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This is the sentence:

We should pay attention to what the teacher's talking about.

Here's what I've come up with:

Wir sollten achten, auf was der Lehrer spricht

The position of auf is what's bothering me. I know that the verb is:

auf etw achten (to pay attention)

As you can see, the position of auf in my translation of the sentence is after I've ended the first clause with the verb (achten). So is it possible to place auf after I've ended the clause with the verb that uses it as its preposition?

  • Welcome, please take the tour. – c.p. Nov 20 '16 at 9:33
  • @ali_runnindis: The yellow boxes are made with the blockquote icon. A good translation would be Wir sollten dem Lehrer aufmerksam zuhören. – guidot Nov 20 '16 at 10:52
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You have found the correct vocabulary, but your grammar is a little bit off.

The preposition which initiates the relative clause is the preposition demanded by the verb of the relative clause. In your case: The relative clause has the verb über etwas sprechen, so the preposition initiating the relative clause should be über:

Wir sollten achten, über was der Lehrer spricht.

Now you may see, that the preposition of the verb in the main clause is missing. In your case: auf etwas achten is missing the auf. As the relative clause is relative to something and this something needs to be a substantive group, you need a substantive group in the main clause, that embodies both your preposition aufand can be referenced by the relative clause. This is done by the ü pronomial adverb darauf.

Wir sollten darauf achten, über was der Lehrer spricht.

Beware, that there is also the verb etwas achten in German, which means to honour sth. instead of to pay attention to sth.. Consequently, also the first sentence I wrote is grammatically correct and senseful, but it means something different.

  • I see, but is it also possible to say: Wir sollten auf was der Lehrer sagt, achten – ali_ runnindis Nov 20 '16 at 13:57
  • If you add a comma after auf then it's correct but unusual nowadays. – Toscho Nov 20 '16 at 14:01
  • Very good explanation. But just to avoid a possible confusion: the meaning of the first and second sentence is different. 1) means "we should respect the item/object/issue the teacher is talking about" (like when he talks about honesty or God or something) while 2) means "we should pay attention to what the teacher is talking about". I'd interpret that as "listen carefully!" – PerlDuck Nov 20 '16 at 14:20
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to pay attention to sth. = auf etwas achten

to talk about sth. = über etwas sprechen or in this case also: sagen

So the sentence becomes

Wir sollten darauf achten, was der Lehrer sagt. (...worüber der Lehrer spricht.)

  • So, I can't use auf after if I've ended a clause with a verb that uses it as its preposition? In that case, could I say: Wir sollten auf was der Lehrer sagt, achten. – ali_ runnindis Nov 20 '16 at 12:07
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    I think, this answer misses the explaination why "auf etw. achten" becomes "darauf achten" – Iris Nov 20 '16 at 13:12
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As others have noted, the correct construction is: Wir sollten darauf achten, über was der Lehrer spricht. Hopefully the following explains why.

A loose translation would be:

We should pay attention to it, what the teacher's talking about.

The first part, before the comma, then becomes "Wir sollten darauf achten," German, unlike English, adds the particle "da" (it) to anchor the "auf" preposition and thus connect it to the verb achten.

In the second part, you move the preposition about (über) to the beginning of the clause.

"über was der Lehrer spricht." Loosely translated, that means "about what the teacher is talking."

  • Where does the "r" in darauf, daran, darin,... come from? – user1583209 Nov 20 '16 at 20:23
  • @user1583209: The r is for "alliteration," to have a consonant separate two vowels. Otherwise,it would be da-auf, which would be hard to handle. – Tom Au Nov 20 '16 at 21:56
  • I think “to that which” would be better. – Carsten S Nov 21 '16 at 8:36
  • @CarstenS: What you said is probably true about a "re translation.." But I was anchoring my answer to the original English sentence (too many changes might confuse the issue). – Tom Au Dec 5 '16 at 21:23

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