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

Die Tabletten gibt es in allen möglichen Formen und Farben. Alle mit unterschiedlichen Zusatzstoffen und unterschiedlichem MDMA-Gehalt. Die einen im besten Fall die Ganze Nacht wach halten und im schlechtesten Fall in die Notaufnahme bringen.

I confirmed that I heard right by checking the German subtitles.

What does "die einen" mean? I initially though that "die" was a relative pronoun (even if it's oddly positioned at the beginning of the sentence), but then I don't understand how "einen" fits in the sentence. In other words, I'd say instead: Die Tabletten, die im besten Fall die ganze Nacht wach halten und im...

Another alternative meaning of "die einen" that would fit in this context is "the ones", but AFAIK that should be "diejenigen"?

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  • Did you only hear the quoted text or is it from transcript or subtitles?
    – Wolf
    Nov 17 '20 at 9:28
  • @Wolf Subtitles Nov 17 '20 at 11:07
  • So it would be better to start with something like "I read the following in the subtitles of the TV series ..."
    – Wolf
    Nov 17 '20 at 13:05
  • @Wolf Maybe I wasn't clear in my last comment. I heard it and confirmed it with the subtitles. I'm not sure that is relevant to the question, but I have added it. Nov 17 '20 at 15:12
  • As it deals with an error in written grammar, it's important, Torsten explains the details.
    – Wolf
    Nov 17 '20 at 15:21
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In spoken language it is sometimes hard to hear the clear borders of sentences. And spoken / colloquial language does not always follow grammatical rules.

You heard the part with "die einen..." as a standalone and separate sentence and probably the speaker emphasized it exactly that way. If we try to find out, what that sentence would be when written down in a grammatically correct way then it is:

Die Tabletten gibt es in allen möglichen Formen und Farben, alle mit unterschiedlichen Zusatzstoffen und unterschiedlichem MDMA-Gehalt , die einen im besten Fall die Ganze Nacht wach halten und im schlechtesten Fall in die Notaufnahme bringen.

So in reality we have a relative clause here:

Tabletten [...] mit unterschiedlichen Zusatzstoffen [...], die einen die ganze Nacht wach halten.

Or, to give a complete translation:

The pills come in all possible forms and colours, all with different addditional substances and different concentration of MDMA that hold you awake the whole night at best and bring you to emergency room at worst

There IS a word couple containing "die einen", but it is almost inseparable connected with "die anderen":

Die einen halten dich die ganze Nacht wach, die anderen bringen dich in die Notaufnahme

Translated as:

Some keep you awake the whole night, others bring you to emergency room

Addition -as requested in comments-:
An additional challenge here is the possible different meanings / declensions of einen: It can be the nominative plural of "ein" (as in my last example), but in this case it is the accusative singular of "einer" which itself is the masculinum form of "ein" and means "one".

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  • 1
    Notice that this is spoken dialogue. I agree that your interpretation of a punctuation error makes more sense in written text, but I think a separated relative sentence isn't unnatural in colloquial speech. Nov 17 '20 at 8:57
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    You are right, it is ok in colloquial speech, but still "Die einen die ganze Nacht wach halten" is not a correct German sentence... and that makes it hard for some NON- German person to understand / translate it, as it is missing parts... Nov 17 '20 at 9:05
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    But the relative clause isn't missing any parts. That die and einen are interpreted as subject and object has nothing to do with the spelling, but with the fact that the finite verb is in final position.
    – David Vogt
    Nov 17 '20 at 9:27
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    Ich denke, wir reden aneinander vorbei ;). You are right: of course, the sentence is absolutely well formed. It just cannot stand alone (in written language)... So it's not the sentence that is wrong but the punctuation. Should have been more precise... Nov 17 '20 at 9:40
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    Is it understandable as I added it? Nov 17 '20 at 11:34
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Einen is the accusative of man.

Man wird von den Tabletten wach gehalten.

Die Tabletten halten einen wach.

An alternative would be impersonal you:

Die Tabletten halten dich wach.

(Impersonal meaning that dich does not refer to the addressee, but to anyone taking these tablets.)

Your initial hypothesis that the sentence is a relative clause was correct. As usual, the verb is key for interpreting the sentence correctly: with halten in final position, the sentence needs a suitable element in first position, i.e. a subordinating conjunction or a relative pronoun. This prohibits interpreting die einen as a unit. With wach halten being transitive, die is interpreted as the subject and einen as the object.

A beautiful example with alternating man and forms of ein-:

Manchmal liest man ein Buch und ist restlos begeistert. Man kommt ins Schwärmen und erst da fällt einem auf, dass man wirklich nicht weiß, was einen daran jetzt genau begeistert. (hr2.de)

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    I like this explanation. My translation, trying to keep the German word order which is rather unnatural in English: "They, in the best case, keep you awake all night, and in the worst case, send you to the emergency room."
    – RDBury
    Nov 17 '20 at 16:01
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You're quite right that it could mean "the ones", when einen would would refer to the pills:

Die einen halten einen wach, die anderen machen schläfrig.

But in this context, the einen is used in exactly the way I used the second einen above: as the accusative of einer, which is an indefinite pronoun here. Somewhat like "one":

All pills have different contents. Keeping one awake in the best case, and bringing one into the ER in the worst case.

The complicated thing is that this is prefixed with die -- this is a separated relative sentence, linking to die Tabletten, as you rightly note as well in the beginning:

Die Tabletten, die einen wach halten, gibt es in allen möglichen Formen und Farben.

The pills, which keep one awake, exist in all shapes and colors.

This is not a weird construction, though, it feels natural in the flow of information given here.

(Or, as Thorsten noted, die could refer to the Zusatzstoffe, too -- but I'd say that's ambiguous.)

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