Die Schauspielerin, die nicht nur die Männer, sondern auch viele Frauen vergötterten

According to my book, this translates as:

The actress, whom not only the men, but also many women adored

I started to wonder, how could I reconstruct this so the actress is the one doing the adoring?

For the sake of comfort, I'm gonna choose a simpler sentence with both the subject and the object being in plural so there is no way to tell it apart from the verb ending.

So, I wanna translate these 2 phrases to German:

The actresses who hate men

The actresses who men hate

According to Google Translate, both are translated the same:

Die Schauspielerinnen, die Männer hassen

Is any grammatical tool out there to make the subject and the object clear to get rid of the ambiguity?

1 Answer 1


Your sample sentence can easily be transformed by means of morphology to have the actress being the active (adoring) part:

Die Schauspielerin, die nicht nur die Männer, sondern auch die Frauen vergötterte.

However, if you have several Schauspielerinnen, you get

Die Schauspielerinnen, die nicht nur die Männer, sondern auch die Frauen vergötterten.

which can be read both ways. It would depend on context if you read it as "Actresses who adore men and women" or as "Actresses who are adored by men and women".

I do not see a way to disambiguise that German sentence by means of morphology. You could of course alter your syntax and use passive:

Die Schauspielerinnen, die nicht nur von Männern, sondern auch von Frauen vergöttert wurden.

However, attention: Although

Die Schauspielerinnen, die Männer hassen

can technically be read as actresses hated by men, this would be a very unusual reading, and in order to come to one's mind one would need to have a very specific context. This all the more as the idea that Schauspielerinnen would be hated (of all things) by men (of all people) is very far fetched. Usually men do the oppposite (because usually someone - usually men - pick women from the more attractive side for actresses).

Leaving the realm of written language and entering the area of spoken language: once could try to achieve disambiguisation through emphasis (stress) on certain words:

Die Schauspielerinnen, die Männer hassen...


Die Schauspielerinnen, die Männer hassen

But again the interpretation depends simply on context.

Now, here is a way how you could indeed with some success try to disambiguise your initial sentence. Again it is syntactical:

Die Schauspielerinnen, die von ganzem Herzen nicht nur Männer sondern auch Frauen vergötterten.

pushes the reader in the direction of "Actresses who do something", whereas

Die Schauspielerinnen, die nicht nur Männer sondern auch Frauen von ganzem Herzen vergötterten.

rather suggests that "Männer und Frauen" are the vergöttering ones. (I suppose that is because the "von ganzem Herzen" gives weight to the action, and the audience's brain then looks for the physically next possible subject of that action, and "Männer und Frauen" is physically closer to "von ganzem Herzen". But that's only my hypothesis of how brains work.) - Unfortunately, context can overrule even such as syntactical hint.

  • Thank you for the detailed explanation. I was aware of using passive but was wondering if there was a way to still disambiguise without using it. Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 13:17
  • I think if you had more "real life" examples, we would find more solutions. These sentences about actresses and men seem to me rather artificial. Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 13:23
  • Yeah, that's right. I just needed two plural nouns to conceptualize the grammar and not let the verb ending give away the subject. I don't have any real life examples as of now unfortunately. Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 13:26
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    Of course passive can be a good means, especially when it is the only way to avoid disambiguities. There may also be other reasons to use passive, e.g. when the actor is not known ("Mein Fahrrad wurde gestohlen"). But where both forms - active and passive - are technically possible, active would be preferable in terms of elegant style. Passive tends to sound bureaucratic. Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 13:41
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    If you want to learn about good style in German writing, here is my favourite book: Ludwig Reiners. Die Stilfibel. Der sichere Weg zum guten Deutsch. Published first in the 1950s, the rules (and many amusing examples and exercises) are valid still today. Commented Jun 25, 2018 at 13:52

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