Participial constructions are among the most difficult constructions for foreign language learners and beginners. In English almost all sentences will end at a noun. This is rarely the case in German. Cecil Pollard wrote a pretty nice book for those interested in developing a reading knowledge of German. He shows simple algorithm. Among the simplest one is whenever we see an odd combination of definite articles (from an English perspective) consider it as a participial construction. such as "Die dem" "Das vom" occurring together or "aus etwas" or "Die in der"...There are 4 types but I quote the simplest.

His rule is for die, der, das words is as follows: look for a word which ends in -e or -en before the noun. (i) pick up that noun (ii) make a which clause out of the "-e" or "-en" ending word (iii) work back to the next noun and then (iv) translate normally

Example 1: Die (A) dem violetten Teil des Spectrums (D) angehörenden (C) Strahlen (B) erzeugen (E) Phosphoreszenz (F).

The rays which belong to the violet part of the spectrum generate phosphorescence.

I am trying to apply this rule on another sentence not from his book:

Example 2: Der Name ist abgeleitet von "coelestis"= himmelblau, wegen der dem Mineral vielfach eigenen blauen Farbe.

The name is derived from "coelestis" = skyblue, because of the color which is frequently characteristic blue to the mineral.

This sounds stilted but the meaning is okay. Has anyone seen this type of algorithm taught anywhere or in any another reference? I am curious if anyone else has other tips for such constructions. Just note that his book (from 1950s) is intentionally not grammar intensive because it was meant for PhD students in science. Until the 1990s, PhD students in NOrth America had to pass a translation exam in German or French or Russian. Harvard still requires that in mathematics.

  • What is the purpose of that question? Do you want to improve the (rudimentary) algorithm in order to improve some translation machine? Or do you believe this type of analytical morphology would help a human being form good German sentences? If the latter is your intent: I think you err. Human brains don't analytically build sentences, rather they follow a gestalt principle. Concretely: give them a bunch of good sentences, and they will be able to form other good ones following that template. May 2, 2019 at 11:30
  • The main purpose of the question were (i) how to develop a reading knowledge of formal scientific language by learners so that they can pick up the "sense" of a sentence and later machine translate if needed (ii) if anyone has seen this type (rudimentary) algorithms elsewhere. So far Cecil Pollard's is the only one who teaches that way. He said (1950s) that PhD students found his approaches useful. Other scientific German books emphasize the point that participial constructions are among the most difficult sentences. This approach excludes colloquialism or any attempt at forming sentences.
    – AChem
    May 2, 2019 at 12:03
  • Example 2 contains the adjectives blau and eigen, neither of which is a participle. Furthermore, the adjectives are nested: the adjective phrase dem Mineral vielfach eigenen modifies blauen Farbe – think characteristic(blue(color)) instead of characteristic(color) and blue(color). A translation would be: because of the blue color, which is often characteristic for the mineral.
    – David Vogt
    Jun 1, 2019 at 17:26
  • Example 2 does not have anything like “die dem”, so why do you think that the algorithm is applicable?
    – Carsten S
    Jun 1, 2019 at 17:46

1 Answer 1


That algorithm is easily tricked, unfortunately.

Solche jederzeit der Sonne nachgeführten Spiegel nennt man auch Heliostaten.

Such mirrors following the sun at any time are also called heliostats.

You have to identify pronouns as solche, too, and sprinkled adverbs as jederzeit scramble your simple scheme.

Obwohl er mehrere doch seine Handlungen rechtfertigende Argumente vorbrachte, wurde er verurteilt.

He was convicted, even though he plead multiple reasons justifying his actions.

Same. Pronoun mehrere and pronoun seine. And the doch particle. Particles break any scheme. (Actually, that sentence demands a particle at this position to "sound correct". A matter of prosody.)

Wenn Sie schon so furchtbar nach einem halben Waldbrand stinkende Zigarren rauchen müssen, machen Sie das doch in der Kneipe.

If you really had to smoke such cigars terribly stinking like half of a wildfire, just do it in the pub.

People talk like this. Yikes!

Added after the comment was added:

Welch dem Geiste der uneitlen Wissenschaft entsagendes Streben ist das?

What kind of ambition renouncing the spirit of vainless science is this?

The list of participle endings isn't just -e and -en. And now, we have a pronoun and two articles in front. Was zum Teufel …? (WTF?)

  • Interesting. Pollard does give an example of the cases like no 1, but the second one and the third one are very complex! Is there a tip for dealing with particles? For example could you share a English translation order for sentence two and three?
    – AChem
    May 2, 2019 at 3:40
  • I'm always tempted to keep those present participle constructions in English, too. Then it's all a matter of word reordering. The downside is you sound like an English Dr. Faustus. Which may be an up if you do like that typical German vibe.
    – Janka
    May 2, 2019 at 4:03
  • Yes, those are very complex examples. I was trying to learn myself just because interest in scientific history. The -e and -en ending rule was just for sentences which started with definite articles. There are four more types. I just haven't reached there. By the way, DeepL machine translation is so good that it translated your sentences very close to human version. I was writing an educational article on utilizing machine translation for scientific papers (with a help of a native speaker, of course). Hope to never become like that Dr. :-).
    – AChem
    May 2, 2019 at 4:20
  • @Janka Der seems to be a mistake in your Welch dem der uneitlen Wissenschaft entsagendes Streben ist das? sentence. I suppose the dem is a typo? May 2, 2019 at 11:26
  • There was a Geist inbetween in my thoughts, and I omitted it when I wrote it down. Happens to ghosts.
    – Janka
    May 2, 2019 at 16:17

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