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I see this a lot in localized software. Windows says "Wird heruntergefahren" or "Wird neu gestartet", that is it uses the passive voice, when the corresponding english source uses present progressive - "Shutting down" or "Restarting". On the other hand I see in other apps (volunteer-translated) another form - "Am herunterladen". I've been told that this form "am (Verb)" expresses an ongoing action just like the progressive tenses in english, but the form itself is either colloquial or regional.

To what extent is "am (Verb)" an "official" sort of way to describe an ongoing action and what are the contexts in which it's shunned?

Bonus question: what is this form "am (Verb)" even called? How exactly do you google it?

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    I'm not sure what grammatical rule should allow "am" in this case, but as native speaker I think it sounds awful and therefore I would be really surpised if it's standard high-german. Please, just don't use that, something dies within me everytime I have to read that. – ikadfoanhfda Aug 3 '17 at 18:41
  • @ikadfoanhfda <3, "read" or "hear" - critical question! – Stefan Dragnev Aug 3 '17 at 21:24
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    Die Kuh am Schwanz am raus am ziehen. – Em1 Aug 4 '17 at 7:18
  • Ich gebe zu, dass die Form Die Kuh am Schwanz am raus am Ziehen tatsächlich vorkommt. Aber muss es nicht korrekt Die Kuh am Schwanz am Rausziehen heißen bzw. Wo ist der Franz? - Der Franz ist grad die Kuh am Schwanz am Rausziehen? Bzw. ganz korrekt: Die Kuh am Amschwanzrausziehen? Oder Der Franz ist am Diekuhamschwanzrausziehen? – Christian Geiselmann Aug 4 '17 at 10:33
  • @ChristianGeiselmann "ganz korrekt" (???). Die Erleichterung, die sich breit macht, wenn man diese Sätze nicht hören müsste, wäre es wahrscheinlich wert, dass der Franz die Kuh stecken ließe, wo immer sie auch grade steckt... – tofro Aug 4 '17 at 13:53
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What you observe is (somewhat ridiculing) called "Rheinische Verlaufsform" after the West German dialects where it is used the most. Duden "Richtiges und gutes Deutsch" calls it "regional, but increasingly more accepted in Standard German". Some Verbs accept this form easier, some not so easy: You can express you are deciding what car to buy by

Ich bin noch am Überlegen, welches Auto ich mir kaufen soll

(Even in Standard German) but

Ich bin grade am Streicheln meiner Katze

does, for some reason, not work so well, just as "am Herunterladen" is.

Interestingly, "beim Herunterladen" would be fully acceptable in Standard German - No one would object if you'd mention a colleague being off for Lunch as "Er ist grade beim Essen".

German Wikipedia has a dedicated page on how continuity can be expressed in German, in various dialects and in Standard German.

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  • Verlaufsform <3 – Stefan Dragnev Aug 3 '17 at 21:28
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    The reason why your second example does not work so well is that you have chosen an unusual word order. If you switch the word order to the more common «Ich bin gerade meine Katze am Streicheln», then the sentence works just fine. I think Duden is, once again, regionally biased. In Switzerland, for instance, there can be no doubt that the progressive with «am» is accepted standard German. – mach Aug 3 '17 at 21:58
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    @Darkwing: All standard German is regional, but the Duden (as it is mentioned here, I have not verified) makes it sound as if there were a non-regional standard German – by which they presumably mean the standard German from Northern Germany, which obviously also is a region. – mach Aug 4 '17 at 5:08
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    Ich bin die Katze am Streicheln is perfectly common (in certain regions) for casual oral communication (with family and friends) but would be completely misplaced in written communication or orally in more formal contexts. It has a very odd word order (from the perspective of standard German). – Christian Geiselmann Aug 4 '17 at 10:22
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    @ChristianGeiselmann: There is no single perspective of standard German. In some varieties of standard German, construction like die Katze am Streicheln sein are perfectly acceptable (from the perspective of that particular regional variety of standard German), while in other varieties, they are not (from the perspective of another particular regional variety of standard German). In the former varieties of standard German, such constructions are used even in the most elevated registers as found in literature or prestigious newspapers. – mach Aug 4 '17 at 17:40
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The so called am-Progressive is a colloquial term, therefore you'd never see it in official translations. It's also called Rhine oder "Ruhrpott" progressive although its use is not limited to the region anymore.

But these are things you already pointed out in your question, however this should also conclude the contexts in which the form is used. In my personal opinion it is only acceptable in a spoken form, you should never put this in writing (as ikadfoanhfda suggested in his comment) .

Another note: when using the form the verb is nominalized and written with a capital letter.

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  • Ruhrpott <3 what a discovery! – Stefan Dragnev Aug 3 '17 at 21:33
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People who have to translate ("localize") user alerts in computer programmes are well-advised to not use the am-Progressive (am Herunterladen). Am-Progressive is common in oral, casual communication (like with familiy and friends), but you should avoid using it in written communication and orally in more formal contexts.

In formal contexts and written communication using the am-Progressive is likely to suggest that the person speaking or writing has a lack of education, or is trying to be funny on purpose.

Of course, if your task is to "localize" a computer programme to a certain sub-region of the German-speaking area, say, Swabia, you indeed could use it, as in dialect the am-Progressive can be considered standard:

Obacht! Update isch am Ronderlaada!

(Attention. Update is downloading)

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