This is a Bible verse (Romans 12:21).

A) Lass dich nicht vom Bösen besiegen, sondern besiege das Böse durch das Gute. Römer 12,21

In this sentence, I can't understand why it's besiegen. Shouldn't it be

B) Lass dich nicht vom Bösen besiegt, sondern besiege das Böse durch das Gute. Römer 12,21

I tested on google translater:

1) He lets me come. --> Er lässt mich kommen.
2) He lets me be punished. --> Er lässt mich bestrafen.
3) He lets me punish her. --> Er lässt mich sie bestrafen.

Is 2) correct? I understand if 2) is correct, that's how lassen is used, and A) should be also correct. In English, we use be + p.p after let when the object word of let is the target of the action. In German, it seems they use just the infinitive form in this case too. in 2) someone else is who punishes(and he is punished), in 3) He is who punishes, but in both 2) and 3), it is 'bestrafen', no 'bestraft'.
I need a confirmation from a native German. Thank you!

  • For further reading of the bible you might try out e.g. bibleserver.com/EU.KJV/R%C3%B6mer12 to compare different german or english translations. (the default dropdown is only German translations, on the right top of it there is "alle Übersetzung" to other languages) Dec 4 '19 at 15:57
  • As a very, very side aspect (but I like the finetuning of language) one might say: "Lass dich nicht von Bösem besiegen, (...)" Your given version tends to put the focus on someone who is evil while my alternative goes more impersonal and means rather "unwell/evil circumstances". Your formulated version might have a impersonal connotation of the evil as well, but my experience is rather that people use it (especially in religious text) tend to personalize "the evil" into the "evil one". Dec 4 '19 at 16:43

Based on your comment in response to infinitezero's reply, I think there might be a translation-induced misunderstanding here. First of all, just to make sure we are on the same page, the lassen in the examples you bring up is part of AcI (accusativus cum infinitivo) constructions. In general, their structure is AcI verb + accusative + infinitive. As you perhaps know, the class of AcI verbs in German is very small (< 10), with lassen by far the most commonly used (others are, for instance, heißen, machen, sehen). Simply put, in this construction, the accusative does the action encoded in the infinitive and the (finite) AcI verb denotes a relationship between the sentence subject to that action. Eg:

Lass ihn gewinnen!

(= let him win). Here, ihn is the actant who wins and the addressee is instructed to allow for this action (ie, ihn's winning) to occur.

Crucially, however, your example

Lass dich nicht vom Bösen besiegen!

is not a prototypical example of an AcI. It is a very distinct feature of the AcI verb lassen, which, as far as I'm aware, is unparalleled in English (and, in fact, is limited to this one verb in German as well). Unlike in the canonical AcI, the meaning of the infinitive is essentially passive, not active, and the accusative complement is not the subject of the infinitive action but its object. The (non-essential) subject of the infinitive action is added in the form of a prepositional phrase with von or durch. So, in your example, the addressee is instructed to not allow for the evil to defeat dich, ie the addressee. Another example:

(1) Anna lässt Bernd [das Auto] reparieren.

(2) Anna lässt das Auto [von/durch Bernd] reparieren.

In both cases, Anna lets something happen, and in both cases, it's essentially the same thing. But in (1), reparieren has an active meaning and the subject of the infinitive action is Bernd. She lets Bernd repair. Das Auto can be added as an optional accusative complement to denote what is being repaired. In (2), reparieren has a passive meaning. Anna lets something happen, namely that the car is repaired. The optional prepositional phrase denotes the person who does the repairing. This analysis points to a slight semantic difference: In (1), the emphasis is on Bernd and the statement consequently has a permission/instruction-like undercurrent, while in (2), the emphasis is on the car getting repaired; there is less semantic value in lassen here.

The above-described passive lassen construction can be distinguished from an ordinary AcI by looking at the valence of the verb and relating the verb to the actants involved. Usually, there is no ambiguity. For instance, in your example, the prepositional phrase vom Bösen would make no sense unless the meaning is passive. Even if we ignore the (non-essential) von phrase, the meaning would be unambiguous, among other things because besiegen requires an accusative complement, so if you interpret dich as a regular AcI accusative (ie as the subject of the infinitive action), we would be missing an accusative complement. Conversely, in Lass uns ihn besiegen!, we would be looking at a regular AcI. The uns would make no sense in a passive construction because ihn would be the object of the infinitive action (the one being defeated) and, as you will recall, the subject would need to be added using a von/durch PP, so the uns would have no place here. (This paragraph probably sounds more difficult than the analysis is in practice. If you are aware of both AcI types in the case of lassen, it's usually intuitively apparent how it should be interpreted. Just think about the situation.)

Note: Your example (2), Er lässt mich bestrafen, is a rather rare case of ambiguity, potentially meaning both "He lets me be punished" and "He lets me punish". It is induced by the fact that bestrafen does not require a complement and that a non-essential accusative complement denotes the object of the bestrafen action. Within a neutral context, speakers would interpret it as "He lets me be punished", however. Bestrafen, as in English, is almost exclusively used with a [in German: an accusative] complement.

  • Isn't Don't let yourself been defeated by the evil pretty parallel? Dec 12 '19 at 19:29
  • @userunknown Well, no, the crucial point is the infinitive. In my example (1), you can easily construe a parallel version in English (Anna lets Bernd repair the car), but not in (2) (*Anna lets the car repair by Bernd), etc. Of course you can express the same thing in English, but not - to my knowledge - with an infinitive construction.
    – johnl
    Dec 12 '19 at 19:42
  • @johnl ok, thanks for the full explanation. to be frank, I saw the usage of 'lassen' in a grammar book 2 days ago(after the post) so I know how it's used. yes, it's different from English. Then, '1. let me eat' and '2. let me be eaten' are all 'lass mich essen'? (2. is a reduced from of lass mich vom jemand essen). Of course I guess for the second one, 'lass mich gegessen werden' can be used. Am I correct?
    – Chan Kim
    Dec 14 '19 at 12:16
  • @ChanKim Yes. For obvious reasons, absent some crazy context no sane person would interpret it as (2), so native speakers would not perceive an ambiguity here. (The correct von phrase would be von jemandem, though, not *vom jemand.)
    – johnl
    Dec 14 '19 at 14:35

Lassen takes the infinitive of the second verb, just as the English "let".

Let it be
Lass es sein

So lass dich nicht besiegen is correct and can be translated as don't let yourself be defeated. However B) is decisively wrong.

Er lässt mich bestrafen is also correct. The same reasoning as above, the second verb needs to in the infinitive.

  • 1
    I think, case (2) might even be understood as "er läßt mich bestraft werden" (he allows, that I get punished by some people - he (for instance god) does not help me go out of the jail, for instance). This is only a tiny shift of meaning, just for the enthusiast of language... (but maybe I'm not sure enough in english so I might be wrong at all) Dec 4 '19 at 16:48
  • @infinitezero, so you mean 'let me eat' and 'let me be eaten' are all 'lass mich essen'? as Gottfried Helms said, 'lass mich gegessen werden' sounds more like 'let me be eaten' .
    – Chan Kim
    Dec 5 '19 at 6:17

"Besiegen" ist not the noun in this example. The noun is the imperative of "lassen".

"Lass Dich nicht besiegen" (selbes Beispiel) "Lass Dir Zeit" "Lass Dir helfen"

I tried to re-arange the sentence to make "besiegen" to the noun, but I found no solution. If you would change the meaning it could be:

Er hat sich vom Bösen beiegen lassen. Das Böse besiegte ihn.

  • Hm? Besiegen and lassen are verbs, not nouns ...
    – johnl
    Dec 12 '19 at 21:04
  • I´m native German and had to use a dict. sorry. Dec 12 '19 at 23:01

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