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Below I quote a sentence from a book:

Immer wieder glaubte sie, einzelne Wörter aus der Unterhaltung der Damen herauszuhören, doch drang nichts an ihr Ohr, was einen Sinn ergeben hätte.

In the first clause, glauben has an infinitive clause as its object, in the stead of an alternative dass clause, which would be dass sie einzelne Wörter aus der Unterhaltung der Damen heraushörte.

I suppose in this dass clause the action heraushören is of imperfect aspect, i.e. the action was still going on. Is this assumption correct?

If this assumption is correct, then the infinitive clause would convey an imperfect aspect as well as the dass clause because it is no more than a contraction of the dass clause; but this seems curious to me because I presume the infinitive always represents the aorist rather than any other aspect.

Could anyone help dispel this confusion?

  • "Immer wieder" definitively hints to an imperfect. And you are working on a different sentence than the original - There's no "dass" in there... I don't think both say the same thing (depending on whether you consider heraushörte in your replacement subjunctive or not.) – tofro May 3 '16 at 5:17
  • What is an aorist? – Em1 May 3 '16 at 7:03
  • @Em1 : thanks for your attention ; if an action or event is represented with the aorist aspect, it is perceived as a simple , integral entity with any possible inner structure or process being left out of consideration. – Lynnyo May 3 '16 at 7:55
  • @tofro : thanks for your comment ; I am wondering whether the infinitival clause herein, which is quite contracted, could be expanded / restored into a COMPLETE subordinate clause with its meaning unaltered? My previous attempt at such clause-expansion seems unsuccessful because the meaning has been altered, so could you give one that does properly preserves the meaning? – Lynnyo May 3 '16 at 8:07
  • I usually perceive the infinitive as neutral in that respect; it conveys neither the aorist aspect as in Greek (it doesn't have to be a single completed action in the past), nor a present aspect, nor a past aspect. The aspect, if any, is derived from the context. – dirkt May 3 '16 at 8:47
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German does not have aspects. Therefore, your assumption that “the infinitive always represents the aorist rather than any other aspect” is wrong, making your other points moot.

Still, the actions of glauben and heraushören are indeed perceived as happening at the same time, but the reason for this is one of tense: In such clauses, this is what the present infinitive indicates. The past infinitive, instead, indicates that its action happened earlier than that of the main clause.

Sie glaubte, einzelne Wörter herauszuhören.
Sie glaubte, einzelne Wörter herausgehört zu haben.

  • Many thanks for your answer ; I am wondering whether the infinitival clause herein, which is quite contracted, could be expanded or restored into a COMPLETE subordinate clause with its meaning unaltered? Could you give one such complete subordinate clause if it is possible to do so? – Lynnyo May 4 '16 at 3:47
  • is such simultaneity between an infinitival clause and the verb that governs it applies in general (beyond this special case of ,,glauben'' herein)? – Lynnyo May 4 '16 at 4:02

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