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I know that "Ich werde aus ihm nicht klug" means "I can’t make him out" or "I can't understand him".
Could someone please explain why?
The literal translation "I become out of him/from him not smart" is hard to understand from a construction point of view.
Btw., is my literal translation right?

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Ich werde aus [Person/Sache/Information] nicht klug.

is a figure of speech meaning you can't figure something or someone out.

The literal translation would be

I won't become smart out of him/her/it.

It is a way to say that you cant get information out of something that could make you become smart enough to understand it.

"Ich werde aus diesem Lehrbuch nicht klug" might be easier to understand, the pattern is simply applied 1:1 to other objects and people.

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  • In Swedish we have almost exactly the same expression, but with another preposition, "on" rather than "out of". "Jag blir inte klok på honom". This shows that the exact meaning of the preposition isn't important, it's just used to establish some sort of relation to the object. – Beta Aug 24 '16 at 8:30
  • Incorrect. The "aus" doesn't just express an undefined relation, but also specifies a direction, in this case picturing the (desired) direction of understanding-fostering information flow, whereas "on" is... well, I'm not good enough at speaking Swedish to make a proper statement on that, so I'll have to trust you that it's unimportant. In any case, drawing conclusions between languages, especially for figures of speech, is not a good idea. – Estharon Aug 24 '16 at 8:46
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"Ich werde aus ihm nicht klug/schlau." = I fail to read him / can't make him out. Expressing a sense of being puzzled by the person's words, behaviours, etc. Literally perhaps: "I'm not getting smart (out) of him."

It's a collocation of the idiomatic expression 'klug werden' or 'schlau werden' in the meaning of 'learning something, understanding it' with the preposition 'aus' + dative.

This also occurs for things that need to be understood to be of use, e.g., user instructions or machines: "Ich werde aus dieser Anleitung einfach nicht schlau." – "I just don't get these instructions."

A related proverbial phrase is "Aus Schaden wird man klug.", literally: "from damage one gets smart", used in the sense of "you live and you learn" or "once bitten, twice shy" depending on the context.

Also related is the expression "aus etwasᴰᴬᵀ lernen" – to learn a lesson from something, usually a damage/misfortune suffered by someone.

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