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I'm having some trouble getting used to a particular kind of subordinate phrase,¹ which is headed by a Partizip I or II preceded by multiple arguments. I found quite a few of them while reading Kafka's Die Verwandlung, for example:

... seinen gewölbten, braunen, von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch...

Um für die sich nähernden entscheidenden Besprechungen eine möglichst klare Stimme zu bekommen...

... mit von der Nacht her noch aufgelösten, hoch sich sträubenden Haaren...

I have three related questions:

  1. Do these have a specific name and place in German grammar, and if so, what is that name? (This would help me find extra reference material dealing with them.)
  2. Are these complex subordinates commonly found outside the written language and/or formal speech? Do they not sound strained or overwrought?
  3. Is it bad German to replace such phrases by typical, pronoun-headed comma-delimited subordinates? Meaning something like transforming the first example into

... seinen gewölbten, braunen Bauch, der von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilt war...


¹ I realize that these aren't what's usually termed "subordinate clauses". They are indeed phrases that are subordinated to nouns. In my native language (Spanish), some of these can work as in German, but others would have to be phrased as German-style subordinates (i.e. following the noun, set off by a relative pronoun).

  • Your emphasis possibly shows a confusion in the second example, I am not sure. The parts sich nähernd and entscheidend are separate. This is about entscheidende Besprechungen which are approaching. – Carsten S Sep 12 at 15:04
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This isn't about subordinate clauses at all, but about complex arguments to nouns.

Sie sahen seinen gewölbten, braunen, von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch.

Er bereitete die sich nähernden entscheidenden Besprechungen vor.

Sie sahen seine von der Nacht her noch aufgelösten, hoch sich sträubenden Haare.

These aren't subordinate clauses.


Let's get into detail with the first example.

... seinen gewölbten, braunen, von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch...

... seinen gewölbten, braunen Bauch, der von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilt war...

The only difference between those two constructions is you picked one of the arguments to Bauch randomly, and turned it from an adjective into a predicative inside the new relative clause to Bauch. You could pick the others on the same principle:

... seinen von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten braunen Bauch, der gewölbt war...

... seinen gewölbten von bogenförmigen Versteifungen geteilten Bauch, der braun war...

German speakers aren't afraid of complex arguments. It's not necessarily the best practice but a very common style. A relative clause is only used to put one extra special argument from the row into focus.

Sie öffnete eine Schublade des unzählige Fächer besitzenden Sekretärs.

Sie öffnete eine Schublade des Sekretärs, der unzählige Fächer besaß.

The problem with the latter sentence is you are pulling a not so interesting fact into focus by using a relative clause. You have to justify that by giving a detailed description of those trays in the next sentence. Don't want to do it? Then, refrain from the relative clause. (Of course, one could argue why bother about the number of trays anyway, but maybe they are important later.)

  • Thank you. I didn't know if these were special, which is why I asked about them as a kind of subordinates. – pablodf76 Sep 12 at 14:41

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