How is the distribution of objects?


"Die Soldaten haben sich töten lassen."

There is one or more object after "haben", they can be one of the following:

  • object for lassen,
  • object for töten,
  • subject for töten.

How to differentiate between them? Based on place and order?

X hat Y K töten lassen.

  • X is subject of lassen,
  • Y is object of lassen and subject of töten,
  • K is object of töten.

Now some variations:

Die Soldaten haben sich töten lassen.

Is here "sich"

  • object of lassen and subject of töten


  • object of töten?

In English:

  • They permitted themselves to kill.
  • vs: They permitted others to kill them.

Die Soldaten haben die Zivilisten töten lassen

  • civilians are object of lassen and subject of töten


  • object of töten.

How do you do the difference between it?

  • So: where is your question? Yes, they are all distinct meanings of lassen, and some of your sentences are right but others are wrong.... What do you expect to be answered? Please ask distinct questions that can be answered one by one.... as is I vote to close as unclear what you are asking..
    – Tode
    Commented May 25, 2020 at 19:49
  • ok, here is more exact:
    – orodeous
    Commented May 25, 2020 at 21:23
  • 1
    @orodeous: I tried to make it a bit more structured - it is just that I have no idea if I still meet your intentions. If you reorder I'd prefer to keep some things like capital letters. Commented May 26, 2020 at 9:13
  • Yuo did it good, thanks
    – orodeous
    Commented May 26, 2020 at 13:19

3 Answers 3


Short answer:

As a German native speaker, I consider

Die Soldaten haben sich töten lassen.

as to be (theoretically) translatable into

They permitted others to kill them.

But I think this is just a "flowery" description for the passive construction "were killed".

For an official reasoning, i.e. the long answer, I have to think for a while ...

  • Die Konstruktion sich etwas machen lassen wird im Englischen mit to have/get something done. Demnach müsste Die Soldaten haben sich töten lassen so etwas wie The soldiers got themselves killed sein. Commented May 27, 2020 at 11:22
  • @BjörnFriedrich Ja, die obige "Übersetzung" ist ja mehr die Konstruktionsvorschrift für die Aussage. Deine Übersetzung ist völlig korrekt. Denkbar ist aber auch schlicht The soldiers were killed. Es handelt cih eben um eine Passiv-Kontruktion wie ich lasse mich füttern oder auch er lässt sich bezahlen -- aber es ist nicht auszuschließen, dass man in Lyrik auch von der anderen Interpretationsmöglichkeit gebrauch machen könnte ...
    – Wolf
    Commented May 27, 2020 at 11:34

I think subject for the infinite verb is the answer, but I'm not sure what difference it makes. The surface syntax is clossest to object raising, "They want us to help".

I'd thus translate naively: They have they [to] be killed.

It's isn't the most felicite translation, obviously, this isn't elu.SE, but the grammar should be correct, theoreticly, and the fidelity is quite high. Maybe try "them" instead.

Don't confuse sich for themselves, that's just wrong. English simply has no reflex of *sik-, probably never had. Don't confuse lassen for let, either. Rather consider:

They left their own to be killed.

This has to be ambiguous, for short, since the whole English language simply doesn't distinguish between inclusive and exclusive "we".


Both sentences carry something wrong. Maybe the drastic content shows it more clearly. What otherwise could be a almost a joke suddenly gets dead serious:

Die Soldaten haben sich töten lassen

Either they did not react/defend themselves or they got killed on their own fault. It is reflexive, so at least that part is clear. Put "einander" instead of "sich" and it gets quite absurd.

Die Soldaten haben die Zivilisten töten lassen

This is even worse, because it can be taken in two completely different ways. "töten" can be without object or with "Zivilisten" as object.

This example is just confusing and macabre. I wonder if it really needs "töten" to work.

On the next page of that book will be a lengthy and very smart discussion of life and death of Schroedinger's Cat.

Ich habe meinen Sklaven auspeitschen lassen.

The usual thing: make something happen. Unless you have a weird slave and allow him some time during which he does some of his own whipping; but then: whom is he whipping? "auspeitschen" wants an object...something intransitive like "gehen lassen" would be better.

Ich habe meinen Sklaven mich auspeitschen lassen.

Unlike "töten", "auspeitschen" can have a desirable and funny side. Here the speaker could be making the joke: partly I gave him the order, partly I had to let it happen. Now the ambiguity is intended.

  • Try for instance du hast dich abzocken lassen. That's not so macabre. I think you show an interesting point, the message behind the message.
    – Wolf
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:27
  • Yes, but here the message is clear. The Abzockers are anonymous, the Abzockee is "du". You can force it into somthing else Danke, dass du mich die anderen hast abzocken lassen. I insert an object, because of the ab-. If you leave out the ab-, it changes from "cheat somebody" to "gamble".
    – user41814
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 8:55
  • I mean that the original sentence isn't ambiguous (for a German native speaker). It states that the soldiers are dead and that they didn't defend themselves successfully. It is not clear (since we have too little context) whether this sentence should additionally express an accusation or perhaps even malice.
    – Wolf
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 9:16
  • This is where i totally disagree. Die Soldaten wurden getötet is the starting point (this is more precise than "are dead") . We know nothing about any defense (or death wish); this somehow is implied by the 'lassen'. Of course context changes everything. I have nothing aginst analysing an officer complaining: Die sind nicht gefallen, die haben sich einfach töten lassen. This is how 'lassen' can be used, by the officer and the writer. That would be the message behing the message: look how the officers talk.
    – user41814
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 11:09
  • Sorry I was not precise enough here. I should have written It states that the soldiers were killed [...] instead of It states that the soldiers are dead [...]. You are absolutely right in this point.
    – Wolf
    Commented May 28, 2020 at 11:16

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