I have difficulty to understand the syntax of this undermentioned sentence:

  1. Sie sagt, dass man Schönheit nur schwer definieren kann.

In English, Polish and Lithuanian we would say:

She says that beauty can be difficult to define.

My question is:

Can we also say (would Native German speaker actually use such sentence):

  1. Sie sagt, dass Schonheit schwer zu definieren ist.

If yes: what is the difference? If not: why?

1 Answer 1


Is your difficulty about the man? Man is a fill-in-noun meaning someone or simply one.

Sie sagt, dass man Schönheit nur schwer definieren kann.

She says one can define beauty rather hard.

So man is the subject in the dependent clause, and Schönheit is an accusative object.

The other example you gave is also valid German but it means a slightly different thing.

Sie sagt, dass Schönheit schwer zu definieren ist.

She says beauty is hard to define.

That's Zustandspassiv. Die Schönheit has a property schwer zu definieren.

The third way to say something like that is

Sie sagt, dass Schönheit schwer definiert werden kann.

She says beauty is hard to be defined.

That's Vorgangspassiv. Anyone has a hard time to define beauty.

  • Good, answer, but there is no difference in meaning between the OPs two proposed German sentences.
    – Toscho
    Aug 10, 2017 at 11:29
  • I doubt that "Schönheit ist schwer zu definieren" is Zustandspassiv. Zustandspassiv would be "Schönheit ist schwer definiert" (Grammatically valid but unusual and somewhat ambiguous).
    – RHa
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:01

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