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Attempting to translate the English sentence,

However, the heat, the hard solar radiations, and the electron storms made the post a difficult one.

I said,

Jedoch machten die Hitze, die harten Sonnenstrahlungen und die Elektronen-Stürme die Stelle zu einem Schwierigen.

But native German speakers corrected me with,

Jedoch machten die Hitze, die harten Sonnenstrahlungen und die Elektronen-Stürme die Stelle zu einer Schwierigen.

Looking into this in DWDS I usually find my way of declension:

Berliner Zeitung, 06.09.1997 Aber es ist von einer intensiven, bezwingenden Liebe zum Schwierigen.

But I also find their declension:

Die Zeit, 11.10.2007, Nr. 42: Marianne Fritz aber war daran nicht interessiert, sie schien entschlossen, zu einer Schwierigen zu werden.

What is going on here?

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  • Your first example is actually only considered a formal (rather than factual) nominalisation - you also would use lower case in "einer schwierigen" (because the noun the adjective construct refers to is close, §58 of the official rules, grammis.ids-mannheim.de/rechtschreibung/6194)
    – tofro
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:32

2 Answers 2

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As @phipsgabler correctly pointed out, adjectives always must conform to the gender, number and case of the noun they refer to; and you can also nominalize adjectives, either by omitting (and thus implying) the noun, or as "the thing itself".

Your examples use 3 different installments of these posibilities.

Let' start with the 2nd one:

Aber es ist von einer intensiven, bezwingenden Liebe zum Schwierigen.

Here "Schwierigen" is the dative case of "das Schwierige", the nomalization of schwierig. It means "difficult thing/part (of something)" or maybe even "challenges" in this sentence. (not to be confused with "Schwierigkeit", which simply means difficulty). It is often used in the phrase "das Schwierige daran ist ...", meaning "the difficult part in this is ..."

The 3rd example uses "schwierig" as an adjective with an implied noun:

Marianne Fritz aber war daran nicht interessiert, sie schien entschlossen, zu einer Schwierigen zu werden.

The implied noun must be feminine, as the adjective is in feminine singular dative, problably "Frau" oder "Person". In such a case, the nominalized adjective is writting with a capitial initial letter.

Your own sentence is similar to that one, but uses a omitted referred noun:

Jedoch machten die Hitze, die harten Sonnenstrahlungen und die Elektronen-Stürme die Stelle zu einer schwierigen.

The omitted referred noun is obviously "Stelle". Note that in such a case, the adjective is not nominalized, and thus written with a lower case initial!

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  • In the sentence, "Marianne Fritz aber war daran nicht interessiert, sie schien entschlossen, zu einer Schwierigen zu werden," why is Schwierigen not referring to the proper noun Marianne Fritz, instead of an implied noun? Is it because, if it were then it would have been written in lower case?
    – user44591
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:31
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    @user44591 That would only make sense if there are many Marianne Fritz, and she has decided to become one of the difficult / complicated Marianne Fritzs.
    – Noiralef
    Jan 26, 2023 at 4:26
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TL/DR: an adjective always refers to a noun. Such a relation can be maintained in some constructions where adjectives are nominalized, in which case the number and gender must still be congrued with the referred noun (but not the case, which is determined by the syntactic environment).


zu is a preposition requiring dative, but the number and gender of Schwierige(r/s) need to congrue with the object. machen ... zu is kind of a ditransitive construction, but with a prepositional phrase in its argument structure, and as you are "equating" the arguments, their morphology needs to align.

So, as the object die Stelle is a singular feminine noun, we need the zu-phrase in dative singular dative feminine: zu einer Schwierigen. Similarly, if the object were den Ort, we'd have zu einem Schwierigen.

That being said, machten die Stelle schwierig is both simpler to say and IMHO stylistically better.


Aber es ist von einer intensiven, bezwingenden Liebe zum Schwierigen.

This sentence is incomplete or wrong (or at least lacking necessary context).

Marianne Fritz aber war daran nicht interessiert, sie schien entschlossen, zu einer Schwierigen zu werden.

Here it's not machen, but still Schwierige must have the same gender and number as sie, i.e., Marianne Fritz (feminine singular, again), which the noun is referring to. (Again you could say ...schwierig zu werden instead.)

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    bezwingenden Liebe zum Schwierigen is a different category in my opinion, because there is no noun corresponding to schwierig, but everything considered as being difficult is summarized here (most likely a type of task).
    – guidot
    Jan 25, 2023 at 14:02
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    Your capitalisation on "zu einer schwierigen" is wrong.
    – tofro
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:49

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