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Note for understanding of existing answers

The title of this question read formerly: Etymology of past participle functioning as noun.


I am reading a German mathematics handout. In it, the following sentence is given in one of the sections:

Gesucht ist eine "Liste" aller Loesungen (x,y,z)

I don't understand the role of Gesucht in the above sentence. What exactly is the type and mechanics of construction used ?

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    It's not a noun. It's just capitalized because it starts the sentence. Mar 14, 2022 at 7:20
  • I think in English it would read: "Find a "list" of all solutions (x, y, z)", or maybe more simple: "List all solutions (x, y, z)". Or maybe read the translation of "Gesucht ist" as "The solution should be".
    – U. Windl
    Mar 14, 2022 at 11:42

3 Answers 3

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gesucht is the past participle ("Partizip II") of suchen. It is the same construction as in english wanted, needed, or appreciated in the following sentences.

I am wanted dead or alive.
With this tool, no further devices are needed.
Your coöperation is very much appreciated.

It is indicating passive voice here. Your example sentence is present tense (because ist is in present tense).

In the concrete example of gesucht, it means "sought" or "looked for". It would not be idiomatic to use this participle in English, so one would rather say:

Wanted is a list of all solutions (x, y, z).

to express the meaning of the German sentence in English.

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You may be confused by the fact, that the verb is placed early in the sentence; the meaning would be quite similar in this phrase:

Eine Liste aller Lösungen wird gesucht

just the emphasis would shift away from the verb.

So I recognize just a verb used in passive construction, but nothing noun-like; this would also be possible, however:

Das Gesuchte ist eine Liste aller Lösungen.

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  • I know we're on german.stackexchange so I shouldn't be too surprised if too many commas are used : I don't think there should be one after "by the fact". ;) Mar 14, 2022 at 14:42
  • Nitpick: It's "ist gesucht" in the OP, not "wird gesucht". Mar 14, 2022 at 15:02
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functioning as noun in a German sentence

This is definitely not the case here.

Part 1

In the sentence:

Die Liste ist sehr lang.

... the expression "sehr lang" definitely is an adjective (with an additional adverb) and not a noun.

In German language, there is the rule of thumb (applying to maybe 90% of all sentences) that you can exchange the order of the parts of a sentence as long as the verb is in the second position.

For this reason, you can place the adjective in front of the sentence:

Sehr lang ist die Liste.

... if you want to emphasize this part of the sentence.

Part 2

The two participles of a verb (in the case of "suchen": "suchend" and "gesucht") are often used like (or as?) adjectives (and not as nouns) in German language.

Examples:

Die gesuchte Lösung

Der suchende Student

Der suchende Student sucht die gesuchte Lösung.

By combining part 1 and part 2 ...

... we can form sentences like the one in your example:

Gesucht ist die Liste.

However, in such sentences "the verb functions as adjective" (this is how you would call it), not as noun.

By the way

In German language, adjectives may serve as nouns:

Der Große ist Herr Müller.

... and because the participles of verbs can be used like adjectives, verbs can also be used like nouns:

Der Suchende ist Herr Müller.

However:

Gesucht ist die Liste. => "Gesucht" works like an adjective.

Das Gesuchte ist die Liste. => "Das Gesuchte" works like a noun.

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