Regarding the difference between the sentences above:

I'm confused about the commas. Does the bit ", die lesen," imply that women in general read, and that they are dangerous? Or does the title imply "Those women who read are dangerous."

The version with commas is the title of a bestseller by Stefan Bollmann. The complete title is "Frauen, die lesen, sind gefährlich. Lesende Frauen in Malerei und Fotografie".

The English title became: "Women Who Read Are Dangerous" not "Women, Who Read, Are Dangerous"


The sentence means "[Those] women who read are dangerous".

The commas are mandatory because "die lesen" is a subclause (a Relativsatz) and a subclause must be separated from the main clause by commas (§74 of the official rules). Comma rules differ between German and English.

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    What are the "official rules"? – Quora Feans Jan 25 at 0:59
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    Note that the commas change the meaning in English; with commas it implies all women read, and without it's similar to "Those women..." I'm still unclear on how the German version isn't ambiguous. – RDBury Jan 25 at 3:59
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    @RDBury - "with commas it implies all women read" - This meaning does not exist in German. – mic Jan 25 at 8:13
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    @RDBury, furthermore I would argue that the ambiguity exists only in written German. If you read the sentence out aloud, the "sentence melody" (no idea whether that term makes sense in English) will be different depending on which meaning is intended. – Carsten S Jan 25 at 10:50

The distinction between defining and non-defining relative clauses with regards to commas does not exist in German. Commas are mandatory in both cases. When reading, you will have to decide from context or by common sense which one it is.

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