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Was hältst du von den sozialen Netzwerken?
Ein Leben ohne kann ich mir nicht vorstellen.

I understand what it means but I want to make sure if it is correct or a typo. Is this correct? Why isn't written like this: Ein Leben ohne sie????

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  • “Eine Flasche Mineralwasser, bitte.” “Mit oder ohne?“ „Ohne, bitte.“ Tell me this is not correct German.
    – fdb
    Jun 5, 2021 at 17:53
  • 2
    Die Frage ist gar nicht so ohne. Correct and not a typo, without a doubt. But why does ohne omit its complement so easily?
    – David Vogt
    Jun 6, 2021 at 7:16

4 Answers 4

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It's neither a typo nor is it correct standard German. It's colloquial German. Technically it's an ellipsis.

The correct version in correct standard German is:

Was hältst du von den sozialen Netzwerken?
Ein Leben ohne sie kann ich mir nicht vorstellen.

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  • 3
    I have no idea why this was downvoted. Jun 5, 2021 at 16:07
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    @BjörnFriedrich Well, "Is this correct?" Of course it is. What else would ein Leben ohne mean? Ohne Hose? It's just an ellipsis. I understand why this is downvoted.
    – Olafant
    Jun 5, 2021 at 16:40
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    I downvoted not because I disagree (though I do) but because such an answer lacks proof. Saying it's ellipses is not enough. For example, Ich mag das _ nicht is not an ellipses either. If this is uncommon in your parts, it might be standard usage elsewhere. Wiktionary points out its standard, but avoided in highly formal registers ... which this phrase is not. Imaginably, conjecture and speculation requiring mediopassive constructions are informal on the whole. Whereas a formel register simply states hypotheses as facts.
    – vectory
    Jun 6, 2021 at 4:37
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Yes, it is a correct phrase.

Leben kann ich mir nicht vorstellen.

has all a grammatically correct phrase needs, but standing alone it is semantically meaningless. Could be an astronomer talking about the surface of an asteroid in a radiation belt.

Ein Leben ohne kann ich mir nicht vorstellen.

Is just as well grammatically correct, what's missing is semantics (ohne what. Oxygen ? Carbon ?), but that's easily derived from the context of the prior question (it's social networks).

The reply

Ein Leben ohne sie kann ich mir nicht vorstellen.

to the question asked could emphasize the subjective importance of the so-called social networks to the replier, but still, without context it is just as unclear as the other form.

Equivalent:

Ohne (sie) kann ich nicht leben.

'sie' can be omitted, if it is still clear that it's not oxygen but social networks.

Note that this ellipsis/suppression/omission does not generally work, at least I am not aware of a grammatical rule I could cite, but specifically 'ohne' has quite a few use cases where it stands alone without the object it refers to. Here are a few (taken from remarks):

  1. Das ist nicht ohne. (It is more difficult than anticipated)
  2. Ohne mich. (Count me out)
  3. Sie schläft ohne. (... pyjamas).
  4. Ohne gäbe es weniger Probleme. (There would be less problems without)

Similiarly omissions can be encountered when using adjectives like 'frei', 'neu', or the contrary of 'ohne' which is 'mit'.

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The sentence is correct in the sense of the communicative and illocutive function.
Grammatically, it is an ellipsis, because parts are omitted that would be necessary for a complete grammatical sentence and therefore an ellipsis is not a grammatically correct sentence, but it follows the grammar in the sense of the German language. All in all, I still consider the attribution "correct" to be correct ;) (even if not in the sense of a sentence).


tldr: It is not a correct sentence, but (the ellipsis is (@Olafant)) still correct in the sense of the grammar of the German language and therefore "correct".

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  • So it's a german sentence that is "correct in the sense of the grammar of the German language". But it "is not a correct sentence"? That doesn't make much sense imho.
    – Olafant
    Jun 5, 2021 at 21:57
  • @Olafant Wo sage ich das? Ich spreche davon, dass es sich grammatikalisch nicht um einen Satz handelt.
    – choXer
    Jun 5, 2021 at 22:23
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    Sondern doch eine Hose? ;) Jun 6, 2021 at 11:36
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As suggested by @HubertSchölnast above, this can be understood as ellipses of the argument, ohne [Soziale Netzwerke]. I don't agree with the judgement that it were incorrect or non standard. At best, it is unconvential in certain formal registers, which the example is not showing for a start.

  • (0) Ein Leben ohne kann ich mir nicht vorstellen.

Alternative constructions without the noun adjunct may be:

  • (1) Ein Leben kann ich mir ohne nicht vorstellen.
  • (2) Ein Leben kann ich mir nicht ohne vorstellen.

These look in any case like negated and restructered terms from regular SVO

(a1) Ich kann mir ein Leben ohne (sie) vorstellen

Since we find phrasesin univerbated adverbs like ohnehin, ohnedem and even Dutch ondanks ("despite, in spite of"), I suppose that the formation of ohne nicht in (a) has been grammaticalized to a degree.

The placement of the negation is variable though

(b1) Ich kann mir ein Leben (nicht ohne Sie) vorstellen

(b2) Ich kann mir (ein Leben ohne Sie) nicht vorstellen

It should be argued that (b2) is preferable because the adverb nicht remains on the surface of the verbal phrase that it modifies, ich kann mir (nicht) vorstellen, although it can be shown that (b1) is also grammatical, because an alternative construction for the unnegated term can is frequent

(a2) Ich kann mir ein Leben vorstellen ohne Sie

In this case, the argument might appear elliptic because the Nachfeld is usually covered by a Nebensatz (c3) cp. die Nakte Kanone as cited by Die Ärzte in the song Friedenspanzer.

(c1) Ich möchte eine Welt, in der Würmer und Insekten endlich wieder schmecken.

(c2) Ich möchte eine Welt, in der ich aus einer Toilette trinken kann, ohne Ausschlag zu kriegen.

Although there is a slot available at the end of the Matrix clause to place the negation, this is not particularly felicit. The negation has to be embedded either in the relative clause or in the determiner. (i) indefinite: nicht schmecken, nicht trinken können, ohne Ausschlag zu kriegen (ii) definite: keine Welt.

The desiderative statement implies a potentialis statement, logically

(c3) Ich kann mir eine Welt vorstellen, in der Insekten schmecken.

The potential is implicitly negated by pragmatic considerations: It is strongly implied that insects are in all actuallity not to taste. It is therefore notable that (c2) expresses a negation of the status-quo, so that anotber negation would introduce double-negation in effect, nicht ... ohne. This double negation is difficult to resolve without circumscription. (iii) * trinken können, Ausschlag zu kriegen. It can be constructed in analogy to archaic participle formulations (citation needed), but sounds only broken. This is in no small part due to the difficult history of participles and gerundives upto Middle High German (cf. wikipedia: Gerundium for a taste of the dialectal variation).

One might hold therefore that this is perfectly in agreement with the expressed sentiment that alternative should be unimaginable. It seems possible therefore that it acts as conjuction (opposite to um in (c)) or determiner (including, but not limited to, adverb (0) as per common grammars, or pronouns (1)).

This is not a diachronic account. The etymology seems complicated anyway. A supposed relative in Ancient Greek, an is involved with optatives, indeed, here comparable to the conjunctiv of irrealis mood. The etymology of kann is of course no less complicated, not to mention vorstellen or nicht. NB: kann instead of Konjunktiv II könnte appears entirely regular to me.

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