I am having trouble understanding the structure of the following german sentence:

In einem Aufruf können der aufgerufenen Methode Argumente, auch aktuelle Parameter genannt, übergeben werden, die innerhalb der Methode als Inhalte formaler Parameter (ähnlich zu Variablen) zugreifbar sind.

Does this part of the sentence "die innerhalb der Methode als Inhalte formaler Parameter (ähnlich zu Variablen) zugreifbar sind" refer to "aufgerufenen Methode Argumente"? If yes, why is it not directly after the noun it refers to and why is "übergeben werden" not at the end of the sentence?

  • 4
    Yikes, this is a terrible translation. Please, don't learn too much from it. "Actual" does not mean "aktuell", it means "tatsächlich". – Jörg W Mittag May 1 '19 at 23:11
  • 1
    Because nesting a whole complex relative clause inside a verb phrase would be super-hard on working memory. Us Germans love our nesting, but we don't love it that much. – Kilian Foth May 2 '19 at 7:56

The relative clause beginning with ", die innerhalb der Methode..." refers to "Argumente" (without "aufgerufenen Methode" - "der aufgerufenen Methode" is the dative object).

It is a misunderstanding that the verb has to be at the end of a sentence. What we have here is a sentence bracket, which consists of the finite part of the verb at the beginning (second position in the sentence) and the infinite part at the end (but not necessarily at the end of the sentence).

Here, the sentence bracket is "können ... übergeben werden". Subclauses can be outside or inside a sentence bracket:

Ich habe ihr die Äpfel gegeben, die ich gepflückt habe.

Ich habe ihr die Äpfel, die ich gepflückt habe, gegeben.

These sentences are both grammatical. Today, the first is usually preferred, because it is somewhat easier to read.

  • 1
    I would rather say that it is not so important (yet still better) in written sentences, where the reader has the option to re-read the sentence to grab the meaning, it is even more important in spoken language. – Volker Landgraf May 2 '19 at 13:20

"die innerhalb der Methode als Inhalte formaler Parameter (ähnlich zu Variablen) zugreifbar sind" is a relative clause. Relative clauses frequently move from their 'logical' position right after the noun they're modifying to the end of the sentence, especially when they're long. The sentence would also be correct with canonical order:

In einem Aufruf können der aufgerufenen Methode Arguemente, auch aktuelle Parameter genannt, die innerhalb der Methode als Inhalte formaler Parameter (ähnlich zu Variablen) zugreifbar sind, übergeben werden.

This is far less nice though, because you have two things inserted right after Argumente.

Also note that the relative clause only modifies Argumente. der aufgerufenen Methode is the indirect object. A shorter sentence that can illustrate what's going on here would be:

Der aufgerufenen Methode können Argumente übergeben werden.

(Arguments can be passed to the method called.)


As already mentioned, your sentence looks like a bad translation: Not only, that it crams lots of information into one sentence with complicated structure, it seems to neglect established terms. So the contents boils down to:

  • When you call a method, you may provide values to its arguments, so called Aktualparameter (no alternative in German, I'm not aware of any appropriate adjective to Parameter, which would arrive at the same meaning, aktueller is completely wrong)
  • The called method can refer to these values via Formalparameter (I would not recommend to substitute it by formaler Parameter), which are similar to variables.

(I used the nominative singular for the Parameter composites for easier research.)

  • It does very much look like a native speaker's sentence. It might be translated, but the original could be equally nested. – vectory May 5 '19 at 20:09

auch aktuelle Parameter genannt

is an apposition, to "Argumente" which needs to be as close as possible to the substantive it relates to (because here the position is the only relation - hence the name).

die innerhalb der Methode ...

is a relative clause that is marked by a relative pronoun - this can live elsewhere, because of this marking, without losing the relationship. Thus, it can live at the end of the sentence, after the verb.

That is the main reason why the apposition "sneaks in" between the substantive and its relative clause.

In a scientific text, I find this perfectly acceptable. Density counts more than style here.

  • Apposition describes the syntactic role. Can you say a bit about the syntax of the phrase itself? I mean it's idiomatic, but could be expanded to a full Nebensatz. Vice versa, we could also say, "In einem Aufruf koennen der Methode Argument, die Parameter, innerhalb der Methode als Inhalte formaler Parameter zugreifbar uebergeben werden". Then I'd rather say fuer not innerhalb, and zugreifbar gemacht [fullstop]. Because of genannt I think it's postnominales Adjektiv, except if reading ellipsis of a relative pronoun. – vectory May 5 '19 at 20:30

the relative pronoun "die" refers to "Argumente, auch aktuelle Parameter genannt" as a whole. It can equally refer to "Parameter" or "Argumente" as those names are equal. The verb follows closely after the object it refers to. The statement "innerhalb der Methode" only makes sense after the parameters have been passed, so the verb that signals the passing has to appear before hand. The same requirement does not strictly hold for "parameter", if those are deemed exactly equivalent with "Argument". A distinction about that could be drawn theoretically, but that might not the intent of the sentence.

Yet, there's the implicit question, could "übergeben werden" move closer to "Argument"?

Indeed, the sentence is hard to parse, half asleep at least, because I read two enumerations, one of nouns "Argumente, auch Parameter" and "gennant, übergeben werden", which would be an unusual syntax (lacking a conjunction for the comma), and the semantics might not turn out to be meaningful, but my failure early into the sentence might be an indicator that the syntax is too complex. "auch X genannt" is an idiomatic elipsis. It is often rendered as "auch genannt X", perhaps exactly to avoid an erroneous reading. There are several variants to rewrite the sentence, but none commendable. It would be best to simply remove the auch-clause (adjunct or coordinate?).

One could irregularly say,

In einem Aufruf können der aufgerufenen Methode Argumente, übergeben werden, die, auch aktuelle Parameter genannt, innerhalb der Methode als Inhalte formaler Parameter (ähnlich zu Variablen) zugreifbar sind.

Wow, what a trainwreck. Actual parameters are accessible as content of formal parameters. Do they mean pointer-value semantics of machine oriented programming? Yes, that's *&difficult. Anyhow, the sentence might now imply that only after passing the arguments they would be called parameters.


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