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When I ask it Google Translate for fast and knapp both their translation is almost. But if they have the same meaning why does fast come first in following example?

laut neuesten Angaben wurden fast 100 Menschen getötet und knapp 250 Menschen verletzt.

  • Why do you suppose they have the same meaning? – c.p. Oct 11 '15 at 11:53
  • Because their translation is the same: "almost" – user1474062 Oct 11 '15 at 12:04
  • The fact that the translation is the same in one search, doesn't imply they have the same meaning. – c.p. Oct 11 '15 at 12:47
  • The meaning isn't "the same", but there are a lot of sentences where the tiny difference doesn't matter. – Wolf Oct 12 '15 at 7:56
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In the sense of almost but less than, especially when used with numbers or quantities, the words fast and knapp are indeed synonyms and can be used interchangeably. For definitions of knapp see here and here. In the quoted sentence any other combination and order of fast and knapp would have been possible without changing the meaning of the sentence. Why the author chose this exact combination, we can only speculate about. Of course, it is considered bad style to repeat the same word in a phrase, which has been avoided here by using the synonyms.

As a sidenote, fast is an adverb while knapp is an adjective. For example, in the idomatic phrase

Das war knapp!

meaning ‘That was close’, knapp cannot be replaced by fast. This also holds for the following examples:

In einer knappen Entscheidung verabschiedete der Bundestag das Gesetz am Dienstag.

Mit knappem Vorsprung gewann Sebastian Vettel das Rennen.

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    On the other hand, you can’t say Er wäre knapp gestorben. – chirlu Oct 11 '15 at 13:18
  • Agreed, in this context knapp cannot be used. Will update my answer. – Deve Oct 11 '15 at 14:56
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    As noted in our conversation following my answer, "eine knappe 3" and "fast eine 3" are not at all synonymous; the former means a 3, the latter means either a 2 or a 4, but not a 3. – jona Oct 11 '15 at 15:11
  • Also, it would be more correct to say that fast cannot be an adjective (I think); knapp can be an adverb or an adjective. – jona Oct 11 '15 at 15:18
  • @jona In your example of "eine knappe 3" (which is, by the way, a very special usage of a number as it actually refers to a school grade and you should just have left it as "knapp befriedigend" as in the original reference you're citing) knapp is used as an adjective and I explicitly state in my answer that it is not synonymous to fast in that case. So I don't see your point here. – Deve Oct 11 '15 at 15:20
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While they can often be translated as "nearly" or similar, fast and knapp are not in fact synonymous. fast x implies that the boundary x has almost, but not quite, been reached. knapp x means that the actual number is around, not more and not much less than, x. E.g.

Das war knapp!

"This almost did not, but in the end did, happen."

Das wäre fast geschehen!

"This did almost, but fundamentally did not, happen."

Ich habe knapp 20 Euro. Vielleicht so 21, 22.

"I have approximately 20 Euro. Around 21, 22."

Ich habe fast 20 Euro. Vielleicht so 21, 22.

A very odd sentence pair!

Thus, in the text you cite, almost up to, but not yet 100 people died and approximately, and not much more than 250 people were wounded.

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    When used with numbers, knapp does not mean approximately but less than. See e.g. de.wiktionary.org/wiki/knapp , meaning no. 2 and duden.de/rechtschreibung/knapp#Bedeutung3 . – Deve Oct 11 '15 at 14:55
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    In the Duden, there are also number examples with senses 1 and 2 (knapp befriedigend = eine knappe 3; eine knappe 3 of course means it is, indeed, a 3). There is also a non-numeric example under sense 3. Thus, since knapp can mean not quite both with numbers and with non-numbers, and since it can mean approximately, and not more than with numbers, this distinction is far from fundamental. – jona Oct 11 '15 at 15:07
  • I think there is a difference in meaning, that in some constructions matters. – Wolf Oct 12 '15 at 7:50
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    What do you mean by Ich habe knapp 20 Euro. Vielleicht so 21, 22. and espacially the "next" example. this should definitely be reworked. (I didn't downvote, but I had to revoke my upvote) – Wolf Oct 12 '15 at 7:53
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    You may have parts of an Euro, not partly deaths, so switching to money is a good idea, I find. I think its the difference between exactly knowing that you have 19 Euro and 95 cents (after counting) and feeling that it could be something around 20 Euro. The structure of your answer isn't good at this point: you make pairs of quotes and translations first, but end with a dangling quote. I think you should think about restructuring. – Wolf Oct 12 '15 at 8:20

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