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For example:

Wir haben Toms Schlüssel gefunden.

could mean ''We have found Tom's keys.'', as well as ''We have found Tom's key.''

Is there a way to make it unambiguous without using the following modifications:

Wir haben den Schlüssel von Tom gefunden. (singular)
Wir haben die Schlüssel von Tom gefunden. (plural)

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  • Wir haben dem Tom seine Schlüssel gefunden (plural) / Wir haben dem Tom seinen Schlüssel gefunden (singular). Unfortunately, this is not proper Standard German.
    – RHa
    Aug 9, 2022 at 20:31

1 Answer 1

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I don't want to defend this glitch in the German grammar, but on the other hand, using the ambiguous expression "Toms Schlüssel" kind of implies that it either doesn't matter or is already known whether singular or plural is meant.

I don't think there's a straightforward solution for what you're asking. There are of course workarounds that are routinely used for things like this, for example making "Toms Schlüssel" the subject, inserting number words or varying the words, but that's probably mostly besides the point of your question.

Wir haben Toms verlorene/n Schlüssel gefunden!
Wir haben Toms drei Schlüssel gefunden!
Toms Schlüssel ist/sind aufgetaucht, wir haben sie gefunden!
Toms Schlüssel wurden/n gefunden!
Wir haben Toms Schlüsselbund/Schlüsselring gefunden.
Wir haben einen/mehrere von Toms Schlüsseln gefunden.
Wir haben Toms Schlüssel gefunden, nach dem/denen er gesucht hat.

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  • 3
    +1. I would not call it a glitch. It's just that Schlüssel has identical singular and plural. Every(?) language has such words: I see the sheep. How many? Aug 10, 2022 at 8:56

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