fact makes no difference, if you add »an« or not. But in similar constructed sentences this could make a difference:

Das hier ist ein sehr alter Kühlschrank. In ihm ist keine Lampe. Aber dort drüben steht ein moderneres Gerät, in ihm ist eine Lampe. Und jetzt, wenn ich seine Tür öffne, ist die Lampe in ihm an.

This here is a very old refrigerator. There is no lamp in it. But over there is a more modern device, in it is a lamp. And now, when I open its door, the lamp in it is on.

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It is very difficult to classify the exact word class of an in this context, although I would contest Veredomon’s interpretation of an ellipsis of a longer word. Since Hans followed the phrasal verb argument, I am going to present the predicative adjective argument.

The word an in its predicative adjective meaning is nothing else than English on (as in to turn on). The fire can be large, red, hot, bright and ‘on’ (although calling a fire ‘on’ is not idiomatic in English, you should be able to understand the meaning). Compare to German:

Das Feuer ist heiß.
Das Feuer ist rot.
Das Feuer ist groß.
Das Feuer ist hell.
Das Feuer ist an.

Funnily, the adjective an, like ab, auf, zu and others, can not be used attributively in standard German (although it works in most dialects and colloquial speech). There was a question on this usage (in German).

Omitting the adjective would result in a shift of the way sein connects the remaining fragments. With an, the location of the fire is not as important, the primary new quality of the fire is burning. Without it, the location of the fire now becomes its new primary quality.

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1

An means that the fire is still burning, like in “Das Licht ist an”. It is an ellipsis of angezündet respective angeschaltet.

To omit an would not change the sentence a lot, as Feuer already implies that it is burning.

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