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In a recent Slow German Podcast the following sentence can be found:

Es gibt zwei Bücher, die ich dir zum Thema empfehlen kann.

My question is:

What determines the use of the preposition zu here instead of e.g. an?

When these English sentences are entered into Google Translate

I can recommend 2 books about the sport.

I can show you 2 books on the sport.

it responds with these German sentences

Ich kann 2 Bücher über den Sport empfehlen.

Ich kann Ihnen 2 Bücher über den Sport zeigen.

Is Google Translate incorrect in using über instead of zu here?

  • 4
    Zu+Dativ is often used instead of für+Akkusativ. This is a higher register of language. The preposition an is completely unrelated. – Janka Sep 23 '19 at 23:34
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    As always you don't give any explanation why it should be an. – Olafant Sep 24 '19 at 6:57
  • I translate the sentence as, There are 2 books that I can recommend to you ON the topic. The German preposition "an" is commonly translated to the English word "on" in various references and therefore I wonder why the German preposition "an" could not be used in this sentence in place of zu. – user38158 Sep 24 '19 at 13:13
  • It may be "ON the topic" in english, but it is more an "TO the topic" in german. Maybe it helps to think "i recommend you books in regards TO the topic". There is no real use of "an" in this case. That would be wrong is would say. – Sango Sep 24 '19 at 13:32
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    It's Thema, mostly. The choice of topical prepositions is to avoid misunderstandings. If you said für deinen Vater for example, it could be understood as you being a delivery boy for the books meant for your father. If you used zu deinem Vater instead, it's clear these are books about some condition your father has. – Janka Sep 24 '19 at 14:52
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To combine the comments under your question into an answer:

There are two books that I can recommend to you ON the topic.

can not be translated word for word, but has to be seen as

There are two books that I can recommend to you in regardsTO the topic.

So an does not appear at all.


Sometimes zu and für can be used interchangeably.

Es gibt zwei Bücher, die ich dir zum Thema empfehlen kann.

Es gibt zwei Bücher, die ich dir für das Thema empfehlen kann.

But this depends on what you are referencing. Thema in this case.

Es gibt zwei Bücher, die ich dir zu deinem Vater empfehlen kann.

There are two books that I can recommend with your father as the subject.

Es gibt zwei Bücher, die ich dir für deinen Vater empfehlen kann.

There are two books that I can recommend your father might enjoy.

Es gibt zwei Bücher, die ich dir für das Thema empfehlen kann.

only works because the intention of this recommendation is that you will study das Thema.

  • I have not quite understood what is meant with "Es gibt Bücher für das Thema" from your explanation. What does it have to do with studying "das Thema"? – Dan Sep 26 '19 at 9:32

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