Das habe ich aber leider vergessen.

I understand that in English, it is "I am sorry, I forgot it."

  • Why is Das used?

  • Why is the word order aber leider used? Will different word orders change the meaning of sentence?

  • 2
    Die Übersetzung ist wegen des aber nicht genau. Und das das entspricht dem it. – user unknown Nov 7 '16 at 15:22
  • This question should answer the part about das. – Jan Nov 8 '16 at 12:48

In this case the different word order doesn't change the meaning of the sentence, but its tone.

The most neutral variant would probably be

Aber ich habe das leider vergessen.

This could be translated as

But I forgot that, unfortunately.

By moving the demonstrative pronoun "das" to the front, you're emphasizing it. In that case, it gives

Das habe ich aber leider vergessen.

a little annoyed, somewhat defensive tone: "Yes, I know that we need the thing now. And I know that I was supposed to bring it. But I forgot, ok? Now get off my case already."

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  • 1
    There are subtle differences in tone and emphasis, and in any case you will have to switch ich and habe to "habe ich " (except for your last example, obviously). – Ingmar Nov 7 '16 at 5:53
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    @HenningKockerbeck: 'That can of course change the meaning, like in "Das Mädchen sieht das Kind" -> "Das Kind sieht das Mädchen".' - that doesn't change the meaning. The sentence is ambiguous either way. The ambiguity can be removed by using passive voice, for instance. – O. R. Mapper Nov 7 '16 at 15:43
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    @O.R.Mapper Theoretically, one could argue that the word order in "Das Mädchen sieht das Kind" were object - predicate - subject, like in "Dem Mädchen folgt das Kind". That would emphasize the object. But that "reading" would IMHO be quite constrained or constructed. – Henning Kockerbeck Nov 8 '16 at 14:10
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    @HenningKockerbeck: That's exactly one of the possible interpretations I am seeing in that sentence - it is ambiguous because for these words, it is not clear which part is the subject and which part is the object. More than on ordering, emphasis in German depends on stress in spoken language. In sentences like this, though, the meaning is often unrelated to emphasis and becomes clear from context instead. In "Wer sieht das Kind?" - "Das Mädchen sieht das Kind." - "Wen sieht das Kind?" - "Das Mädchen sieht das Kind.", the sentence appears twice, and you will intuitively interpret it ... – O. R. Mapper Nov 8 '16 at 14:21
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    ... differently in each occurrence. While you read it, you will notice that in both cases, das Mädchen is emphasized because it is the answer to the question, even though it has different roles in the sentence. – O. R. Mapper Nov 8 '16 at 14:22

In addition to the already excellent anser of Henning I want to answer the question itself and the question from your comments as well: In German language word order is not as strict as in other languages. We don't have to follow SPO all the time to make sentences understandable. But still there are a lot of rules for possible constructs.

The (most) literal English translation of your sentence would be:

But unfortunately I forgot about that.

As you can see from the translation, this sentence is usually not able to stand alone, one would want to know what exactly was forgotten and what the but references to.

As said by Henning the word order gives the emphasis:
As written you would interpret it as

I did some things, but exactly that what you are asking for was forgotten

You could also write:

Ich habe das aber leider vergessen

Here the emphasis lies on Ich and means

It was me who forgot about that, but you (and probably anyone else) obviously remembered.

The third example in your comment is:

Leider habe ich das aber vergessen

The emphasis lies on Leider:

I am so sorry, that I forgot about this

Another variation that best shows the dependency of the other sentence, that is "missing" in your question would be:

Aber leider habe ich das vergessen

Emphasis is on the aber. Here a first sentence like

I know, I should have thought about it, but...

would be expected, and the aber shows, that despite of the fact of the other sentence, something was forgotten.

There is one more (grammatically correct) variation, but you will probably only find this in literature, as usually no one talks like this:

Vergessen habe ich das leider.

You guess: the emphasis is on the verb vergessen...

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  • Wow, I like your explanation! So clear to me. Thx! So...I can guess that the emphasis part usually put in the first word. Can I say that? – Echo Yang Nov 8 '16 at 4:37
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    Yes, in written sentences this is usually true. But when talking to each other, of course you could emphasize other parts of the sentence.... – Torsten Link Nov 8 '16 at 8:10

The "Aber" marks this sentence as an explanation for something else, that occured previously in the communication.

The base sentence is:

Ich habe es leider vergessen.

I forgot it, and I'm sorry about it.

As so often, the sentence with "Aber" makes sense in some context only. For example:

Ich wollte eigentlich Kuchen backen. Aber leider habe ich vergessen, Mehl zu kaufen.

Here, the sentence explains why there is no cake, despite there was the intention to bake some. This would, of course, also work without the "aber", since one knows that without flower, one cannot make cake. But this understanding is on the semantic level, whereas the "Aber" tells us on the grammar level that what follows is supposed to explain the failure of something that was mentioned previously. This does not only work with "vergessen", but is very general:

Ich wollte dir Rosen mitbringen, aber der Blumenladen hatte schon zu.

Ich hatte gehofft, X würde US Präsident. Es wurde aber stattdessen Y.
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Putting Das first like this makes it the topic of the sentence, to use a linguistic term. We can translate it as:

As for that, I'm afraid I forgot it.

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