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I've been writing a practice essay for the B2 exam, which I will be taking on Monday (wish me luck!); and the theme is a report about a married couple who've won the lotto. In my essay, I've written the following:

Wenn man solche Nachrichten hört, könnte man nicht anders, als sich in die Gewinner hineinzuversetzen.

Is the usage correct in this context, or should be expressed another way, like for example:

Wenn man solche Nachrichten hört, könnte man nicht anders, als sich vorzustellen, wer man der Gewinner wäre.

Which would be better, and why? Or is there an even better way to express it other than the two that I've mentioned?

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The first sentence is better than the second, but both have problems.

Formally acceptable version of the first sentence:

Wenn man solche Nachrichten hört, kann man nicht anders, als sich in die Gewinner hineinzuversetzen.

Formally acceptable version of the second sentence:

Wenn man solche Nachrichten hört, kann man nicht anders, als sich vorzustellen, man wäre der Gewinner.

Explanation: if you want to use Konjunktiv in the main sentence (könnte man nicht anders) in order to express that this situation is imaginary (not real), you have to use Konjunktiv througout the entire sentence, for example:

Hörte man solche Nachrichten, könnte man nicht anders, als sich vorzustellen, man wäre der Gewinner.

The verbal forms in this sentence indicate that the situation is imaginary. But this is a highly artificial sentence. It may appear in exercise books for language learners but hardly would in real-world situations.

(In sloppy oral everyday language you may also encounter an indicative-only version like: Wenn man solche Nachrichten hört, kann man nicht anders, als sich vorzustellen, man ist der Gewinner, but this is really sloppy and would probably lead to teachers spending red ink on it.)

Moreover, the expression sich in jemanden hineinversetzen is most frequently used in contexts of unpleasant experience. So, a typical sentence would be

Wenn man von solchen Terroranschlägen hört, kann man nicht anders, als sich in die Opfer hineinzuversetzen.

Of course, everybody is allowed to use language creatively and to find new contexts for expressions beyond their everyday use. But between creative and awkward it is a tightrope walk.

  • Well that's exactly why I asked the question! I had a feeling that the usage is confined to negative experiences. But what would the equivalent for positive ones be? – Jawad Aug 22 '17 at 9:32
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    Hm. Actually, your second sentence "sich vorzustellen, man wäre der Gewinner" is okay for positive experiences. I will edit my answer to that effect. – Christian Geiselmann Aug 22 '17 at 9:45
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They are both not completely correct, but the error is at another point. Before discussing which one to use, here are the correct sentences:

Wenn man solche Nachrichten hört, kann man nicht anders, als sich in die Gewinner hineinzuversetzen.
Wenn man solche Nachrichten hört, kann man nicht anders, als sich vorzustellen der Gewinner zu sein.

In both sentences, you need "kann" instead of "könnte". The word "könnte" suggest a possibility that might or might not happen. However, here you state that one has no other choice but to imagine..., so you have to use "kann".
In the second sentence, the end got a little mixed up:

... wer man der Gewinner wäre.

would translate into English as

.. who one would be the winner.

which also doesn't make sense.

Now about which version to use:
The word "hineinversetzen" is mostly used to understand others (their actions,...), not only to imagine being them. If someone commits a crime but you kind of understand the reason they did (to protect their children, etc.), then you could use "hineinversetzen". If you try to understand why your boss never has time for you by imagining being in his place, having to deal with all these customer complaints every day, then you can use it.
Here, in your context, you don't try to understand anyone, you only want to imagine how it would be to be the winner. In this context, "hineinversetzen" sounds odd and I would suggest using the second option I gave or something similar.

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