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I cannot exactly understand the text below. (this is from https://www.grimmstories.com/de/grimm_maerchen/die_drei_brueder)

Es war ein Mann, der hatte drei Söhne und weiter nichts im Vermögen als das Haus, worin er wohnte. Nun hätte jeder gerne nach seinem Tode das Haus gehabt, dem Vater war aber einer so lieb als der andere, da wußte er nicht, wie ers anfangen sollte, daß er keinem zu nahe tät;

I tried the google translator (which is much better than before because of the deep learning technology).

There was a man who had three sons and nothing more than the house in which he lived. Now everyone would gladly have had the house after his death, but one was as dear to the father as the other; then he did not know how to begin, that he should not be too near anyone;

The part I cannot understand clearly is this part shown in bold.

dem Vater war aber einer so lieb als der andere, da wußte er nicht, wie ers anfangen sollte, daß er keinem zu nahe tät;

Is tät the konjunktive II present form of tun? and does it really mean he should not have no one too close (he could not trust anyone) ? I don't see any meaning of to have someone in the word tun in the dictionary on the web.

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    Hmm, from the context it would make more sense to use "trät" as flective form of "treten" ("zu Nahe treten"). – πάντα ῥεῖ May 6 '18 at 12:16
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This is a tale as recorded by the Grimm brothers in early 19th century.

The original spelling seems to have been:

Es war ein Mann, der hatte drei Söhne und weiter nichts im Vermögen, als sein Haus, worin er wohnte. Nun hätte jeder gern nach seinem Tod das Haus gehabt, dem Vater war aber einer so lieb, als der andere, da wußt er gar nicht, wie er’s anfangen sollte, daß er keinem zu nahe thät; verkaufen wollt’ er das Haus auch nicht, weil’s von seinen Voreltern war, sonst hätte er das Geld unter sie getheilt. Da fiel ihm endlich ein Rath ein und er sprach zu seinen Söhnen: „geht in die Welt und versucht euch und lerne jeder ein Handwerk, wenn ihr dann wiederkommt, wer das beste Meisterstück macht, der soll das Haus haben.“

It is cited in internet resources very often today as "tät", without the "h", which fell victim to (ill-advised, as I think) attempts to modernize the spelling.

Interestingly the spelling as "thät" is an argument against the (otherwise natural) idea that "tät" could be a typo and that "trät" or "träte" (from "treten") would have been intended, since "jemandem zu nahe treten" (to offend someone) is a common expression, whereas "jemandem zu nahe tun" is not, at least nowadays. Spelled with an "h" as "thät", it becomes clear that Grimm indeed meant a verb form of "tun" (old form: "thun").

Yes, thät(e) or modern tät(e) [he would do] are Konjunktiv II forms. Likewise is träte [he would step].


Source for the cited above version of the text: https://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Die_drei_Br%C3%BCder_(1815)

  • Then you mean Grimm meant jm zu Nahe tun and it means the father didn't want to discuss it with anyone because it would ne bothering to him/her? – Chan Kim May 6 '18 at 15:27
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    "Not bother him" would be a possible translation, yes. Or "not offend him", or "not to ask too much of him". – Christian Geiselmann May 6 '18 at 15:32

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