Below is a quote from Kafkas Die Verwandlung (boldface mine).

Er fühlte ein leichtes Jucken oben auf dem Bauch; schob sich auf dem Rücken langsam näher zum Bettpfosten, um den Kopf besser heben zu können; fand die juckende Stelle, die mit lauter kleinen weißen Pünktchen besetzt war, die er nicht zu beurteilen verstand; und wollte mit einem Bein die Stelle betasten, zog es aber gleich zurück, denn bei der Berührung umwehten ihn Kälteschauer.

I notice that in many translations into English, the word Kälteschauer was translated as a cold shower or a cold shudder, which is singular. So, why is umwehten used instead of umwehte?

  • 1
    Weil die Übersetzer Kafka übersetzten, nicht umgekehrt. So why used 'a shudder' and not 'shudders'. Jan 2, 2016 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


While some English translations may render it as singular, Kälteschauer is plural in the German text. This is indicated not only by the verb form, but also the absence of an article: The singular would be … umwehte ihn ein Kälteschauer.

It is not uncommon for languages to differ in their use of singular and plural. A famous example is that you have to say

They shook their heads.

in English, whereas in German you have a choice:

Sie schüttelten den Kopf.
Sie schüttelten die Köpfe.

The idea is here that each person is only shaking one head (their own); but of course the whole group possessed multiple heads.

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    "It is not uncommon for languages to differ in their use of singular and plural." - I think this particular case has nothing to do with that phenomenon. More likely, the primary issue at hand is that the singular and plural forms of Kälteschauer are the same, so when searching for Kälteschauer in a dictionary without the context from the sentence, there will be no indication the OP was looking at the plural form instead of the (default) singular form. Jan 2, 2016 at 11:39
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    @O.R.Mapper: I was thinking of the professional translators who did the published translations. Can you believe they didn’t understand the grammar? I think it is more likely they recognized Kälteschauer as plural in this sentence, but consciously translated it to a cold shower or a cold shudder in singular because it was more natural English in their opinion.
    – chirlu
    Jan 2, 2016 at 12:14
  • Granted, I understand the OP's "in many translations into English" as the OP's way of saying what dictionaries say the isolated word Kälteschauer means. If they are indeed referring to complete translations of the text in question, you have a point. Jan 2, 2016 at 12:20
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    @O.R.Mapper: I checked some published translations, and they indeed mostly use singular; one each has plural or avoids the noun: he was overcome by a cold shudder (David Wyllie), the contact made a cold shiver run through him (Willa Muir/Edwin Muir), the touch caused him to shudder involuntarily (Michael Hofmann), he was swept by cold shivers (Joyce Crick), the contact felt like a cold shower all over him (Ian Johnston), the contact sent a cold shiver through him (Stanley Corngold), he felt a cold shiver whenever he touched it (John R. Williams).
    – chirlu
    Jan 2, 2016 at 13:48
  • Warum die Übersetzer den Singular bevorzugt haben kann schlecht ermittelt werden und muss unerheblich sein, weil Kafka seinen Text ja vor diesen geschrieben hat. Die Frage ist, wieso man von der Übersetzung ausgeht um das Original zu hinzufragen - ob man da nicht alle 2 Sätze in Fraglichkeiten hineinstolpert. Jan 2, 2016 at 23:00

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