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I have read the following Q&A:

Warum sind Kinder heute so respektlos?

Wir haben die Freude der Kinder zerstört, indem sie alles bekommen haben, was sie wollten.

My first translation was "We have destroyed children's joy by having them receiving everything they wanted", but that doesn't make sense, so I assume it means "We have destroyed children's joy by giving them everything they wanted".

If that is right, I don't understand the use of "bekommen" here. Wouldn't "gegeben" make more sense, as "bekommen" means "to receive"?

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    What is the semantic difference between "they received everything they wanted" and "we gave them everything they wanted"? Why would one make sense and the other not? The grammar is different, and it makes sense to have the children as subject, because the statement is about the children.
    – RalfFriedl
    Mar 24 at 10:10
  • @RalfFriedl In English, "to have someone receive something" (literal translation of "bekomen haben") is not usual because "to have" can only be used with that meaning with active actions and "receive" is a passive action. Therefore, the sentence "We have destroyed children's joy by having them receive/receiving everything they wanted" makes no sense. On the other hand, "to have my car fixed by Friday" and "to have this project completed as soon as possible" are idiomatic. Mar 24 at 10:39
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    @AlanEvangelista: I'm sorry to point this out again, but before anyone (including yourself) gets misled by this: ''"to have someone receive something" (literal translation of "bekomen haben")' ' - the part I highlighted is wrong. The literal translation of "[sie] haben bekommen" is "[they] have received" (and word order is switched here due to this being a subordinate clause with inversion applied). The literal translation of "to have s-o receive sth" would be roughly "jdn. etw. bekommen lassen". Mar 24 at 10:46
  • In this case you may simply translate "bekommen" by "get". We have destroyed children's joy because they have got everything they wanted.
    – Paul Frost
    Mar 26 at 10:59
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Translation

We destroyed the joy of the children as they received everything they wanted.


Explanation

The use of bekommen here is perfectly fine and it exclusively means to get or to receive. The real difficulty that causes the confusion is indem.

Because indem is a subclause-introducing conjunction in German, the subject of the subclause can be different from the subject of the main clause. In your example, the subject of zerstören ('destroy') is wir ('we'), but the subject of bekommen ('get') are the children (sie). So we destroy, while the children receive.

English by is not equivalent to that: It does not introduce a subclause with its own subject, but stands with a gerund whose implied subject is the one of the main clause. That means in a construction like we destroyed x by y, the subject of y must be we and cannot be the children, for instance.

Leo gives as as another translation for indem. If that works, it leads us to the translation above.

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Note that in the subclause the children are the subject. So if you would use "geben" instead of "bekommen" it would be the children that are giving. This would be the opposite of the original meaning.

The sentence translates to something like:

We have destroyed the joy of the children by allowing them to get everything they want.

The idea is that if children always get what they want then at some point they will no longer appreciate the things they are given because they take it for granted to get everything.

Geben could have been used instead of bekommen but then the children must be the object in the subclause:

Wir haben die Freude der Kinder zerstört, indem wir ihnen alles gegeben haben, was sie wollten.

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  • Thanks! I was unable to translate "indem sie alles bekommen haben" as "by allowing them to get" because (1) I didn't remember the personal pronoun is "sie" and the dative object is "ihnen" and (2) I didn't know that "haben" could be used with the meaning of "allowing someone to do sth". It'd be nice to mention the 2nd point explicitly in your answer. Mar 24 at 10:32
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    @AlanEvangelista Haben cannot be used with the meaning of allowing so. to do sth. in German, it's the perfect auxiliary. Mar 24 at 10:34
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    @AlanEvangelista: "haben" cannot have the meaning of "alowing someone to do sth". "haben" is simply the auxiliary verb for past perfect "bekommen haben", so a more literal translation of that part of "indem sie alles bekommen haben" would be "by the circumstance/situation/fact that they have received everything". Mar 24 at 10:34
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    Thanks for the clarification. It'd be nice to use this more literal translation in the answer to avoid confusion. Mar 24 at 10:45

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