1

While researching the use of the phrase für Folgen I found this in DWDS:

Was mochte dies nun wieder für Folgen haben?

Google translate says this means:

What consequences could this have now?

My questions are, 1) does Google Translate have the correct translation, 2) why this verb, or what is the meaning of this verb in this context, and 3) why is it in the past indicative tense while referring to now with "nun"?

Found here: Number 6 on the list: https://www.dwds.de/r/?q=f%C3%BCr+Folgen&h=1&corpus=kern&from=wb

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  • I can't find the sentence "Was mochte dies nun wieder für Folgen haben?" in DWDS. Please post the link to the source so that the context becomes clearer. Nov 2, 2021 at 8:49
  • 1
    @Hubert Schölnast - A bit of digging turned up the full cite: Niebelschütz, Wolf von: Der blaue Kammerherr, Stuttgart u. a.: Dt. Bücherbund [1991] [1949], S. 7. See {dwds.de/r/…}. I have no idea what the original search parameters were.
    – RDBury
    Nov 2, 2021 at 9:05

3 Answers 3

4

Yes, this is certainly what I would call a "problem sentence". Unfortunately, DWDS only gives single sentences from their usage database, presumably to avoid copyright issues. It may be that in this case you need the entire paragraph to completely understand what's going on. As far as I know, machine translators such as Google Translate and DeepL only work on one sentence at a time, so additional context would not help them. (It's a good idea, especially when the results are questionable, to run the sentence through more than translator. DeepL gives the same translation here though.)

To answer (3) first, nun, like the English "now", does not always mean at the present time. It can also mean that the event took place at given point in a narrative. Here is an example of how this might happen in English:

She slapped my face. I was now fully awake and I grabbed her before she could do it again.

The fact that the German uses the preterite past instead of the past participle lends some support to this idea. But nun can also be used as a modal adverb. When used this way, I think the best translation is usually "then" rather than "now", especially in a rhetorical question which this seems to be. I think both of these interpretations are possible without more context. I'm not a native speaker though, so perhaps I'm missing some subtlety in the phrasing that makes one more likely than the other.

To answer (2), mögen as an auxiliary verb indicates possibility, much like its cognate "may". Since we're in the past tense here it can be translated "might" or "could".

I think the answer to (1), based on (2) and (3), is that, the machine translation is probably not completely accurate. (I hesitate to use "the correct" when it comes to translations since there are often many good possibilities and sometimes it's a matter of how you interpret the source.) But it's hard to give an translation that is more accurate without additional context, so perhaps Google's translation is the best that can be expected.

2

The main meaning of the 'mochte ... haben' here in this particular case is to the equivalent of 'might have', so

Was mochte das nun wieder für Folgen haben?

translates to

What consequences might this have?

There is ambiguity in "nun wieder" which I did not include in above translation. It is used here to indicate some kind of incredulity or expasperation on the side of the speaker like "the person causing the action should know about (unforseeable and likely bad) consequences and should know better than to run in it again" or "this event is coming with a very bad timing and possibly bad consequences. Please not again". So this part could possibly be translated with "yet again", maybe "now" - but there's other options.

2

The verb "mögen" can cover multiple meanings, in addition to the common case of expressing desire ("to like something"). The meaning used here is actually the first one describe in the Duden entry for "mögen":

Zum Ausdruck der Vermutung; vielleicht, möglicherweise sein, geschehen, tun, denken
(...)
Beispiele
Was mag er wohl denken?
Es mochten dreißig Leute sein (es waren schätzungsweise dreißig Leute)
(...)

An English equivalent might be (pun intended) something like "may" or "might", as in "What might he think?" or "There may be thirty people."

So,

Was mag dies für Folgen haben?

could be translated as

What may be the consequences of this?

In the example sentence, the predicate is in past tense, so literally

What might be the consequences of this?

(I had to look up myself that "might" is past tense of "may".)

A more common way of saying it in English would be

What may have been the consequences of this?

Now for the "nun" (sorry, I'm a bit punny right now ;) ). "Nun" can, in addition to denoting a point in time, be used as a particle. It's not really unequivocal which of the meanings the Duden mentions is used here, but I'd go with number 6:

Situationsbedingt emotional verstärkend als Ausdruck der Ungeduld, Befürchtung, Enttäuschung o. Ä.
(...)
Beispiel
Kommst du nun mit oder nicht?

To get a grip of the meaning in the example sentence, imagine a task you have to execute. But while doing the task, you run into obstacle after obstacle. At the umpteenth obstacle, you might groan something like "Okay, what now?" This would be equivalent to German "Okay, was (ist) jetzt?" or "Okay, was (ist) nun?". To emphasize that this is the latest obstacle in a (long) row, you might add "wieder", "again": "Okay, was (ist) jetzt wieder?" or "Okay, was (ist) nun wieder?".

So, a complete translation of the example sentence could be

What might have been the consequences of this again?

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  • Might have been would correspond to mochte gehabt haben (and is therefore incorrect as a translation).
    – David Vogt
    Nov 2, 2021 at 11:05
  • @DavidVogt Thanks, I edited the answer. It seems to me that distinctions to that granularity aren't necessarily followed through in everday English, similar to how German natives don't necessarily distinguish between Konjunktiv I and Konjunktiv II in everday speech all the time. But that would be a different question for a different stack. Nov 2, 2021 at 11:31

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