I have met the following passage in a German mathematics textbook:

Ob übrigens die Null als eine natürlich Zahl gelten soll, ist nicht einheitlich geregelt. Achten Sie darauf, ob sich Ihre beiden Dozenten in Analysis I und Linearer Algebra I darüber verständigt haben! Dass im vorliegenden Buch Null eine natürlich Zahl ist, geht auch auf so eine Verständigung zurück.

I believe I understand the meaning of the passage, but I do not understand the function of many of the words in the emphasized phrase. I can see that the word auch, unless I'm mistaken, is referring to the context: it would have the same function as also in "it is taken as convention also in this book that [...]". It's the rest of the phrase that disturbs me (especially the last word, which I can make no sense of in this context):

geht auf so [...] zurück.

Is it possible to dissect this phrase and explain the function of each word? Or is it just some kind of set idiomatic expression? Any other examples to highlight this phenomenon would be very helpful!

  • 2
    The part "auf so eine Verständigung" refers to something said in the previous sentence, consider to include that in your example. – Takkat Sep 23 '18 at 17:22
  • @Takkat: thanks for pointing that out! Now that I understand the meaning of "so eine", I see that the previous sentence is indeed very relevant here. – GermanMathLearner Sep 24 '18 at 18:25

My impression is that your problem here is less one of grammar, rather one of (indeed challenging) semantics here. Some of the expressions used are relatively complex, and of course the syntax of the sentences is complex, too.


"Zurückgehen auf" is an (idiomatic, if you like) expression used to indicate a historically-causal relation:

Meine Liebe zu Dagmar geht auf eine lange Freundschaft zurück

meaning: The circumstance that I am in love with Dagmar is (causally) based on a long friendship. Or, more verbatim: My love towards Dagmar goes back to a long friendship with her.

Note that there is both causality, as well as something like historicity: even if not causally related, at least there is something like a longer path of events, one leading to the next.

Dass in diesem Buch Null als natürliche Zahl angesehen wird, geht auf eine solche Verständigung zurück.

The circumstance that in this book zero is treated as a natural number is based on such an agreement (or convention).

Die allgemeine Wut gegenüber der Autoindustrie geht auf deren kriminelles Taktieren mit dem Einsatz illegaler Abschaltvorrichtungen für Stickoxid-Katalysatoren zurück.

The public anger about the automotive industry has its roots in their criminal approach to install illegal shut-off devices for exhaust gas treatment aggregates.


Yes, "auch" is used here as "similarly". It compares the thing with the zero to other, similar, cases.


so eine

is a shorter, more colloquial synonym of "eine solche" (such a)

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