I have a hard time wrapping my head around the syntax of the title Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung (better known as The Taming of the Shrew).

I have seen this title also translated as Die Zähmung der Widerspenstigen, which more directly parallels the original in English, and therefore makes a lot more sense to me.

I could also make sense (perhaps) of a simple inversion of the ordering of the nominative and the genitive nouns, namely Der Widerspenstigen die Zähmung. Even in this case, I don't understand the motivation for such an inversion.

Is there a difference in denotation among these three alternatives?

  1. Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung
  2. Die Zähmung der Widerspenstigen
  3. Der Widerspenstigen die Zähmung
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    The 3rd example is invalid. – infinitezero Jun 15 '19 at 22:46
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    There are several German translations of Shakespeare's works. The title Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung is used in the translation by von Baudissin, which is part of the so-called Schlegel-Tieck translations which are considered classic. This translation was published 1831, which explains why it sounds somewhat old-fashioned. – RHa Jun 16 '19 at 10:26
  • which more directly parallels the original in English, and therefore makes a lot more sense to me. This is rather a misconception. Different languages have different traditions in style or generally in ways to express something. A very close translation will - not necessarily, but often - sound rather lame or even clumsy in the target language - this is especially true for titles – Volker Landgraf Jun 27 '19 at 8:22

As in English, there are multiple ways to express the genitive:

Das Haus des Nachbarn

The house of the neighbour

compared to

Nachbars Haus

(The) neighbor's house

To keep the article with the second version makes it feel somewhat grandiose, but also dated.

Des Nachbarn Haus

The neighbor's house

So, "Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung" is basically a verbatim translation of "The Shrew's Taming", with a bit syntactic sugar to make it sound more impressive.

  • 1
    It is misleading to use an example with a proper noun. Michaels Haus is the norm, but the other two variants are odd. For common nouns, das Haus der Nachbarin is the norm and der Nachbarin Haus is old-fashioned. – David Vogt Jun 15 '19 at 17:55
  • The English title is "The Taming of the Shrew", so not a verbatim translation. – gnasher729 Jun 16 '19 at 8:12
  • @DavidVogt Hm, you're right, thanks. I've edited my answer. – Henning Kockerbeck Jun 16 '19 at 11:20

German allows for two different word orders for possession:

  1. Peters Brille

  2. die Brille Peters

Note that in the first form, Peters replaces the definite article. For proper nouns, the first variant is much more common, the second one can sound elevated or stilted.

The same is possible if we replace the proper noun with a common noun. Say we only know that the spectacles belong to a teacher:

  1. Eines Lehrers Brille

  2. die Brille eines Lehrers

The construction is very similar, this time however, the second variant is the common one.

Getting back to your question, we could have

Katharinas Zähmung

or, if we call Katharina die Widerspenstige (genitive: der Widerspenstigen)

der Widerspenstigen Zähmung.

Again, with this word order, there cannot be an article for Zähmung. And as you noted correctly, this is the same as

die Zähmung der Widerspenstigen

and we could also have

die Zähmung Katharinas.

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