In today's Langsam gesprochene Nachrichten the following appears:

Die wichtigsten Oppositionsparteien in Venezuela wollen die Parlamentswahl am 6. Dezember boykottieren. In einer gemeinsamen Erklärung warfen sie Präsident Nicolás Maduro vor, keinen fairen Wahlkampf zuzulassen und die Abstimmung fälschen zu wollen. Die Erklärung wurde von 27 Parteien und Organisationen unterzeichnet. Maduro hofft auf eine Machtübernahme im Parlament, das derzeit die einzige staatliche Institution ist, die von der Opposition kontrolliert wird. Diese letzte Bastion droht die Opposition in dem südamerikanischen Krisenstaat zu verlieren.

How does one determine what the subject is in the last sentence? It could be, "This last bastion threatens to loose the opposition ..." Or it could be, "The opposition threatens to loose this last bastion ..." How does one know? And if it is not possible to be certain, why do Germans write ambiguously like this when they could just as well say, »Die Opposition droht der Verlust dieser letzten Bastion?«

  • 7
    The contrast between the unnaturally slow delivery, which marks the text as intended for beginners, and the highly complex grammar as well as unreduced lexical complexity is stunning.
    – David Vogt
    Aug 3 '20 at 18:39
  • Only from context since subject and object are both feminine and therefore the accusative is not distinguishable from nominative. Related.
    – Olafant
    Aug 3 '20 at 19:08
  • Note that there is no comma after "droht". And while I find the meaning rather unambiguous, I am not quite sure what that grammatical subject is.
    – Carsten S
    Aug 3 '20 at 19:37
  • 2
    @user44591 Note that there's a difference between jmd./etw. droht zu ... and jmdm./etw. (dative!) droht etw. The first construction is the one from the news (die Opposition droht ... zu verlieren) where Opposition (or, alternatively, Bastion) is nominative and the subject. The latter one is your version and needs to read: Der Opposition droht der Verlust, since der Verlust is the subject in nominative and der Opposition is a dative object. In SVO word order (uncommon, however, for this verb): Der Verlust droht der Opposition. Aug 3 '20 at 20:12
  • 3
    Ah, so that's why Google Translate gave me, »Der Opposition droht der Verlust dieser letzten Bastion?« :)
    – user44591
    Aug 3 '20 at 21:55

A political faction (being constituted of active agents in the political arena) can hold or lose a stronghold, but a stronghold cannot lose a faction. Therefore it is clear which of the two is the subject for extragrammatical reasons. If it weren't, a professional editor will change the construction until it is.


There is a grammatical way and a semantical.

Let's start with grammar (How do the words and their endings fit together?):

The subject is always in nominative case. If the verb is a copula (sein = to be, bleiben = to stay, werden = to become), then there can be second part of speech in nominative case, but verlieren = to lose does not belong to this group, and this means, that only the subject is in nominative case. Everything else in the sentence must be in any other case.

diese letzte Bastion

  • Nom: diese letzte Bastion (match)
  • Gen: dieser letzten Bastion (no match)
  • Dat: dieser letzten Bastion (no match)
  • Akk: diese letzte Bastion (match)

die Opposition

  • Nom: die Opposition (match)
  • Gen: der Opposition (no match)
  • Dat: der Opposition (no match)
  • Akk: die Opposition (match)

At this point we just know, that both of them could be in nominative case, while the other is in accusative case, but we still don't know which is which.

Now we have to use semantics (What makes sense?):

Grammar leaves us with two possible ways to translate the sentence (In English the subject is always at position 1):

  1. This last bastion threatens to lose the opposition in the South American crisis state. (The bastion is losing something)
  2. The opposition in the South American crisis state threatens to lose this last bastion. (The opposition is losing something)

Version 1 makes not very much sense. But version 2 has a clear meaning and therefore must be the correct meaning.

And this again let's us deduce:

  • "die Opposition" = subject
  • "diese letzte Bastion" = accusative object

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