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I am happy to write to you in German.

I translated this as

Ich bin gerne Ihnen auf Deutsch schreibe. (based on the assumption that there could be a similarity to a certain extent between the English and the German word orders.)

but the machine translation is

Gerne schreibe ich Ihnen auf Deutsch.

Which is correct and why? What is the rule at play here? Also, why is the "I" in "ich" in the second translation not upper case?

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  • Why the downvote?
    – user17144
    Apr 29 at 7:25
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    The rule probalbly is not to use "English style" for other language. (A downvote, not from me, might be due to this slightly...anglocentric approach). Your sentence has no structure and shows four mistakes at least: wrong conjugation, missing zu particle, missing comma, and for it to make sense bereit should still be added.
    – c.p.
    Apr 29 at 8:47
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    You cannot just throw together a bunch of words and hope to get a sentence.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 29 at 9:06
  • A short answer to your last question about Ich/ich: in German you write "Ich" only at sentence beginn upper case and not like in English always in upper case. Apr 29 at 12:05
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    To summarize the problems people have with this question: (1) The assumption that German should basically work like English ("English style", "why isn't ich capitalized") irritated some. (2) The question why isn't it like in English is unanswerable per se. (3) All information needed to make the sentence correct (wording, conjugation, orthography) can be found in reference works, there are no hidden pitfalls in this particular case. To correct every mistake would result in a citation of those basic references. (4) Because of 3, the question's helpfulness to other is limited. Apr 29 at 20:28
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The downvote could be due to this close-vote-rule: Bulk proofreading or translation request. (more here)

Your translation is wrong. It is not a correct German sentence. the I in Ich isn't uppercase because it's not a the beginning of the sentence.

"Ich bin gerne bereit Ihnen auf deutsch zu schreiben."

This is closer to your translation..


Ich bin gerne Ihnen auf Deutsch schreibe.

The translation is almost correct, but it is not a correct German sentence. This is often the case with different languages that cannot be translated simply "one-to-one".

Instead of "ich bin gerne" (which makes no sense because gerne is not an adjective. (cf. "I am green.")) I suggested "Ich bin (gerne) bereit".

Yes, "to write" is translated to "zu schreiben" or just "schreiben".

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  • What exactly is wrong with my translation? Google translates it to the English I expected. Is "to write" to be translated as "zu schreiben" rather than as "schreibe"? Or is it something else or more? I really wish the downvoter indicated what exactly is wrong. I read your link and I don't understand what I did wrong. This is not a translation request, but a request for clarification of a fine point.
    – user17144
    Apr 29 at 7:46
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    @user17144: You really can't check grammar with Google translate; it's programmed to take whatever it's given, make the best sense of it as it can and spit out whatever meaning it can find back in the other language. In the process it will "helpfully" corrects many mistakes in grammar and spelling without letting you know. I assume there are German grammar checkers available (I certainly see enough ads for English ones), but Google translate isn't one.
    – RDBury
    Apr 29 at 8:53
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    Example: Google translate also translates "I happy write you in German." to "Ich schreibe Ihnen gerne auf Deutsch. " So surely this also must be perfect English?
    – Carsten S
    Apr 29 at 10:24
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choXer's answer already covered most if it, but it seems like you need more detail. First, I can see why your question got a downvote, though I'm not convinced it was justified. We get a lot of questions like "Please translate this," or "Please check my grammar on that." One general criterion for a "good" question here is that there might be other people who have a similar question and the answer will be helpful to them as well. Translation and proofreading do not meet that criterion so requests for them are usually downvoted and closed fairly quickly. It may help to rephrase your question, especially the title, to make it sound less like a proofreading request and more like a question on grammar, which, if you read between the lines, I think it is.

There are two grammatical errors in your version. First gerne is not an adjective but an adverb, meaning it modifies a verb and not an noun. Adjectives that mean "happy" in German include froh, zufrieden, glücklich, and erfreut; which one is most appropriate in this context is a topic for another question. These can all be used to describe yourself (ich), but gerne describes the action, and can be translated as "with pleasure" or "happily". So the sentence Ich bin gerne. would mean something like "I exist happily," which may be true but one generally doesn't feel the need to communicate it.

In general, I think German is more likely to use the verb itself rather than to use helping verbs than English is. So you should try to phrase a sentence with the main verb in the main position rather than delegating a helping verb to do the job. The English, "I am happy to write ..." puts "to be" (in this case "am") in the main position, but in German you would normally put the main verb schreiben in the main position, so Ich schreibe .... Besides, when schreiben is in the main position then gerne is applied to it rather than sein, so Ich schreibe gerne. - "I'm writing with pleasure." is closer to your intended meaning. You could rephrase it with sein (see choXer's answer), but I think the result would sound unnecessarily wordy and awkward, something like "It is with pleasure that I write you in German," sounds in English.

The second error is that that you had two conjugated verbs (bin and schreibe in the same clause, which is normally not allowed. You'd need a second clause to carry this off in German, but then, as mentioned above, the result would be more wordy than necessary since the thought is simple enough to express in a single clause.

I would translate your example as Ich schreibe Ihnen gerne auf Deutsch. This is the normal word order: subject + verb + other elements. Ihnen, since it's a pronoun, falls soon after the verb, and auf Deutsch, since it's the new and interesting piece of information, falls last. German word order is more flexible than English, so there is some room for interpretation on what the exact word order should be. In particular, the Google version moves gerne before the verb (moving ich after the verb to preserve the V2 rule), which basically makes the sentence about what you are happy to do. This is grammatically correct but I don't think it's really the emphasis that was intended.

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    Just as an addition: "Gerne ..." as the start of the sentence has become somewhat fashionable in business reply letters, when refering to something the recipient asked for. "Gerne beantworte ich Ihre Frage ....", "Gerne übersende ich Ihnen unseren Katalog...", "Gerne informiere ich Sie über den Stand in der Sache ..." . This probably has to do with an old style rule that says we should avoid "ich" at the beginning of the sentence in business communication. The Google translation is just perfect if the OP was asked to answer in German.
    – HalvarF
    Apr 29 at 10:36
  • @HalvarF, I didn't know that, thanks. It's generally frowned upon to start start too many sentences with "I" in English as well; it makes you sound conceited or something.
    – RDBury
    Apr 29 at 11:02
  • @RDBury Thank you for the detailed response. Really appreciate it. Did you mean "Ich schreibe Ihnen gerne auf Deutsch." in the sense of "I write to you happily in German."?
    – user17144
    Apr 29 at 16:21
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    @user17144: Yes, that's something like what I was going for, but that's more of a word for word translation and sounds a bit odd in English. I think gerne has a few more shades of meaning than "happily". Ich X gerne might mean something like "I X gladly", "I enjoy X-ing", "It's a pleasure for me to X" or "I'm happy to X" (as in your original sentence. Keep in mind that you have to take context into account before you can properly translate a word from one language to another.
    – RDBury
    Apr 29 at 16:49

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