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I have heard the following sentence in the TV series "How to sell Drugs Online" (Fast):

Steckt mehr in ihm drin, als man denkt. (English subtitle: There is more to him than you think)

As "stecken" means "insert/stick into", I don't understand how "in jemandem steckt mehr, als man denkt" can mean "there is more to someone than one thinks / you think". Is there any logic I'm missing or is it just an idiomatic expression?

Second, isn't "in ihm drin" (= inside in him) redundant?

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  • Isn't it quite similar to the english expression?
    – choXer
    Nov 16 '20 at 20:44
  • @choXer What English expression? The literal translation "it sticks into him" does not mean anything in English besides the sexual connotation. The similar expression "it sticks to him" could refer to the literal physical meaning of something sticky (e.g. sweat, melted ice cream/chocolate, glue), but it's not related to this German expression meaning either. Nov 17 '20 at 0:33
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    @AlanEvangelista: "What English expression?" - I think the closest you can come is with "he has it in him". Nov 17 '20 at 6:03
  • this phrase addresses hidden properties (if I recall correctly, mainly in a positive sense)
    – Wolf
    Nov 17 '20 at 9:33
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You are missing a meaning of "in etwas stecken" that is "to be embedded in something". (source: https://www.dict.cc/?s=in+etw.+stecken )

An example for this usage you can find here:
https://www.fr.de/kultur/nicht-donald-trump-verrueckt-sind-es-10982551.html

Die eigentliche Krankheit steckt in der Gesellschaft, sagt der US-amerikanische Psychiater Allen Frances.

For the second part of the question you have to remember that the subject

meaning

The actual disease lies within society, says the US psycholigist Allen Frances.

With this translation the this sentence:

Steckt mehr in ihm drin, als man denkt.

translates more to something like

There is more in him, than one thinks.

For the second part of your question you need to be aware that the subject of the sentence is "mehr" and not "ihm" and the "in" part is a necessary preposition to connect to the object "ihm". The word "drin" (and only this word) is indeed redundant.

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  • @AlanEvangelista Maybe this meaning of "stecken" comes more from the "verstecken" (to hide). Because "there is more hidden in this person" would be my translation from "es steckt mehr in dieser Person". And clearly this are not items, but properties/qualities. Only sometimes for sarcastic jokes may someone say "es steckt mehr in ihm" and adress an item (maybe a knife, not visible at the first glance...) Nov 22 '20 at 15:10
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It is an idiomatic expression indeed.

If it helps:

  1. you can confer English stick, stuck, and sticky to see that the semantic fields entails a manner of adherence.

  2. verstecken, versteckt seems to offer very similar semantics. The difference shouldn't concern us.

  3. For sake of the argument you can substitue steckt with ist.

Second, isn't "in ihm drin" (= inside in him) redundant?

It kind of is, but then innen drin is an idiomatic collocation, especially in your construction. It can be frequently elided.

For it to be redundant you would have to pressume that it was a contraction of *dar in in. That's very unlikely. drin is a contraction of darinnen, as far as I know, but the phrase drinnen in may have formed after the contraction, with both parts covering different parts of speech.

This is similar to get off of that horse, which some argue were redundant.


Actually, drin maybe thought of as complement, whereas in ihm is the adverbial preposition that situates the complement in context.

In Ihm steckt mehr drin (als man denkt).

Logically, you might as well parse Drin as a noun in this case, which might seem paradox, but it is the only obvious parse. Cp. In Ihm steckt mehr Leben (als man denkt). This is admissable because adjectives nominalize. Cp. In ihm steckt mehr Schönes. This parsing is not so obvious in the form that you cited.

[Es] steckt mehr in ihm drin

First, it should be notable that this word order regularly requires a dummy subject, Es, precisely because Drin(nen) is not a proper noun, nor is any other constituent. Cp.? Mehr Drin steckt in ihm. (Yoda it sounds like). The usual word order would be: In ihm steckt mehr als man denkt, in which case there is a phrasal subject and we can transpose it to gain an almost acceptable variant in SVO: ?Mehr als man denkt steckt in ihm.

Second, drin can still be parsed as a determiner, not the least if dar is originally deictic. I'm sure there is a good explanation that is obscured beyond believe. And I guess that it is more common to describe it as an adverbial modifier to the verb, viz. drin stecken, but I am not sure. As one might say, da steck ich nicht drin (I'm not into it). If you want to know more about that you should open another question under the relevant topic.

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  • The English verb "to stick" has different meanings . AFAIK it is translated to the German verb "stecken" when it refers to stick/insert something into something and it's translated to the German verb "(an)kleben" when it means "to attach glue to something" or "to adhere to something", so I don't understand the relationship you proposed between "stecken", "sticky" and a kind of adherence. Nov 17 '20 at 0:47
  • yes, and kleben bleiben is semantically (and phonetically I might argue) very close to leave "remain". Thanks for asking, but I'm sure that dudn't make it any clearer so I didn't try to explain. You can go a step further and compare *steh2-, *ster-, *stel-, etc. and *Hes- in Proto-Indo-European. For sake of the argument you can substitue steckt with ist.
    – vectory
    Nov 17 '20 at 5:54

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