Is substitution in German grammar different than in English or is it same? Can anyone give me an example?

In English grammar, substitution is the replacement of a word or phrase with a "filler" word (such as one, so, or do) to avoid repetition. Also called ellipsis-substitution.

This Oxford dictionary site about Ellipsis defines a substitution as follows:

Substitution is similar to ellipsis in many ways, because both enable the speaker to reduce what they are saying. Ellipsis is simply leaving something out that is usually obvious. Substitution involves using words such as do and so and not instead of a clause.

And they compare examples for ellipsis:

A: Will you have another cake?
B: I’d better not [have another cake]. I’m supposed to be on a diet.

and substitution:

A: Is Charlie coming too?
B: I hope not. There’s only enough food for three. (not = Charlie isn’t coming)

  • Selbst mit der nachträglichen Erklärung scheint es, dass das Kontept analog auch im Deutschen angewendet wird. Dort kommt es aber nicht zur Geltung, da dies z.B. als Pronomen verstanden wird. Der vorige Satz ist absichtlich doppeldeutig.
    – vectory
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 21:55
  • How do they know the second example isn't "I hope [Charlie is] not [coming too]"?
    – sgf
    Commented Apr 16, 2019 at 11:39

1 Answer 1


Samples for Substitutionen in german:

  • Jetzt gibt es wieder jede Menge schwerer Motorräder. Diese Feuerstühle sind aber sehr teuer.
  • Die Straße war von Autos verstopft. Die Blechlawine machte manche Kiste zum lackierten Kampfhund.
  • Sie betrat das Zimmer. Der Raum war leer.
  • Ich wusste nicht, wohin die Teller und Tassen gehören. Da hab ich die Sachen einfach stehen lassen.
  • Mohammed VI verliert an Popularität. Der junge König hat viele Erwartungen enttäuscht.


Definition of Substitution in german grammar:

Unter den Begriff der Substitution fallen inhaltliche Zusammenhänge, die dadurch entstehen, daß substituendum und substituens auf dasselbe außersprachliche Element Bezug nehmen, koreferent sind. Solche Beziehungen kann man als Synonymiebeziehungen i.w.S. (Synonymie i.e.S., Hyperonymie, Metapher, Metonymie, Paraphrase) bezeichnen. Unter Umständen gehört in diesen Bereich auch die Antonymie. LAM12

So according to Lamprecht, Substition in german grammar need two words: a substituendum that will be replaced and a substituens (english: substitute) to replace the other one. Both words must refer to the same object. You can use metaphors or synonyms, for example. Similar definitions can be found in other literatures.

I'm not an expert, but to me it seems so that in english language substitution often uses one, so, or do (as you mentioned already), whereas in german grammar this seem to be less focused on specific words. But no idea.

Also, according to the samples I've found, I'm not sure, if you would call it a Substitution in german grammar if you do it with verbs as in english. All german samples I've found seem to replace just nouns, no verbs.

Take this sample:

A: Do you think I should phone Barry and ask him to come and look at it.

B: Yes, do. (B uses do to avoid repeating phone Barry and ask him to come and look at it.)

You can't even do it this way in (standard) german. The shortest possible answer I can think of that B could possible give would be

B: [Ja,] tu es.

You can shorten it further to "[Ja,] tu's", but you simply can't say "Ja, tu" (at least not in standard germank, I think. In common slang you could say "[Ja,] mach"). You need that object in the sentence.

That's why the following example won't work the same way in german as it is in english either:

A: Will you have another cake?

B: I’d better not [have another cake].

In german you may say something like that instead:

A: Willst du noch ein Stück Kuchen?

B: Lieber nicht.

but then again, this one works just fine:

A: Is Charlie coming too?

B: I hope not.

... is in german:

A: Kommt Charlie auch?

B: Ich hoffe nicht.

  • It seems, substitution is handled as a special case of ellipsis in English. Since Ellipse exists in German as well - did you find anything about the existence of a similar relationship between Ellipse and Substitution in German?
    – Arsak
    Commented Apr 18, 2019 at 12:04
  • Thank you 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻
    – Gustyani
    Commented May 25, 2019 at 3:57

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