I am assessing the machine translation capability of scientific German papers/books with a native German speaker. My German is rather rudimentary. There is a sentence in a text which says

Eine Lösung von 1,25 g (5,4 mmol) Ruthenocen in 14 ml Eisessig und 1,4 ml Phosphorsӓure wird bei 20°C tropfenweise mit 1,2 ml frisch destilliertem Bis-[dimethylamino]-methan versetzt und die Mischung 8 Stdn. bei 120°C im Stickstoff-Strom gerührt.

According to Google translate

A solution of 1.25 g (5.4 mmol) of ruthenocene in 14 ml of glacial acetic acid and 1.4 ml of phosphoric acid is added dropwise at 20°C with 1.2 ml of freshly distilled bis [dimethylamino] methane and the mixture is stirred for 8 hours at 120°C stirred in a nitrogen stream.

However, according to the native German professor, the order of actions is mistranslated. It should be the other way round. It should rather be

that the 1.2 ml are added dropwise to the 14 ml glacial acid.

Could anyone mention which word is being mistranslated? Is wird + versetzt causing translation error in machine translation as passive voice? Thank you.

3 Answers 3


The critical word is the verb "versetzen". "X wird mit Y versetzt" does not mean that X is added to Y but that Y is added to X.

So "Eine Lösung von 1,25 g (5,4 mmol) Ruthenocen [...] wird [...] mit 1,2 ml frisch destilliertem Bis-[dimethylamino]-methan versetzt" means that the bis-[dimethylamino]-methane is added to the ruthenocene.


The German text says:

You have 14 ml glacial acetic acid, and in this liquid are already solved:

  • 1.25 g (5.4 mmol) of ruthenocene
  • 1.4 ml of phosphoric acid

Separately from it you need to freshly distill 1.2 ml of bis-[dimethylamino]-methane.

When both liquids are ready, you slowly let drop bis-[dimethylamino]-methane into the solution of ruthenocene and phosphoric acid in glacial acetic acid, at 20 °C and then heat it up to 120°c and keep it at this temperature under nitrogen athmosphere.

If you say:

Ich versetze meinen Kaffe mit etwas Milch. (active voice)
Mein Kaffe wird mit etwas Milch versetzt. (passive voice)

Then this means:

I add some milk to my coffee. (active voice)
Some milk is added to my coffee. (passive voice)

  • Thank you all. It is scientific passive voice, which is causing this machine translation error.
    – ACR
    Commented Aug 2, 2018 at 17:15

"Versetzen" does not mean "add", and despite what the other answerers say it is not the reverse of "add" either.

x mit y versetzen does not mean add y to x. What it means is mix y into x.

When you add something to something else, the two components may remain separate. For example, you can add oil to water. You cannot "versetzen" water with oil, though, because the two fluids don't mix.

So all you really need to do is teach your machine the proper meaning of "versetzen mit (etwas)", which is simply "to mix with (something)" or "to dilute with (something)".

x mit y versetzen thus means nothing more complicated than to dilute x with y. Note how the word order remains the same!

See meaning number 9 in Pons.

  • you could also say "to spike x with y Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 14:58

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