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I came across the following sentence in a podcast by DW:

Es ist immer einfach, das zu tun, was die Mehrheit tut.

I wondered why it is weirdly worded. As a Learner, I'd reword it to this:

Es ist immer einfach was die Mehrheit tut zu tun.

Is it correct? And am I correct in saying that the wording of the first sentence is quite weird?

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    I'm sorry to say I find the wording in the first sentence OK and your re-arrangement weird. – tofro Aug 19 '16 at 9:19
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    Yep. tofro is right. No native speaker would say it in the second way. It would be correct from an logical perspective but it sounds weird. – mizech Aug 19 '16 at 9:37
  • The sentence is quite short in my opinion. Its complexity originates in the generality the sentence keeps (likely to be exemplified in the text to follow). So the only way I see to simplification is: get specific what the process is, in which one wants to mirror the majority. Then split: Die Mehrheit tut (placeholder). Es ist einfach, auch (placeholder) zu tun. – guidot Aug 19 '16 at 10:08
  • @tofro: Perhaps the structure dividable to three parts which "das" and "was" is misleading. I am not sure why but the original sentence still sounds weird to my ears – Gigili Aug 19 '16 at 10:34
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    You could actually drop the das and say: Es ist immer einfach, zu tun, was die Mehrheit tut. In that case was relates back to zu tun. – Ralph M. Rickenbach Aug 19 '16 at 11:28
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Analysing the original sentence, we have a main clause which contains an extended infinitive construction, which in turn has a depending relative clause.

Es ist immer einfach, {das zu tun, {was die Mehrheit tut.}{rel. clause}}{inf. const.}

The wording of this is in no way perceived as weird, as a number of German speakers have already answered here. Why is that? Well, clearly the ‘was die Mehrheit tut’-relative clause depends only on the ‘das zu tun’ infinitive, so it makes sense having it after that. (German relative clauses typically follow what they are describing.) And of course, German has a tendency of putting infinitive constructions at the very end of a sentence. So this order makes sense, if you consider the relative clause as being part of the infinitve.

What about your suggested reordering?

Es ist immer einfach, {{was die Mehrheit tut,}{rel. clause} zu tun.}{inf. const.}

The main problem here is that relative clauses don’t precede often. They do sometimes, especially if they refer to something rather general:

Was die Mehrheit von mir denkt, interessiert mich doch nicht.

It really just seems so much more natural to have the relative clause follow the infinitive in this case, though. I wouldn’t want to call it ‘wrong’, but if I were marking, I would underline it with a squiggly line to mean ‘not a good way to express it’.

Also note that the relative clause must be flanked by a pair of commas as I added here.

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Maybe in this case it is helpful for you to understand the sentence structure if we made a translation:

Es ist immer einfach, das zu tun, was die Mehrheit tut.

It is always easy(ier) to do what the majority does.

Maybe this is a special case as a German sentence structure wouldn't always fit the English structure. But as said in this case one can see clearly that your wording sounds weird:

Es ist immer einfach was die Mehrheit tut zu tun.

It is always easy(ier) what the majority does to do.

I hope somebody could help you with a gramatical explanation!

A simpler way to express the same it maybe:

Es ist immer einfach(er) der Mehrheit zu folgen.

Zu folgen: means to follow, do alike.

An other option could be:

Es ist immer einfach, zu tun, was die Mehrheit tut.

But I assume it will still sound weird to you, as the difference to the starting sentence is not that big and so is the difference in the meaning!

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Es ist immer einfacher, was die Mehrheit tut, zu tun.

I would say theoretically this is not wrong (but you need the commas)!

But even if this is not wrong, it sound extremely weird and isn't really nice German.

Everybody will understand you, but if you want to learn nice German, you should use it as it was used in your Podcast.

An other nice possibility would be to change some words of the sentence, like Medi1Saif said before:

Es ist immer einfach(er) der Mehrheit zu folgen.

  • I don't think that you can insert that clause there. There are a few variations that are grammatical but which would make the sentence really clumsy, like starting the sentence with "Das, was die Mehrheit tut" or even with "Was die Mehrheit tut, das". But splitting the sentence above in that awkward way, feels totally off to me. – Em1 Aug 19 '16 at 12:11
  • It sounds also totally of to me, but I think it isn't really wrong. – Anetair Aug 19 '16 at 12:31
  • This is wrong - it should be "Es ist immer einfach(er), der Mehrheit zu folgen.". – MichelleH Aug 19 '16 at 13:37
  • @MichelleH Are you referring to the comma? It may well be optional according to the latest rules … – Jan Aug 21 '16 at 15:10

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