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My son (in a Gymnasium in Germany) had some homework today that stumped me. He has to identify the Attribute in a set of sentences. Some of them were easy:

Plötzlich hören sie im Keller des Hauses merkwürdige Geräusche.

Going by the Wikipedia article I've linked above, in this sentence, des Hauses would be a Substantivgruppe als Genitivattribut modifying Keller, and merkwürdige would be an Adjektiv attribute modifying Geräusche.

But this one left me quite puzzled:

Da sieht er die Katze der Nachbarn verschreckt in der Ecke sitzen.

Clearly der Nachbarn is another Substantivgruppe als Genitivattribut modifying die Katze. I'm up in the air about the rest.

I would guess that verschreckt can't modify die Katze due to its position. I would also guess that sitzen is a verb, not an attribute.

But what about in der Ecke? Can it modify die Katze, or must it modify sitzen, and why? And how exactly would one describe what sitzen does in this sentence?

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    Verschreckt modifies the finite verb sitzen. There's a hell of a difference between sitzen and verschreckt sitzen. In der Ecke is the place where something happens, as im Keller des Hauses is in the other example. – Janka Jul 11 '17 at 16:44
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    Oh no... do they still abuse children in school with this nonsensical form of grammar? I had hoped this had gone down the river of history... – Christian Geiselmann Jul 12 '17 at 9:31
  • @ChristianGeiselmann, my son is not a native German speaker, and the whole year has been like this. The school said they'd teach him German; apparently sitting through crap like this is how they intended to do it. Needless to say, he'll be in a different school next year... – Kyralessa Jul 12 '17 at 12:50
  • @ChristianGeiselmann why would this be nonsense grammar? Is it the teaching method you oppose to, or the grammatical analysis? – Beta Jul 12 '17 at 15:26
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    @Beta. I call it nonsensical because I do not see the sense (or use) of it. - My background: I spent 7 years as a newspaper editor in a German daily, so I would call myself a professional German language practicioner, and I studied linguistics (based on slavonic languages), so I might call myself also to some degree a linguist. I find analysing the structure of language(s) extremely interesting and important for the intellectual development of the individual, but I never saw any use of this specific form of analysis which is being taught in German schools. – Christian Geiselmann Jul 13 '17 at 8:34
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In a very strict sense, everything that goes with the predicate of a sentence (or rather how something happens) is not considered an attribute.

Attributes are additions to components of the sentence (subject, object,...) that qualify or modify these components.

A good test for an attribute, at least for most non-complicated sentences, is: If you move the component that you suspect is qualified by the (suspected) attribute, the attribute moves together with it and does not change its relative position to the component.

Die Katze der Nachbarin sitzt verschreckt in der Ecke.

vs.

In der Ecke sitzt verschreckt die Katze der Nachbarin

strong hint towards "der Nachbarin" is an attribute, "verschreckt" is none.

Slightly different:

Die verschreckte Katze der Nachbarin sitzt in der Ecke.

vs.

In der Ecke sitzt die verschreckte Katze der Nachbarin

both "verschreckt" and "der Nachbarin* moved together with the subject, so both are attributes.

Both "in der Ecke" and "verschreckt" in your sentence qualify the predicate.

So, in your second original sentence, only "der Nachbarin" would be considered an attribute.

  • It wasn't "Mrs Neighbour" (die Nachbarin), but the Neighbours ( die Nachbarn) in the example, but that's of course of little importance – Beta Jul 12 '17 at 15:25
  • If one wanted "in der Ecke" to qualify the cat, how would one do it? Can one do it? In English I could say something like "The cat in the corner sat frightened." – Kyralessa Jul 13 '17 at 14:51
  • @Kyralessa you can do the same in German: "Die Katze in der Ecke saß verschreckt da." – tofro Jul 13 '17 at 16:07
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You already answered your own question with the wikipedia link you gave. Here, we have one example for an attribute:

Das Bellen des Hundes weckte mich.

In this example, "des Hundes" is an attribute, specifying "Bellen". Applying this to your sentence, we see that "der Nachbarn" is an attribute, specifying "Katze".

The word "verschreckt" specifies "sitzen" (as already stated, there is a strong difference between sitting and sitting teriffied) and is thus no attribute. To see that, look again at the wikipedia article you gave:

Nur Begleiter eines Verbs werden nie als Attribute bezeichnet, weil dies genau die Elemente sind, die als Satzglieder bezeichnet werden.

This claims that words that go with verbs are never, ever considered attributes.

  • It wasn't clear to me what verschreckt and in der Ecke went with. If it had been, I wouldn't have asked the question. – Kyralessa Jul 13 '17 at 10:26

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