5

The questions are on these sentences, where (a) is lifted out of this older post, and (b) is from a vocabulary workbook. I made up (c) and (d); so they may have problems.

(a) Ich lebe seit einem Monat in Graz.

(b) Unsere Katze ist seit Tagen verschwunden.

(c) Unsere Katze verschwand vor Tagen.

(d) Unsere Katze ist vor Tagen verschwunden.

Basically I am trying to understand how seit and vor may interact with grammatical aspect. Feel free to answer in German.

Questions

  1. Am I OK to assimilate (b) to (a) as follows?

    • lebe in (a) denotes what is true (in progess) for the whole time between a month ago and now.

    • ist verschwunden in (b) is not a substitute for Präteritum. It is a true Perfekt. The "present result of the past event" is what is true for the whole time between days ago and now.

    • We may say that the "present" (imperfect, progressive) aspect of lebe and the "present" component of the resultative aspect of ist verschwunden respectively satisfy the aspectual requirement of seit.

  2. Is (d) grammatical and idiomatic?

  3. If yes to 2, am I OK to understand (d) this way?

    • Because vor requires a verb denoting an event (viz. a verb in the "aorist" aspect), ist verschwunden is now a substitute for Präteritum.
    • That is, (d) now means the same thing as (c).
    • Unlike (b), you can say (d) even if the cat has come back subsequently.

Background

I tried to get something like (b) with vorbeigehen, but Er ist seit Tagen an unserem Hause vorbeigegangen didn’t seem to work. I think there is no sense of ist vorbeigegangen that is comparable to ist verschwunden, something that can remain and persist (be in progress).

  • 2
    Basically yes, yes, yes, no. Please note that vor tends to be used with a qualifier (e.g. vor zwei Tagen, vor einigen Wochen, vor vielen Monaten), at least more so than seit. – Crissov Feb 1 '16 at 10:53
  • @Crissov Thank you. I am sorry I got rid of question 4 (to which your no), which used to ask whether the bad sentence (Er ist seit Tagen an unserem Hause vorbeigegangen) worked. When I realized it didn't, I moved it to background, not realizing that you had already commented. – Catomic Feb 1 '16 at 10:59
6

The sentence Die Katze ist verschwunden has two different interpretations:

  • On the one hand, ist can be the auxiliary used when forming the perfect tense. In that case, verschwunden is part of the perfect form and the sentence is analogous to Der Mann ist gestorben or Der Hahn hat (!) gekräht; it indicates that an event (disappearance of the cat) happened in the past.
  • On the other hand, ist can be the present-tense copula. In that case, verschwunden is used as an adjective, analogous to Der Mann ist tot or Der Hahn ist wach; it indicates a current state, namely that the whereabouts of the cat are unknown.

This ambiguity is only possible because verschwinden belongs to the group of verbs that form the perfect tense with sein instead of haben.

Adding a time specification like in your sentences (b) and (d) resolves the ambiguity because vor drei Tagen etc. only makes sense in connection with a past event, whereas seit drei Tagen only works in connection with a state that persists. Applied to the structurally analogous sentences I introduced above, this means that you can use only one of these constructions for each sentence:

Der Mann ist vor drei Tagen gestorben. Der Hahn hat vor einer Stunde gekräht.
Der Mann ist seit drei Tagen tot. Der Hahn ist seit einer Stunde wach.

(Der Hahn hat seit einer Stunde gekräht is in fact possible, but would mean that the cock crowed continuously or repeatedly over the course of the last hour.)

Now to your questions:

  1. In (b), ist (verschwunden) is not perfect but present tense (not of verschwinden, but of sein). That’s why it can’t be replaced with a preterite.
  2. Whether (d) is grammatical and idiomatic … mostly yes, but I hesitate to “approve” of it because of vor Tagen. As Crissov already mentioned in a comment, vor Tagen sounds strange except in specific contexts; schon vor Tagen will often work, and vor zwei Tagen (or any number) is fine.
  3. Yes, (c) and (d) are equivalent, and both can be said – unlike (b) – when the cat has since reappeared:

    Unsere Katze ist vor drei Tagen verschwunden. Heute früh ist sie endlich wieder aufgetaucht.

  • Thank you. It's much easier to think ist is a copula than to try to squeeze a "present" aspect out of a Perfekt. But questions. Suppose (i) the cock crows from 5 a.m. to 6 vs. (ii) from 6 to 7, and at 7 I declare (p) Der Hahn hat seit einer Stunde gekräht vs. (q) Der Hahn kräht seit einer Stunde. Am I right to think: (p) means (i); (q) means (ii)? (That is my guess because (q) looks just like (a) from the main question.) – Catomic Feb 2 '16 at 1:52
  • 1
    (q) means (ii), but (p) also means (ii) – or possibly 6.00 to 6.59 or something like that. Definitely not (i). In practice, (q) occurs far more often. – chirlu Feb 2 '16 at 4:54
  • For (i), one would use the preterite (Der Hahn krähte seit einer Stunde)? – Catomic Feb 2 '16 at 6:07
  • It’s not impossible to say that, but it would need to be clear from context that the point of reference is 6.00. – chirlu Feb 2 '16 at 15:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.