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I believe to have heard a construction like the following:

"Den Apfel (zu) essen, das wollte er."
"Die Milch von Müller, die ist gut." Not "Die Milch von Müller, die gut ist, .."

You can hear this in old advertisements. Now I thought this might be either a noun phrase or Infinitivkonstruktion with a relative clause at the end. But a relative clause seems to have its verb always in last position.

Therefore I am confused. What is the name of constructing a sentence like this?

3 Answers 3

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The first sentence is a rarer variant of what is called a cleft sentence or Spaltsatz. In this case, it is the infinitive construction which is "cloven" from the rest. Nope, I misread -- the cleft sentence would be Den Apfel essen war, was er wollte.

The second one I'd just call topicalization -- you take a noun phrase and put it "free floating" at the start.

Note that both constructions are used to mention first a part of the sentencen that by default would come later. The purpose of this is to change focus, givenness or newnewss of the fronted part.

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    Answered the question, thanks! What I was looking for was this. Nov 30, 2022 at 10:21
  • I am not sure the description in Wikipedia matches the phenomenon in the question. There are no two clauses in the examples in the question, are there? Dec 1, 2022 at 9:10
  • I agree; I applied the term by analogy and sloppily read the question. In something like er suchte den Apfel", you front the argument of _suchen to es war der Apfel, den er suchte. In er wollte den Apfel essen, the whole infinitive construction den Apfel essen is the argument of the predicate, and so you have the parallel movement es war den Apfel essen, das er wollte. But that's not what has been asked... Dec 1, 2022 at 10:53
  • @OranMatheus I realized I'm wrong about the first sentence. Dec 1, 2022 at 10:54
  • @phipsgabler Oh no! I skimmed through Wikipedia and noticed that Relativsatz was a requirement, but your mentioning of "Rare case of" made me think it's permittable / I didn't think enough. So you're saying both is an example of fronting/topicalization? Dec 1, 2022 at 12:13
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This is not a relative pronoun. You correctly identified that the verb order is not the one that would be found in a relative clause.

The part before the comma is in one case the subject of the sentence ("Wer ist gut?" - Die Milch von Müller), in the other case the object of the verb ("Was wollte er?" - Den Apfel essen). In your examples, it is once a noun phrase (Die Milch von Müller) and once a verbal phrase (Den Apfel essen), which you correctly specified as "Infinitivkonstruktion".

The pronouns are subject or object pronouns respectively. The pronoun can be removed, and the sentence still makes sense:

Den Apfel essen wollte er.
Die Milch von Müller ist gut.

You could remove the reference from the sentence, and keep the pronoun instead:

Das wollte er.
Die ist gut.

This demonstrates the relation between the pronoun and its reference. You could consider them demonstrative pronouns:

Demonstratives are often used in spatial deixis (...), but also in intra-discourse reference (including abstract concepts) or anaphora It might also help to translate the sentences and mark the pronoun.

(From (Wikipedia)

Eating the apple, he wanted that. The milk of Müller, it is good.

Notice that the first translation is not idiomatic in English. The translation just intends to make the grammatical structure in German more lucid.

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    Thank you for your answer. But this surely has to have a name, doesn't it? It has a special sound to it. There must be a term for encapsulating the subject/object like this? Nov 30, 2022 at 6:06
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    @OranMatheus Your idea that they are demonstrative pronouns is correct. I added this to my answer. Sorry for not being that specific in the first place, and thank you for your comment! Nov 30, 2022 at 7:15
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    Maybe there is a particular term for that figure of speech. If it exists, I don't know it. Feel free to downvote the answer if it is just missing the point of your question :) Nov 30, 2022 at 7:16
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    Ok, I will let you know if I find a term for it. Nov 30, 2022 at 7:17
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    @vectory Das habe ich geschrieben, damit man nachvollziehen kann, auf welchen Referenten sich das Pronomen bezieht. Das ist als eine Art "Ersatzprobe" zu verstehen. Ich wollte damit nicht die Frage ersetzen, sondern den Beispielsatz "herunterbrechen". Falls du einen Vorschlag hast, wie ich die Antwort klarer machen kann, freue ich mich darüber. Dec 2, 2022 at 10:51
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I do not know whether this type of constructing sentences has a special name.

Sentences as your examples can always be rephrased in a simpler (and more standard) form:

  • Den Apfel essen, das wollte er. → Er wollte den Apfel essen.

  • Die Milch von Müller, die ist gut. → Die Milch von Müller ist gut.

Both variants convey the same message, but the "non-standard" variant puts a special emphasis on the part before the comma. It is a stylistic device which wants to focus the addressee's attention on the beginning of the sentence. I think it is mainly used in oral speech. The comma is expressed in form of a little pause in speech.

Instead of the comma one can also use a dash:

  • Den Apfel essen - das wollte er.

  • Die Milch von Müller - die ist gut.

You say that one can hear such sentences in old advertisements, but it is certainly not limited to that. For example, parents sometimes criticize their children by statements like this:

  • Den ganzen Tag im Internet surfen, das kannst Du. Aber eine halbe Stunde Hausaufgaben machen, das kannst Du nicht.

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