"wenn ich deinen Namen mitnähme, er würde fortsein wie zuvor"

Context is the following : 'ich' will die before 'du', 'ich' know 'du''s name, and nobody else does. When 'ich' will die the name might or might not be forgotten.

First, is it possible that "wenn" here stands for "auch wenn" or is such an elliptic formulation improbable ? A translation would then be possibly.

-> even if I took your name away [when dying], it would persist as before

If not, then another translation might be

-> if i took your name away, it would persist as before

Second, I might be misinterpreting 'mitnehmen'. I feel it could correspond to meaning 3 here. It could then translate into

-> (even) if I prejudiced your name, it would still persist as before

-> (even) if I deprived you from your name, it would still persist as before

-> (even) if i damaged your name, it would still persist as before

Same for 'fortsein', how could translation be refined? Maybe:

-> (even) if I damaged your name, it would still be the same as before

-> (even) if I damaged your name, nothing would change

Which translation would you suggest?

  • IMHO there is no verb 'fortsein', it must be 'fort sein'.
    – RHa
    May 16, 2020 at 7:43
  • 1
    @RHa in current language I concur, but this fragment sounds not very modern to me. I suspect it is constructed analogously to fortbestehen. May 16, 2020 at 7:59
  • There is not enough context as to answer this question. Please add some of the surrounding lines (seems a poem to me)!
    – Wolf
    May 27, 2020 at 12:44
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    @phipsgabler In this case fortsein means fort sein. If you google ` "Wenn ich ihn mitnähme" "er würde fortsein wie zuvor"` you,ll see the actual source. Extracting the right interpretation from this passage of text is a challenge even for native German speakers.
    – Wolf
    May 27, 2020 at 13:11

2 Answers 2


Interesting, I immediately thought I knew that sentence from somewhere. But it took me a while to remember it. Are you trying to translate Günther Anders, "Die molussische Katakombe"? Wow, that's a tough job!

The book, although it was published in 1992, was written in 1930. The language is therefore somewhat antiquated and would probably not be used like this in modern German.

To understand the sentence, the context of the story is extremely important. Kuru is thrown into prison - the catacomb. In his cell, in absolute darkness, he meets a man who introduces himself to him as Olo and who has obviously been imprisoned there for decades. Kuru learns from him that in future his only task will be to pass on the true story of "Molussien" to the next prisoner, as it has been happening for centuries. Olo is number 17 in this row and Kuru is now number 18, his true name being completely meaningless. As Kuru protests, Olo says the sentence "Wenn ich ihn (den Namen) mitnähme, er würde fortsein wie zuvor". The grammatical form in German is Konjunktiv (subjunctive) 2 with Futur (future) 1. So the English translation should use simple past and "would".

"fortsein" as a verb is not used in German anymore, but it was used as a translation for the Latin verb "abesse" which means "to be away". It has nothing to do with "fortbestehen" (persist). In modern German you would write this separately "fort sein", where "fort" is the adverb.

"Mitnehmen" refers to the fact that Olo will go (die) and could take the name with him. "wie zuvor" means that Kuru's name "fort ist" (is gone), regardless of whether Olo takes it with him or not. Olo wants to make it clear to him that his name - and thus his entire being - has become completely meaningless down here in the catacomb.

The translation that sounds best to me would be "If I took your name, it would be gone the same as before."

But since you are working here on the translation of a text that was written 90 years ago by an German-Austrian philosopher, and whose language sounds quite old-fashioned for a German nowadays, there may be a more appropriate translation into English that gives consideration to this fact. But I leave that to people whose English is better than mine.

  • Good job! And a thanks to google "Wenn ich ihn mitnähme" "er würde fortsein wie zuvor"
    – Wolf
    May 27, 2020 at 12:56

first, is it possible that "wenn" hier stands for "auch wenn" or is such an elliptic formulation improbable?

You are right. It's rather the norm to use auch in this case.

second, i might be misinterpreting 'mitnehmen'.

Yes, you're right mitmehmen isn't the same as take away in this context. But none of your other proposals seem to fit well.

to take with is probably better:

even if I would take your name with me ...

Thus I would translate

wenn ich deinen Namen mitnähme, er würde fortsein wie zuvor


even if I would take your name with me, it would be gone as it was before

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