To translate:

There must be pounds of oxalic acid for calcium precipitations.

can one say:

Da müssen Pfunde der Oxalsäure für Kalziumausfällungen bestehen.?

If not, why not? I ask the question because I was told by native-German speakers that one could not use bestehen here, without having been given an explanation. But it seems to me that the German sentence translates well the English sentence:

Pounds of oxalic acid for calcium precipitations must be there.

which would be sufficiently equivalent for my purposes.

  • Does the English text make it clear that "pound" means a unit of measurement here, and not the somewhat rarer meaning of "reservoir"? Are other Imperial measurements used elsewhere? Alternatively, is it clear they don't just mean "a lot"?
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 18:51
  • A little more context to the quotation would of helped.
    – vectory
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 4:12

3 Answers 3


While this sounds like a question that could be easily answered with a dictionary, none of the dictionaries I checked (Duden, wiktionary en/de/zh/jp, DWDS) mention that "bestehen" in its meaning "exist" can only be used with a restricted set of nouns; and "Pfund" certainly isn't one. That's the difference between "meaning" and "definition", I guess.

Duden has an extensive list of examples, for example

Verein, Firma, Laden, Aussicht, Klarheit, Gefahr, Möglichkeit, Vorleistung, Ordnung, Verbindung, Dichtung, Unterscheidung, Zusammenhang

Note that all of them abstract, but being abstract is not a guarantee that it can be used with "bestehen": I consider

*Es besteht keine Liebe zwischen ihnen.

strange, if not wrong. While all organizations are OK to use with bestehen, you will have to learn the other words.

Now to your sentence: I consider "vorhanden sein" = exist (as opposed to not existing) a good fit. Second note: "Pfund" is not in use anymore, and the right usage would be "Pfünde Oxalsäure", not "Pfünde der Oxalsäure", which sounds as wrong as "oxal acid's pounds". If you wanted to indicate a big amount in the magnitude of multiple pounds, I would use "kiloweise".

Da muss kiloweise Oxalsäure für Kalziumausfällungen vorhanden sein.

  • 2
    yes, kiloweise. pfundweise ist nicht mehr üblich außer man nutzt es gelegentlich beim schlachter etc, aber dann als konkrete Mengenangabe Commented Dec 7, 2022 at 22:19
  • The Duden list is not exhaustive though - "es besteht der Verdacht auf ...", "es besteht kein Zweifel ...", "es besteht ein Mangel an ...", and others Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 9:43
  • 1
    It depends a bit on the context, but I think instead of "Da muss kiloweise..." it's better to say "Es muss kiloweise..."?
    – Robin
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 11:16
  • to better fit the meaning of the original, I'd also change the word order of the translation. they seem to imply "Damit Kalzium ausfällt, muss kiloweise Oxalsäure vorhanden sein". Sounds way more natural (and a bit informal, is this in a scientific context?)
    – dlatikay
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 19:09
  • The English original is vague enough that "genug" or "viel" or "eine Menge" could be used instead of "Pfünde", but of course OP could supply us with more context.
    – Spencer
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 18:58

An amount can't bestehen. That's the logic of that verb. You want the verb brauchen or benötigen.

Für Kalziumausfällungen braucht man Oxalsäure pfundweise.

Für Kalziumausfällungen benötigt man Oxalsäure pfundweise.

  • 1
    The structure in your example sentences feel strange to me. I'd rather say "pfundweise Oxalsäure" (besides, as @Dodezv mentioned, "pfundweise" is not really in use) Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 9:44
  • Both orders are okay. The Nachfeld is exactly for emphasizing a second item besides the topic.
    – Janka
    Commented Dec 8, 2022 at 15:52

Chemist here - I'd really like to see some more context, as already the English sentence sounds a bit weird to me: it's quite usual to precipitate oxalic acid by calcium (e.g by adding milk to spinach or rhubarb), but unusual to precipitate calcium by using oxalic acid (though that would work; but why go for oxalic acid if e.g. sulphuric acid also works?)

Also, a closely related sentence that would sound far more usual to me would be e.g.: "There must be (have been) pounds (tons) of oxalic acid [in that solution] for(to explain) [those [large]] calcium precipitations."

Saying that large amounts of oxalic acid are required to form a precipitate with calcium does not make sense: calcium oxalate has low solubility, so already small amounts (or more precisely: concentrations) of calcium and oxalic acid produce a precipitate.

That being said, the "pounds of" sounds quite colloquial to me, and in that case I'd translate

Da müssen Massen an Oxalsäure sein für [die|diese] Kalziumfällungen.

to precipitate => fällen oder ausfällen oder ausfallen
precipitate => Fällung oder Niederschlag oder Präzipitat (old-fashioned)

With bestehen:

 Die Lösung muss aus Massen an Oxalat und [irgendwas anderes, was ist hier unwichtig] bestehen, um solche Kalziumfällungen zu erzeugen|verursachen.

 The solution must consist of ...

However, also here, I'd rather use enthalten/contain: 

 Die Lösung muss massenweise Oxalat enthalten, um ...

Now that we have the context, Isaac Asimov: I, Robot, p. 29

“You see,” came the cautious explanation, “all we need to do to drive him out of his rut is to increase the concentration of carbon monoxide in his vicinity. Well, back at the Station there’s a complete analytical laboratory.”
“Naturally,” assented Powell. “It’s a Mining Station.”
“All right. There must be pounds of oxalic acid for calcium precipitations.”
“Holy space! Mike, you’re a genius.”
“So-so,” admitted Donovan, modestly. “It’s just a case of remembering that oxalic acid on heating decomposes into carbon dioxide, water, and good old carbon monoxide. College chem, you know.”

In this context, I'd translate

 Dort muss es [massig|kiloweise|genug] Oxalsäure geben für die Kalziumfällungen.

Context a little bit further makes clear that kiloweise would be appropriate here as well, since they get "two three-liter jars".

(That context also tells me why they'd precipitate calcium with oxalic acid [or maybe rather ammonium oxalate]: one may want to do that in an assay for calcium quantitation because the oxalate can then conveniently be titrated with permanganate. Funny how without context the brain just picks one: even though I'm analytical chemist, I somehow assumed that the purpose of the operation would be to get calcium out of some solution, which is further used.)

  • The sentence is taken verbatim from I. Asimov's, "I, Robot". I am not concerned with the validity of the chemistry.
    – user44591
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 15:50
  • 3
    @user44591 The validity of the chemistry is in fact very relevant here – as context always is when translating! Looking at the source text (p. 29), it becomes clear that the quote means something not deducible from that one sentence alone, namely, “There must surely be lots and lots of oxalic acid available in the Mining Station lab meant to be used for calcium precipitations”. This context completely changes the meaning of ‘must be’ and how it should be translated. Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 17:31
  • With respect, I disagree. The statement is clear and complete by itself. Otherwise, Asimov would have written a different sentence. Similarly, when translating, each sentence provides part of a context, and those parts are worth observing.
    – user44591
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 16:56
  • @user44591: the sentence is precisely what Asimov wanted to write, sure. But the sentence alone is ambiguous in the sense that it could appear in different contexts and the appropriate German verb differs between them. Even the chemically wrong claim that large amounts are needed (Janka's answer) can only be ruled out by context. After all. Asimov could have a character make erroneous statements. Whereas in a non-fiction text, we could immediately know that it cannot be the correct translation. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 21:09

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