7

I'm struggling to understand the meaning of the phrase:

Puh! Da waren die beiden aber erleichtert!

I found that "aber" is sometimes used to express emotional involvement, and "Da" is sometimes used as a consequence connector. So I think that the phrase means Then both were relieved, but I am not sure. What do you think?

Thank you in advance for any guidance.

1 Answer 1

9

puh

The word »puh« is an interjection that can mean a lot. Here it is a sound to express relief. It can be translated as »phew«.

da

The word »da« is an adverb. It can be used:

  • local

    Siehst du diese Kerbe im Boden? Da ist der Topf gelandet, als er mir herunter fiel.
    See this notch in the bottom? That is where the pot landed when I dropped it.

  • temporal

    Die Turmuhr schlug Mitternacht. Da öffneten sich die Gräber und die Geister kamen hervor.
    The tower clock struck midnight. Then the graves opened and the ghosts came out.

  • modal

    Ernst hat mir 5000 Euro pro Monat geboten. Da konnte ich nicht nein sagen.
    Ernst offered me 5000 euros per month. So I couldn't say no.

In your sentence it is used as a modal adverb. Something happened before (i.e. a new situation appeared) and as a result of it both of them were relieved.

aber

This is a modal particle (in German: Modalpartikel). There are dozens of questions and answers about modal particles here on German stackexchange. Please search for them. Here are just a few basic facts about them:

  • Modal particles are used very frequently in spoken colloquial German.
  • They are much rarer in written German.
  • They are almost non-existent in English and most other languages.
  • They do not contribute to the proposition of a statement. (The proposition is what makes a statement true or false, so adding or removing modal particles will not change the rational meaning of the sentence.)
  • They add emotions to a statement, like surprise, anger, happiness, etc. This happens in a very subtile manner. When you want to add such an emotion in other languages, you have to describe the emotion, which often sounds clumsy.
  • The best way to translate German modal particles into English is to ignore and omit them.
  • The reason why some translations of novels, short stories, etc. from other languages into German seem boring and brittle to the reader is that weak translators forget to add modal particles that were not present in the original text.
  • This is most annoying for learners of German as a foreign language: Every single existing German modal particle is a homonym of a word of another words class. There are no exceptions. In your example we have the modal particle »aber« that also exists as an conjunction (»Heinrich ist alt, aber Lisa ist jung.« = Heinrich is old, but Lisa is young.) and also as an outdating and rarely used adverb (»Er schlug aber und aber auf den bereits toten Hund ein.« = He punched again and again the already dead dog.) And these twins in word classes, that are easy to translate, because they also exist in other languages, makes it hard to deal with German modal particles if your first language is a language that makes no use of them.

And here is the translation:

Puh! Da waren die beiden aber erleichtert!
Phew! So, the two were relieved!

  • puh = phew
  • da = so (or "then")
  • aber = (omitted, because this is the best way to translate modal particles. In the German sentence this particle just amplifies the emotion that already is there.)

Here is a version of the same sentence without this complicated stuff, that means the same on a rational level, but without that spicy emotions:

Die beiden waren erleichtert.
The two were relieved.

2
  • 2
    I like to add that translations from German sometimes suffer from being too close to the original. Because the modal particles are simply omitted without looking for an alternative figure of speech that catches the particular meaning in that situation, and all the emotion is gone.
    – Janka
    Oct 19, 2022 at 10:10
  • 1
    @Janka To be fair: This sentence is very much colloquialism and it is often awfully hard to translate a colloquialism into a form that keeps both meaning and this colloquial aspect, no matter the language.
    – Lazy
    Oct 19, 2022 at 11:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.