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I came across the following sentence:

Kneift mich, ob ich wach bin!

I assume the intended meaning is: "Pinch me if I'm dreaming"

But the literal translation is "Pinch me if I'm awake" ... which sounds counterintuitive / illogical to me.

My question: is the sentence correct? If yes, what meaning does it convey? And if not, how would one say in German "Pinch me, I must be dreaming" ??

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    grammatically, it is correct, but it sounds really strange to me. If Kafka writes it, I'd call it "literature". If a friend says it, I'd call it poor German.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 9:57
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    In this context, ob means whether (or not) rather than if.
    – RHa
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 10:33
  • As far as I can tell, the source of the sentence is Wiktionary. The fact that ob usually introduces argument clauses (serving as subject or object to a verb) renders the sentence quite strange, as there is no argument position for the ob-clause to fill.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 11:47

2 Answers 2

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I always understood the idea of the "kneif mich" idiom like this: A pinch lets you find out whether you're awake or dreaming. If you're awake, it hurts. If you're dreaming, it doesn't.

So it doesn't make any logical difference to me whether you say "Kneift mich, ob ich träume!" or "Kneift mich, ob ich wach bin!", it's just the two sides of the same question.

The word "ob" means "whether". The English "if" is ambiguous between "whether" and "under the condition that". I understand it as "whether" in the sentence "pinch me if I'm dreaming", like in the German version, and I wonder whether that's your understanding, too.

BTW: In more formal German, this would be a bit short. You would need to say something like "Kneift mich, damit ich weiß, ob ich wach bin!" to semantically bridge between "kneift mich" and "ob". OTOH, this idiom would probably not be used in formal contexts anyway.

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    I'd like to mention the song of Wolfgang Ambros here, which uses the refrain Zwickt's mi, i man i tram!, but may be a bit difficult to understand for non-native speakers.
    – guidot
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 10:50
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It can be viewed as ellipsis, i.e. leaving out parts of a full sentence, such as:

  1. Kneift mich, [damit ich weiß,] ob ich wach bin!

  2. Kneift mich, ob ich wach bin [, möchte ich wissen]! (two main clauses, would work better with a semicolon after mich)

My natural interpretation upon reading was that of number 1. I wouldn’t consider it contemporary idiomatic German.

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