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Given the sentence:

Er stieß seinen Kameraden gegen den Baum, dass dieser zitterte.

Can one determine exactly who/what it was, that was shivering?

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  • Apart from style considerations: Replacing »dieser« by »ersterer / letzterer« would resolve the ambiguity.
    – Pollitzer
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 12:30
  • @Pollitzer: No, we have 3 candidates: Der Stoßer, der Kamerad, der Baum. Commented May 27, 2017 at 0:42
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    @userunknown: Wäre erneut der Stoßer gemeint, würde man, denke ich, beim »er« bleiben, sodass der Stoßer bei Verwendung von »ersterer« ausscheidet.
    – Pollitzer
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 8:12
  • Zwar kann der Stoßer nicht mit "dieser" gemeint sein, da man dann bei "er" geblieben wäre, wie Du schreibst, aber wenn man "ersterer/letzterer" benutzt weiß ja der Leser nicht, dass man "dieser" erwogen hat. Ersterer würde dann m.E. den Stoßer bezeichnen. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 1:29

1 Answer 1

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No, sentences such as this can't be unambiguously formed. The relation of dieser remains to be determined by context. If we only had this sentence, both the tree or the buddy could shake.

If we need to make that clear we would have to introduce missing context, e.g. by adding:

Er stieß seinen Kameraden gegen den Baum, dass dieser bis in die Krone zitterte.

In this very example the shaking part becomes humble if we refer it to something with the buddy. Hence we can assume that zittern may likely refer to the tree rather than to the buddy. But it is not 100% certain.

Alternatively we can reorder the sentence to avoid an ambiguous relative clause:

Der Baum zitterte, als er seinen Kameraden gegen ihn stieß.

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  • What if the buddy were a king? ;)
    – Gerhard
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 12:25
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    @Gerhard: Aber ein Satz wie »Er stieß Oberon gegen den Baum, dass dieser bis in die Krone zitterte« hätte viel poetischen Charme.
    – Pollitzer
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 14:44
  • Hmm, I always thought that in a construction like this, the reference is unambiguously the thing that was mentioned last in the main clause... if you wanted to refer to the first thing, it would have to be "der"... Searching (very cursorily) for a rule, I only came up with this: canoo.net/services/OnlineGrammar/InflectionRules/FRegeln-P/… ... but maybe that is only true for cases where "dieser" and "jener" is used?
    – Mac
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 16:16
  • Der Stoßer selbst könnte von dem Schlag auch zittern. Commented May 27, 2017 at 0:44

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