I want to bring forth some examples of the garden path model in German and am reading the Wikipedia page but get stuck on the examples, for example,

Welche Politikerin hat die Minister getroffen?

If I am not wrong, it means "Which politician did the ministers meet?". It seems that in English the sentence is alright with no any ambiguity.

Could anyone please explain it a bit to me? Thanks.

A garden path sentence, such as “The old man the boat” (meaning “Old people are the crew of the boat”), is a grammatically correct sentence that starts in such a way that a reader’s most likely interpretation will be incorrect; the reader is lured into a parse that turns out to be a dead end or yields a clearly unintended meaning. (Wikipedia: Garden path sentence)

In German it is called Holzwegeffekt, see Wikipedia: Holzwegeffekt


Welche Politikerin hat die Minister getroffen?

Which (female) politician has met the ministers?


Welche Politikerin hat der Minister getroffen?

Which (female) politician has been met by the (male) minister?

The "Holzweg" is assuming the (female) politician is the object, because Welche is usually introducing an accusative object, not the subject. This is cleared up as soon the article is heard, because its case, number and gender doesn't match that "Holzweg".

  • 2
    "This is cleared up as soon the article is heard" - not quite; it is only cleared up after hearing that the word after the article is not Ministerin. Mar 22 '17 at 4:52
  • When you introduce Ministerin into the sentence, it becomes overall ambigous. One could not tell subject and object apart then and had to guess from context.
    – Janka
    Mar 22 '17 at 12:59

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