12

Wofür so ein Sturm nicht alles gut ist!

It's about a story in which a storm happened and it wrecked the balcony of the neighbors who didn't know each other before. Because of the chaos created by the storm they got to know each other for the first time and helped each other clear the mess. What does it mean? Literal translation to English would really help. I can think of this translation: For what such a storm is not entirely good. But this translation doesn't make much sense. The "nicht" and "alles" together are confusing me. Please help.

16

I suggest following translations:

  • Literal: [It's surprising] what all such a storm is good for!

  • Correspondingly: Such a storm is good for many things you wouldn't expect!


Outline

The composition can be stripped down as follows:

  1. Wofür so ein Sturm gut ist!: A storm is good for something
  2. Wofür so ein Sturm alles gut ist!: A storm is good for several things
  3. Wofür so ein Sturm nicht alles gut ist!: A storm is good for several things you wouldn't expect.

In detail

1) Meaning of wofür

Wofür so ein Sturm gut ist!

The interrogative pronoun wofür ("for what") is part of an exclamation here. In exclamations, interrogative pronouns more or less refer to their answers without explicitely naming them, leaving it to the speaker to think about it. For example: Was das kostet! ("What that costs!") means That costs a lot!. Wie schön! ("How beautiful!") means This is very beautiful. Wofür das gut ist! means That is good for something!.

2) Meaning of alles

Wofür so ein Sturm alles gut ist!

Just as the word all in several varieties of English,1 alles can be used after an interrogative pronoun to indicate that the answer comprises more than one entity. This works with wer alles, was alles, womit alles, wofür alles and several more. Wer wohl alles kommt? ("Who all might come?") or Ich frage mich, wer alles kommt ("I'm wondering who all is going to show up") means that the questioner expects more than one person to show up. Wofür das alles gut ist! (somewhat colloquial, "What all that's good for!") means that the questioner expects more than one purpose to be there.

3) Meaning of nicht

Wofür so ein Sturm nicht alles gut ist!

In exclamations of the pattern interrogative pronoun + "alles", nicht can be used as an emphasis of alles if the answer is considered particularly diverse and/or surprising by the speaker. It doesn't negate anything here. English has a similar idiom: whatnot.

Other examples include: Wer nicht alles zu ihrer Party gekommen ist!, Was es nicht alles gibt! (very idiomatic), Wofür das nicht alles gut ist!.


1 https://ygdp.yale.edu/phenomena/what-all; https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/all (entry 1.8)


PS: from a native speaker point of view, the sentence isn't weird at all ;)

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  • I think "Who would've guessed that a storm can be useful [for that]" would be a similar exclamation in English. – larkey Jun 5 at 23:47
  • Such a complicated sentence! I had no idea it was this deep xD. Thanks a lot!! – Mario Bedoun Jun 6 at 14:36
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Wofür so ein Sturm nicht alles gut ist!

may be amended

Jetzt verstehen wir, wofür so ein Sturm nicht alles gut ist!

That nicht alles is a modal particle in this sentence, expressing curiosity about a desired yet unexpected outcome. For example, a couple who was up to part for ill reasons but during the storm they found how much they could rely on each other.

Now we understand what such a storm is good for, jeez.

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  • Your comment amplifies the understanding of this sentence after reading the first long comment. Thanks! – Mario Bedoun Jun 6 at 14:37
5

The usual negation conveyed by nicht is turned into the opposite here: It serves to emphasize, rather than negate, a statement. Additionally, the sentence construction is a bit involved: It is an exclamation (or perhaps an "exclamatory statement") in the form of an indirect question.

This makes the sentence hard to understand for non-native speakers.

  1. The role of "nicht"

    The Duden has the following explanation for this use (no. 3a):

    dient zur Bekräftigung und Bestätigung in Fragesätzen, die eine positive Antwort herausfordern, in Ausrufen o. Ä., die Zustimmung wünschen

    and gives as an example

    Ist es nicht herrlich hier?

    This could be almost literally translated to English: "Is this not beautiful?" It is a rhetorical question which has for these uses become commonplace, perhaps more so in German. The speaker rhetorically asks the opposite in order to provoke a reaction in their audience. The negation can also be used to express doubt: "He wondered whether there wasn't a hidden agenda" means, of course, that he considered whether there was one, by doubting the opposite. In general these rhetoric negations can simply be left out without changing the meaning, in English as well as in German.

  2. The indirect question

    As we have seen in the Duden example, it is not uncommon to exclaim something in the form of a rhetorical (direct) question. You could even replace the question mark with an exclamation point: "How heavy is this thing!" This can easily be turned into a standalone indirect question: "How heavy this thing is!" In an old French Grammar the author discusses this construction with the remark that "people who like complements" would feel the need to add a main sentence, e.g. "It is amazing how heavy this thing is!"

The original exclamation "Wofür so ein Sturm nicht alles gut ist!" combines the emphasizing negation with this standalone indirect question. If we complement it with a main sentence and leave out the emphasizing "nicht", we would arrive at "Man sieht, wofür so ein Sturm alles gut ist."

While the emphasizing negation and the standalone indirect question both exist in English, their combination seems uncommon. In English, we would simply append a negation for emphasis and to engage our audience: "How much good this storm brought, didn't it." But we can imagine a teenager saying under their breath "How this is not a chore!" [is your secret].

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2

This only reflects my personal feeling of speech.

In my opinion "Wofür (so) ein/eine ... nicht (alles) gut ist" is an idiom. It's a bit tricky to explain.

It's usually used ironically, if something produced an unusual/unpredicted result.

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1

Consider the following English aphorism: It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. This is taken to mean that wild weather, which may seem to be nothing but negative, can usually provide a benefit to someone (except in a very extreme case). And of course, the "storm" or "wild weather" can be a metaphor for any shared misfortune that may "buffet" you. So there is my proposal for an English translation.

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  • 1
    Welcome to German.SE. Do you think you should elaborate more on the structure of the german sentence since that is written as question? – Shegit Brahm Jun 5 at 7:09

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