I cannot parse the function of dass in the sentence below.

A note on context: A wounded knight makes a request of a stranger. He was abandoned by his squire in a fight.

Würd ihm gern das Fell gerben dafür, dass er vor den Leichenfressern weggelaufen ist?

Would you like (would it please him) to tan his hide for running away from the corpse eaters?

Why is the dass necessary here? What is it accomplishing? Is my translation off? I get the basic meaning, but can't seem to figure out what this conjunction is doing.

  • 4
    Would this by any chance be a quote from Witcher 2? Then the question mark is wrong :) The knight does not make a request, he complains to the stranger and tells him what he (the knight) would like to do to his faithless and cowardly squire... see: reddit.com/r/translator/comments/2xsjrd/…
    – Mac
    Jun 8, 2018 at 7:48

2 Answers 2


There is an omitted e at the end of the modal verb:

würd → würde

And there is an omitted subject. You can see, that the verb is conjugated in first person, so the subject must be ich (I):

würd → würde → ich würde

Now we have (ignore the question mark at the end for a moment):

Ich würde ihm gern das Fell gerben dafür, dass er vor den Leichenfressern weggelaufen ist.

And this is in English:

I'd like to give him a good thrashing for running away from the corpse-eaters.

(»Jemandem das Fell gerben« is literally "to tan somebodies coat/fur" but it means "to beat someone really hard in order to punish him")

So, I think the funktion of the subordinate conjunction dass is clear: The pronominal adverb dafür (for in english) needs a subordinate clause that explains for that he should be thrashed, and in German this subordinate clause must start with the subordinate conjunction dass.

So, what about the question mark?

This is a statement:

Du isst. (You eat.)

And this is a question:

Isst du? (Do you eat?)

But what is this?

Du isst? (You eat?)

The word order says: This is a statement. But the question mark says: This is a question. The truth is: It is both. You use this construction to express surprise.

Your son has told you he is eating vegan since some weeks. Some day you enter his room and catch him eating a hamburger. You are surprised and say:

You eat a burger?

This is both: A statement (from the word order) and a question (spoken from the intonation and written from the question mark).

And also this sentence is both:

Ich würde ihm gern das Fell gerben dafür, dass er vor den Leichenfressern weggelaufen ist?

It is a statement: I want to beat him for running away.

But it also is a question: Do I really want this? Does he really deserve to be punished?


Without context, the whole sentence is awkward, because of the question mark and because there's no subject. Maybe the author tries to adapt the language to the medieval setting. The subject could be an omitted »I« (the knight is speaking), but then the question mark would be odd. Or somebody else is speaking and is addressing the knight, using the third person singular (the author might do that to make the language feel middle-agey) and also omitting the subject »he«. »Würd« is also lacking an e, but that may also be a deliberate choice.

Anyway, the »dass« is a conjunction. Its function is to introduce a subclause.

To construct the sentence without »dass«, its structure would have to change. For example:

Würdest du ihm für seine Flucht vor den Leichenfressern gern das Fell gerben?

And to reconstruct the German structure in very clumsy English, but keeping the relative clause:

Would [you/I] like to tan his hide for [the fact,] that (*here’s your dass) he ran away from the corpse-eaters?[.]

Your translation is correct.

  • About 99.9% sure that the question mark is not supposed to be there and your first guess is right (omitted "I").
    – Mac
    Jun 8, 2018 at 7:46
  • @Mac That sounds right, particularly if it’s spoken language from a computer game. (Or from the corresponding novels by Andrzej Sapkowski?)
    – Philipp
    Jun 8, 2018 at 7:51
  • I found a reference -- it's Witcher 2 apparently... :)
    – Mac
    Jun 8, 2018 at 7:53
  • 2
    Also, careful with "dass"... it's not a relative pronoun -- it's a conjunction: canoo.net/services/OnlineGrammar/Wort/Konjunktion/Bedeutung/…
    – Mac
    Jun 8, 2018 at 7:53
  • Wow, of course, thank you, I don’t know what rode me there (weiß nicht, was mich da geritten hat) ;)
    – Philipp
    Jun 8, 2018 at 8:01

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.