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In English we say,

I have a feeling

In German we say,

Ich habe so ein Gefühl.

or

Ich habe das Gefühl.

Why is

Ich habe ein Gefühl.

not idiomatic in German? What is the deep idea going on here?

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  • Maybe it would help to explain the use of the English phrase it a little more in detail. People here are not experts in English. You might get an answer from someone who knows the phrase in English. But for future readers, it would be very helpful if the use of the phrase in English could be described, maybe with some examples. Oct 8, 2022 at 21:15
  • What would details consist of? @JonathanScholbach Oct 8, 2022 at 22:04
  • Details would consist of an explanation of the meaning of the phrase in English. When is it used, what does it express? Oct 8, 2022 at 22:09

1 Answer 1

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The conventions of article use differ from one language to the next, even among closely related languages.

TL;DR: Just like "I have the feeling that..." is much less common in English, so is "I habe ein Gefühl, dass" in German. In fact, since "dass" specifies the feelings, "(...) ein Gefühl, dass (...)" would be ungrammatical.

One contrastive study found the following distribution for article use in English and German. https://is.muni.cz/th/lo7kr/4_english_german.pdf

English article usage

  • Definite article (the) 25.4%
  • Indefinite article (a/an) 17.6%
  • No article 57%

German article usage

  • Definite article (der-Form) 35.9%
  • Indefinite article (ein-Form) 16.6%
  • No article 47.5%

In other words, German tends to use der/die/das more than English uses the, and English tends to use nouns without articles more than German.

A feeling vs. das Gefühl

In most cases, German says "ich habe das Gefühl" or "habe ich das Gefühl," where English would say "I have a feeling."

Listening to the debate this afternoon, I have a feeling that the vote has already taken place.

Wenn ich mir die Aussprache heute Nachmittag so anhöre, dann habe ich das Gefühl, die Abstimmung hat bereits stattgefunden.

Or:

I have a feeling that the economy is just beginning to learn lessons from the crisis.

Ich habe das Gefühl, dass die Wirtschaft beginnt, aus der Krise zu lernen.

Let's take things a step further.

In many cases, "ich habe das Gefühl" is not even the most natural way to convey the idea.

I have a feeling many of the 25-person raiders will be engaging in the 10-person content.

Ich glaube, viele Teilnehmer der 25-Personen-Schlachtzüge werden sich um den 10-Personen-Inhalt bemühen.

Why?

This won't be a full answer, but perhaps it will help move the discussion in the right direction.

Similar patterns are observed with "I have a chance" and "I have a right."

You have a chance to prove that your country is a progressive and modern member of the European Union.

Sie haben die Chance, zu zeigen, dass Ihr Land ein fortschrittliches und modernes Mitglied der Europäischen Union ist.

Children and their families have a right to a living situation in dignity.

Kinder und ihre Familien haben das Recht auf menschenwürdige Lebensbedingungen.

In all the examples above, "the feeling," "the chance," or "the right" would not be ungrammatical in English.

Perhaps a clue as to why can be found in the following analysis of the disappearing use of determiners in English. https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=23277

For the past century or so, the commonest word in English has gradually been getting less common. Depending on data source and counting method, the frequency of the definite article THE has fallen substantially — in some cases at a rate as high as 50% per 100 years.

At every stage, writing that's less formal has fewer THEs, and speech generally has fewer still, so to some extent the decline of THE is part of a more general long-term trend towards greater informality. But THE is apparently getting rarer even in speech, so the change is more than just the (normal) shift of writing style towards the norms of speech.

There appear to be weaker trends in the same direction, at overall lower rates, in German, Italian, Spanish, and French.

THE: Data from Google Books 1grams (2012)

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    Hi serendroid! Welcome to german.stackexchange! Your answer is quite elaborate and I admire the level of research you put into it! Keep doing that, please! However, I have the feeling that the question is about why German handles this difference -- is there an underlying difference of concepts German, other than in English? I feel your answer does not (yet) address this part of the question. Oct 8, 2022 at 22:12

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