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I've tried to translate the following sentences from english to german:

I can't remember the new child.
I can't remember the child.

DeepL translated it to

Ich erinnere mich nicht an das neue Kind.
Ich erinnere mich nicht an das Kind.

I thought the rule said to always merge the preposition with the article when they're together in a phrase, but then this happened. But this didn't happen when i write

The fishes live in the sea.

Instead of splitting the article and the preposition, DeepL gave me the following translation:

Die Fische leben im Meer.

In this case the preposition and the article were merged.

I know that is not possible to merge a preposition with "der, die, das" when they're a pronoum, but this was not the case.

Do you guys know something about it? Is there something in Duden that explains that?

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  • I think this is an interesting question and I can't really answer it. However, I don't agree there is such a "rule". It's rather a guideline and also depends on (possibly subtle differences in) intended meaning, the specific verb and the specific preposition. "Die Fische leben in dem Meer." is valid grammar but has a slightly different meaning ("dem" is then synonym with "diesem").
    – user6495
    Sep 2, 2022 at 6:07

2 Answers 2

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There is no obligation to contract, for example "in dem" to "im" in German. Both forms are correct, but very often not identical. When you don't contract, "dem" would normally be understood as a demonstrative pronoun instead of an article (because the contraction is so common and the demonstrative pronoun and the article are identical in German - not contracting one and contracting the other is the only way to actually distinguish them).

Der Kabeljau lebt im Meer.

translates to

Codfish live in the ocean.

while

Der Kabeljau lebt in dem Meer.

translates to

Codfish live in this ocean.

In normal communications, a native speaker would typically ask now "What ocean? North Sea, Atlantic, or what?".

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The situation is identical to English "do not" vs "don't" or "I am" vs. "I'm". The only difference is, that in English merged words you always have an apostrophe. But the speaker or author can freely decide which one shall be used. Both forms are correct. And also in German both forms are always correct.

There are just recommendations in both languages. In colloquial speech most people use the merged form, but if you want to point out, that a very special thing is meant, and you want to stress a word, then you use the split form and stress the word you want.

An example:

  • You and your friend are in a hurry and you dash to a drain, when a man with a flyer in his hand stands in your way. You pass him and shout angry:

    Wir müssen zum Zug!

  • You reach the railway station and you see 2 trains waiting to leave. You read the displays, find the right train and then you point with your arm to one of the trains and say to your friend:

    Wir müssen zu dem Zug!

    And when you say this, you strongly stress the definite article »dem« which would not have been possible if you had used the merged form »zum«.


In your examples you have two similar situations:

In the case of the new child, it is a very special child. It's not just any child but that new one. This means it has a high definiteness. Like the one right train you need to enter.

The sea on the other hand is not the Baltic Sea or the Mediterranean Sea or any other specific sea. Here the word sea means just a large and salty body of water. The definiteness of the word sea is low. In fact, it is a name of a category (this is why it still has a definite article).

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    I don't agree with your "identical to English" claim. The likelihood that the "dem" in the "zu dem Zug" vs. "zum Zug" is a demonstrative pronoun instead of an article is about 100%.
    – tofro
    Sep 2, 2022 at 9:59
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    Contracting "I am" to "I'm" is also considered colloquial in English - While contracting "in dem" to "im" isn't in German.
    – tofro
    Sep 2, 2022 at 10:17
  • Side note: In English there's no obligation to ever use a contractions, but not using any starts to sound rather stilted and overly formal after a while. The android character Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation spoke this way and it made him sound less human and more robotic. I don't know if they used similar tricks in foreign language versions of the series.
    – RDBury
    Sep 2, 2022 at 11:55
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    @RDBury In German Star Trek, Data is also using elevated, somewhat stilted language.
    – tofro
    Sep 2, 2022 at 12:49

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