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This sentence appears among the subtitles to a recent Tatort:

"Eine jahrhundertealte Institution wie der Münsteraner Markt über 4 Jahrzehnte zu führen, das ist schon etwas, auf das ich stolz bin.

Google translates it as:

"Running a centuries-old institution like Münsteraner Markt for four decades is something I'm proud of.

DeepL translates it as:

"To lead a century-old institution like the Münster Market for over 4 decades is something I am proud of.

Which is correct? Does the "über" mean "for" or "for over"?

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  • The English versions seem more or less the same to me. Usually for long periods of time if you say "for X" it means at least or approximately that long, not exactly that long. Unless you say something like "for 41 years, 2 months and 12 days." Also, see Wiktionary definition 5. – RDBury Jul 19 at 21:12
  • @RDBury: "approximately that long" would include something like, say, 39 years, wouldn't it? At the same time, could "for over 4 decades" be used if the timespan described would be definitely (if only slightly) less than actually 4 decades (= 40 years)? – O. R. Mapper Jul 19 at 21:32
  • @O. R. Mapper: I think it depends on context. If you're saying how proud you are of the duration then people would assume "at least". Even if was only 39 years then most people would ignore the discrepancy. If it was 41 years then I'd still say "for 4 decades" instead of "for over 4 decades"; the 4 decades is enough to be proud of. – RDBury Jul 19 at 21:55
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"Über" can mean both "for " or "(for) more than ", it's impossible to tell.

See meaning II 2 vs. meaning II 3 in DWDS.

In spoken language, the two variants are stressed differently. "Über vier Jahrzehnte" in the sense of "for four decades" would be stressed on "vier Jahrzehnte". To say that it was more than 4 decades, the word "über" would be accentuated. If you have the video, you can probably hear what the speaker means.

In the case of your example, the subtitles are a transcription of oral speech, so the emphasis is lost and the meaning becomes ambiguous.

In writing, you would normally try to avoid the ambiguity by using a clearer wording.

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Actually, both translations are correct.

The point is, what does "über" translate to - it can

  1. Translate to during, referring to a certain amount of time. there's no "more than" connotation in there. (You can verify this by testing with a non-amount duration, like "Er führte das Unternehmen über die schwere Zeit des Krieges [hinweg]")
  2. Translate to "more than" - In this case, the "über" refers to the amount of time mentioned and means "at least that amount".
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As the other answers have explained, we cannot be sure what the speaker wanted to express - both interpretations are valid. And as RDBury comments, the difference is not that big.

Nevertheless I tend to understand it in the sense "more than 4 decades". If somebody wants to say that he has been running / leading the market for approximately 40 years, he would most likely use the phrase

eine Institution wie den Münsteraner Markt vier Jahrzehnte lang zu führen.

In my opinion the "über" indicates that it was more than 40 years. Here are two examples:

(1) Über 40 Jahre lang war Deutschland geteilt.

(2) Über 20 Jahre lang war er Vorsitzender des Tennisclubs Weißblau Zweibrücken.

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  • In deinen Beispielen steht allerdings "über ... lang". "Über" + "lang" macht die Interpretation "for 40 years" natürlich unmöglich. – HalvarF Jul 23 at 16:29
  • @HalvarF The "lang" makes surely a difference, but you can omit it and obtain "Über 40 Jahre war Deutschland geteilt" etc. Again I would tend to interpret that as more than 40 years. But as I said, we cannot be really sure in such cases. – Paul Frost Jul 23 at 17:08

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