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In conversation with 2 native-speaking Germans, I attempted to translate a passage from I, Robot (Asimov)

He was adjusting the binocular attachments to his visiplate, and the bloated fingers of the insosuit were clumsy at it.

with:

Er stellte die binokularen Anlagen an seinen Visibänken ein,
und dazu waren die aufgeblähte Finger des Inso-Anzugs ungeschickt.

and they corrected me with:

und dabei waren die aufgeblähte Finger des Inso-Anzugs ungeschickt.

or

und dazu waren die aufgeblähte Finger des Inso-Anzugs zu ungeschickt.

with an altered meaning.

How does one explain the choices of prepositions in these cases? And what about "daran"?

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    The main thing here is probably that ungeschickt is pretty much the wrong (or "ungeschickt" (!) ) choice of word here. You might want to look into ungeeignet or hinderlich
    – tofro
    Nov 11, 2022 at 16:03
  • The English sentence to which this pertains is: "He was adjusting the binocular attachments to his visiplate, and the bloated fingers of the insosuit were clumsy at it." Neither of the suggested German words, ungeeignet nor hinderlich, to my mind, accurately convey the English meaning.
    – user44591
    Nov 11, 2022 at 16:25
  • At least in German, fingers of a glove can't really be "ungeschickt" (they're just rubber or textile and lifeless), while fingers of a person can.
    – tofro
    Nov 11, 2022 at 16:54
  • Zu ungeschickt would imply, that one doesn't manage the task at all. I can't recognize that in the English original. Also relevant: Dazu, daran and dabei are not prepositions, but pronomial adverbs.
    – guidot
    Nov 14, 2022 at 17:02
  • "die aufgeblähte Finger" falls das Schwäbisch oder so sein soll versuchs mal auf area52 um babkes.SE zu machen
    – vectory
    Nov 15, 2022 at 4:47

2 Answers 2

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In German, ungeschickt can't really be used for inanimate things (I'm not even sure if clumsy should be used in English for such things). Someone can be ungeschickt or even certain parts of his body can maybe be, but fingers of a glove can't.

My proposal for a translation would be

... aber dafür waren seine Finger im aufgeblähten Iso-Anzug zu ungeschickt

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    ...aber dafür war er mit seinen Fingern im aufgeblähten Iso-Anzug zu ungeschickt. Nov 11, 2022 at 17:06
  • @planetmaker may work as well, but is farther away from the original
    – tofro
    Nov 11, 2022 at 17:10
  • I would appreciate it if we could focus on the question that I have, which concerns the prepositions to use, and is grammatical. My question is not asking for any help with translating the meaning. I am frequently surprised by how inflexible German's seem to be regarding the creative use of meaning. But that is a topic for another posting, please.
    – user44591
    Nov 12, 2022 at 2:27
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    Those changes in adverbs (not: prepositions) are an attempt to "heal" the ungeschickt problem. But they don't heal it. Your conversational partners sensed something was wrong with your sentence but couldn't nail it. Only tofro's solution with the additional seine Finger or planetmaker's er in it heals the problem, and you are also free in your choice of adverb then.
    – Janka
    Nov 12, 2022 at 9:22
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According to Hammer's German Grammar and Usage, 18.2.3c: "bei often indicates attendant circumstances, meaning 'in view of', 'with':

Bei diesem Gehalt kann ich mir keinen neuen Wagen leisten.

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