As I am not a native speaker and I am only a beginner in the language, I just want to be clear that a sentence that I have tried translating on my own (for creative writing purposes) is correctly translated. I would not want anything to be off!

"By my hands will the greatest of empires crumble."

And I dug around for some words, and strung together this:

"Durch meine Hände wird das größte Reich zerfallen."

Would someone please confirm if the sentence structure and the meaning is preserved while being grammatically correct – or if, in fact, there is a better way to write this phrase while preserving the English structure? The story I am working on is inspired by some biblical stories, and has a formal, old English feel to it, as the atmosphere is very important to the story.

Basically, what's important to me is knowing: Would this translation preserve the same implications as the English sentence does? And would it have the same feel of the old, formal and biblical style that I am searching for?

  • 1
    "durch meine Hände zerfallen" to me conjures the image of something crumbling through my fingers (against my will). you'd need a different phrase in German.
    – KWeiss
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 8:23
  • 3
    I just realized this could also be plural...do you mean the ONE greatest empire, or multiple?
    – RoyPJ
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 9:51
  • 6
    For me (German native, experienced writer) your sentence is perfect. Of course, nuances depend on context, as discussed in some of the answers below, e.g. is the person speaking a ruler or a revolutionary, etc. (However, I do not see any danger of "durch meine Hände" to be missread as "pieces passing through the space between my fingers") I also would not add decorative stuff such as "durch meiner Hände Arbeit" or "zu Staub zerfallen". - Weniger ist mehr! Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 9:53
  • 3
    +1 for this question, and to @ChristianGeiselmann's comment. In addition, I like this question because it touches upon a very interesting aspect of translation, namely keeping the sentence structure of the source language intact within the target language. Cf. Benjamin, „Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers“, Vorwort zur Übersetzung der Tableaux parisiens.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 13:53
  • Do you mean Trump? Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


The word order is perfectly fine. The rest depends on what you want your sentence to mean. If the person speaking is a ruler or high official in the empire, it would be more appropriate to write something like:

In meinen Händen wird...

The English phrase appears somewhat poetic through word order alone, because ordinary English sentences never start with an adverbial phrase. In German by contrast, this order is not unusual and does not by itself appear old.

What would make the sentence seem older, is switching from "by my hand" to something like "by my hand's work":

Durch die Arbeit meiner Hände...

"Werk" is an older word for "work" in this sense (it's a modern word for "work" in other contexts). So you can make it more old-fashioned:

Durch das Werk meiner Hände...

Or put the genitive before the word to remove it further from the colloquial language:

Durch meiner Hände Werk...

"Das größte Reich" is also a bit prosaic for the context. "Greatest" just carries connotations that "größte" does not, it's more similar to "largest". To get around this, add some description of what kind of empire it is:

... das größte / herrlichste Reich [der Griechen / unter dem Himmel / etc.] ...

Think of some pompous phrase the empire might use about itself, and use that.

  • 1
    Von meiner Hand is also an option.
    – Janka
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 8:35
  • Love the "Durch meiner Hände Werk"! The translation of the greatest as "das größte" is fine for me. And besides that I think the OP's translation works fine as well.
    – RoyPJ
    Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 9:53
  • 1
    This is a really excellent comment... it was very, very helpful and I ended up settling on "Durch meiner Hände Werk wird das herrlichste aller Reich zerfallen." your answer was amazingly detailed and very helpful, and it got me the exact feelilng that I wanted! Thank you so much! Vielen dank! Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 7:33

Since the biblical style often is pictorial (bildhaft) I would intensify the verb.

Durch meine Hand wird das größte Reich zu Staub zerfallen.

Durch meine Hand wird das größte aller Reiche zu Staub zerfallen.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.