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So, I've just started reading my first German novel - 'Bretonische Brandung' by Jean-Luc Bannalec. The first paragraph of the novel reads as follows:

Wie auf Zauberweise schwebten die flachen, lang gezogenen Inseln über dem tiefopalen Meer, ein wenig verwischt, flimmernd. Wie eine Fata Morgana lag der berühmte Archipel vor ihnen.

What part of speech is 'Wie' here grammar-wise? And what exactly is the meaning/impression the writer is trying to convey by using it here? Please correct me if I'm wrong: it has here the simple meaning of 'like'? "Like in magic...", "Like a Fata Morgana..."?

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Wie comes in two flavours:

  1. As adverb. This can either ask or describe for the "how" of an activity, like in "Wie hast du das gemacht?" or "Ich weiß, wie das geht". Typically translates to "how" in English. Not your case, though.
  2. As conjunction, mainly for comparisons

    Sie sieht aus wie Helena
    Sie ist nicht so schön wie du
    Da geht es mir wie dir

The latter use typically translates to "like" or "as".

  • I'd call this a preposition rather than a conjunction. – shuhalo Oct 1 '17 at 18:15
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    @shuhalo You can, but then you are in conflict with most dictionaries. – tofro Oct 1 '17 at 18:19
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Wie is a question word. But it has a second use as a comparision particle.

Wie sieht dein neues Auto denn aus? - Wie das davor.

And yes, German als/wie roughly translate into English as/like. The rules when to use which one are a bit different though.

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Wie, in this context, can be translated as the simile words, "as" or "like."

"As (if) in magic."

"Like Fata Morgana.

In other contexts, it means "how," but not in these.

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