1

Can someone explain this sentence to me and why it works, and write the explanation in English?

Sophie Newman drückte beim Sprechen den Finger auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel.

Obviously, to me, I interpret it to mean,

Sophie Newman pressed her finger on her blue tooth while speaking.

But, wouldn't it make more sense if it was,

Sophie Newman drückte während ihren Finger auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel sprechen.

I am reading The Immortal Nicholas Flamel series in German. This book should have been translated by a native German professional. But, it looks like they use Sprechen as a noun, but not as a noun at the same time and it is all out of place from standard German sentence structure. From what I have learned so far, I have never seen anything like that.

5
  • 7
    You should edit out all the irrelevant bits (flash cards yada yada). Why do you think while speaking should correspond to während ihren Finger ...?
    – David Vogt
    Mar 9 at 7:33
  • 4
    Sentences involving the -ing form (be it the present participle or the gerund, which are different cases) rarely translate directly into German.
    – RHa
    Mar 9 at 7:45
  • "Sophie Newman drückte während ihren Finger auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel sprechen." Is incorrect. You could create a similar word order like this. Sophie Newman drückte ihren Finger auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel während sie sprach.
    – Karlokick
    Mar 9 at 9:54
  • Just a comment on your study plan, the CEFR expects you to be able to speak and understand the the spoken language as well as the written, so practice reading and writing German is only going to get you so far. If you're not in a German speaking country then getting access to written study materials is much easier, but with high speed internet that issue is rapidly disappearing.
    – RDBury
    Mar 9 at 13:48
  • 2
    Welcome to German SE. I edited the question according to the SE guidelines in order to excavate the core of it. Mar 9 at 14:43
3

It seems, you wanted to translated this English sentence

Sophie Newman pressed her finger on her blue tooth while speaking.

by preserving the word order, but didn't do it thoroughly.

If you divide the sentence in smaller chunks, you get:

(Sophie Newman) (pressed (her finger)) (on her blue tooth) (while speaking).

which can be translated to:

(Sophie Newman) (drückte (ihren Finger)) (auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel) (während sie sprach).

or

(Sophie Newman) (drückte (ihren Finger)) (auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel) (beim Sprechen).

This would be valid German sentences. It differs from your proposed translation by

  • the translation of the phrase while speaking, and related:
    • the usage and position of während and bei
    • the usage of [Sp]rechen as a verb or as nominalization

Translating the English gerund to German can be tricky, since there is no exact equivalent in modern high German. As you can see, there are different ways to approach this.

If you want to translate "speaking" as a verb, you have to correctly conjugate it (während sie sprach). If you want to use a nominalization, you have to use capital letter and make sure the flexion is correct. In this example, the flexion depends on the preposition you choose:

  • bei + dative -> bei dem Sprechen = beim Sprechen
  • während + genitive -> während des Sprechens

If you choose to translate "while" with "während" you have to put it at the right position. While the word order in German is more flexible than the word order in English, it is not completely free - you have to learn the underlying rules.

Saying this, the original German sentence you've quoted is also correct. You can split it to:

(Sophie Newman) (drückte) (beim Sprechen) (den Finger) (auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel).

0

Let's start with the non-controversial part of the sentence:

  • Sophie Newman pressed her finger on her bluetooth (earbud).
  • Sophie Newman drückte den Finger auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel.

So we see that the question is about the phrase:

while speaking

translation of speaking

Speaking is a gerund, constructed from (to) speak and the suffix -ing. Gerunds are verbal substantives. German does not have a suffix like -ing, but verbs can be substantivated anyway by simply using the infinitive with an article. In written speech, the substantivation is regularly marked by capitalization.

  • (to) speak -> speaking
  • sprechen -> das Sprechen

translation of while

There are several possibilities to express while speaking in German. The literal one would be:

während des Sprechens

Since word order is free in German, that phrase can be placed everywhere:

  • Während des Sprechens [drückte] [Sophie Newman] [den Finger] [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel].
  • [Sophie Newman] [drückte] während des Sprechens [den Finger] [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel]. (usual/unmarked word order)
  • [Sophie Newman] [drückte] [den Finger] [während des Sprechens] [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel].
  • [Sophie Newman] [drückte] [den Finger] [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel] während des Sprechens. (most unusual/marked word order)

A idiomatic way to say während des + gerund is beim (=bei dem):

  • Beim Essen klingelte das Telefon.
  • Handy weg beim Autofahren!
  • Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (work by Günter Grass)

So you can replace während des Sprechens in the above examples by beim Sprechen:

  • Beim Sprechen [drückte] [Sophie Newman] [den Finger] [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel].
  • [Sophie Newman] [drückte] beim Sprechen [den Finger] [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel]. (usual/unmarked word order)
  • [Sophie Newman] [drückte] [den Finger] beim Sprechen [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel].
  • [Sophie Newman] [drückte] [den Finger] [auf ihren Bluetooth-Ohrstöpsel] beim Sprechen. (most unusual/marked word order)
1
  • Well, learning this rule about the German gerund rule helped a lot and that it would have to be changed to [während sie sprach] otherwise made sense too, I thought. Which is the imperfect past tense meaning, while she spoke. And that, in such a way at the end of a sentence that [sprechen] cannot mean speaking. Thanks alot you guys! That really helped out alot! Both answers were helpful!
    – user47996
    Mar 9 at 19:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.