From the German translation of A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (boldface mine):

Eine Erklärung wurde erst viel später geliefert, im Jahre 1687, als Sir Isaac Newton die «Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica» veröffentlichte, wahrscheinlich das wichtigste von einem einzelnen verfaßte physikalische Werk, das jemals erschienen ist.

Why is it verfaßte physikalische and not verfaßten physikalischen?

  • 1
    It boils down to das ... verfasste ... Werk.
    – Ingmar
    Nov 25 '16 at 15:52
  • but verfasste physikalische modifies werk or not? Nov 25 '16 at 15:53
  • 2
    I do wonder about the typesetting used in your example. The way quotation marks are used suggests a Swiss text but it contains an ß.
    – Jan
    Nov 25 '16 at 22:26
  • "Von einem Einzelnen", Einzelnen groß, oder? Nov 27 '16 at 7:05

As stated in the comment by Ingmar:

The important parts of the sentence are:

wahrscheinlich das wichtigste physikalische Werk, das jemals erschienen ist.

The Werk in this sentence is simply the subject of the sentence, and wichtigste and physikalische are adjectives for the subject and take the nominative clause same as the noun itself.

There is a subordinate clause embedded in that simple clause:

von einem einzelnen verfaßte

It has no effect on the clause of Werk

  • I see. The original in English is: "...probably the most important single work ever published in the physical sciences." So the german translator made it into "The most important physical work of a single written one" Nov 25 '16 at 16:05
  • 1
    @user135711 The (re-)translation would probably something like "probably the most important physical work, written by a single person, that has ever been published". Nov 25 '16 at 16:17
  • Ahhh, now it makes sense! That was the final key. Nov 25 '16 at 16:19
  • How about this: Why is verhelfen not verholfen. Does this strike a native as being wrong? : "Die Geschichte, ein Apfel, der Newton auf den Kopf gefallen sei, habe ihm zu dieser Eingebung verhelfen, gehört wohl ins Reich der Legende." Nov 25 '16 at 16:21
  • 2
    Nice answer expect that it is an embedded attributive participle construction, not a sentence since it doesn’t feature a conjugated verb.
    – Jan
    Nov 25 '16 at 22:24

This is a case where reduction gives us the answer, but I’ll admit that it’s rather complex.

Wahrscheinlich das wichtigste von einem einzelnen verfaßte physikalische Werk, das jemals erschienen ist.

This is our main ‘sentence’ (actually a noun phrase; it’s not a full sentence as it is lacking a conjugate verb in the non-subordinate part). The first things we can safely remove are the subordinate clause and the introducing adverb.

Das wichtigste von einem einzelnen verfaßte physikalische Werk

We may already be able to see that the noun of the noun phrase has been modified by three attributes. The first one is wichtigste and the third is physikalische; again, we can safely remove them.

Das von einem einzelnen verfaßte Werk

Next step would be to recognise that the words between das and Werk are a participle construction using the past participle of verfassen, verfasst (1996 spelling) or verfaßt (1901 spelling). This participle construction, like in English, shortens a relative clause and everything that is not the attributive participle itself can also be removed. Thus, we end up with:

Das verfaßte Werk.

This is a simple definite article — attribute — noun construction. Following the standard declension rules, the attribute features weak declension due to the presence of the definite article. We cannot safely derive the grammatical case from our noun phrase alone but it is either neuter nominative or neuter accusative. In both, weak declension requires the attribute to end in e, not en. -en would be the marker for genitive or dative case.

The case can be determined by looking at the surrounding sentence.

als Sir Isaac Newton die «Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica» veröffentlichte

Since the noun phrase is an attribute to die «Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica», which has to be in accusative case for grammatical and semantic reasons, so is the Werk. Indeed, if we use the word Text which is masculine instead, the noun phrase becomes:

Wahrscheinlich den wichtigsten von einem einzelnen verfaßten physikalischen Text, der jemals erschienen ist.

And, just for fun and giggles, while keeping the word Werk we can also modify the original subordinate clause in a way that puts Werk into the genitive case; in this case, as mentioned above, there is an -en:

als Sir Isaac Newton den Text der «Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica» veröffentlichte, wahrscheinlich des wichtigsten von einem einzelnen verfaßen physikalischen Werks, das jemals erschienen ist.


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