Das letzte Mal, dass der Mars so dicht an der Erde war, ist 15 Jahre her.

I want to rephrase this sentence into something like:

Mars only approaches Earth closely enough to be visible to the naked eye once every 15 years or so.

Can you express this idea in German as:

Nur etwa jedes 15. Jahr

{or}: Nur etwa jedes fünfzehnte Jahr

Or I wonder if some other expression is more commonly used?

  • 1
    It could also be expressed without "Nur" :Alle 15 Jahre... Etwa jedes 15. Jahr... But "nur" might set an emphasize on that. Maybe that was your intention. – Medi1Saif Jul 28 at 5:30
  • The idiomatic way of rendering 'once in X years' is definitely 'alle X Jahre'. – Kilian Foth Jul 28 at 8:40
  • First (German) sentence has nothing to do with the first English sentence. – c.p. Jul 29 at 17:21
  • 2
    @c.p. Did you read the question well? The OP says he or she wants to rephrase the sentence. That's why the first German sentence is there. How come it doesn't have relevance?? I agree with Kilian. I often see "alle X Jahre". – Merissa Jul 29 at 18:20
  • @Merissa You cannot rephrase something into other thing that conveys another meaning, therein included when you lose meaning. The first sentence determines an instant+period, the second only a period. – c.p. Jul 29 at 21:49

"jedes 15. Jahr"

is not good in german. This type of expression is used more in statistical context, like

Jeder dritte Erwachsene über 40 ist übergewichtig. (One out of 3 adults above 40 is overweight)

This doesn't mean that you can count 1, 2, 3 and the third one is the person being the overweight. Therefore it is not matching the Mars situation properly, where the 15th year is in fact the one, when Mars comes this close. People would understand, but it doesn't sound good.

"alle 15 Jahre"

would be the better expression. You can add "ungefähr" oder "ca." if it is not precisely 15 years: "ungefähr alle 15 Jahre".

  • I think you're right, 'alle 15 Jahre' sounds even more 'natürlich'. Anyway, searching "jedes dritte Jahr", "jedes vierte Jahr" etc. on Google you will find a lot of examples that I wouldn't dare to qualify as 'not good' or 'only in statistical contexts'. But the bigger the number is the more difficult it will be to find examples like "jedes *te Jahr", whereas "alle * Jahre" will always give a bunch of examples whatever number you try. – Ralf Joerres Jul 28 at 21:05
  • @Ralf I just checked as well on Google, but the only case I found, where it's not statistical is in connection to leap years: "jedes vierte Jahr". Did you find anything else? In this type of cases though it is precisely every 4th year. If it is about every 4th year or in your case about every 15 years, again it shouldn't be used. – Javatasse Jul 29 at 1:14

Nur etwa alle 15 Jahre kommt der Mars der Erde nahe genug, um mit bloßen Augen gesehen werden zu können / kommt der Mars der Erde so nahe, dass er ... werden kann.

In einem 15-Jahre-Rhythmus nähert sich der Mars der Erde so weit an, dass er auch ohne Fernrohr beobachtet werden kann.

Im 15-Jahre-Abstand kommt der Mars der Erde so nahe, dass er mit bloßem Auge zu sehen ist.

Man muss im ungünstigsten Fall 15 Jahre warten, um den Mars einmal mit bloßem Auge von der Erde aus sehen zu können: So selten nämlich kommt er der Erde nahe genug.

  • Thanks for various paraphrases. What's your take on the two "jedes" versions I suggested? Would you use them in this context? – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jul 28 at 10:17
  • Yes, they are perfectly correct, and absolutely common. In spoken German you can substitute 'etwa' with (by?) 'so' or 'so etwa': nur so etwa jedes fünfzehnte Jahr. – Ralf Joerres Jul 28 at 13:41

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