Could you say, wise guys and girls knowing both German and English, if we can can make present-participle clauses after nouns in German? I know that we can sure make such clauses before nouns in German, whereas in English it's unnatural if there are too many words, yet still it's grammatically correct, for example:

English: 1) The going-from-Germany train will soon arrive; 2) The growing-on-the-windowsill cacti are beautiful. (These are correct, but completely unnatural.)

German: 1) Der aus Deutschland ankommende Zug wird bald ankommen; 2) Die auf der Fensterbank wachsenden Kakteen sind schön. (In German, those are appropriate and not unnatural.)

At the same time, if we put those participle clauses after the nouns in English, they would be natural, i.e.: 2) The cacti growing on the windowsill are beautiful.

So, can we do the same in German, i.e., are the following sentences correct?

1. Der Zug, aus Deutschland ankommend, wird bald ankommen.

2. Die Kakteen, auf der Fensterbank wachsend, sind schön.

2 Answers 2


No. Those are ungrammatical. You either have to use the paranthetic word order or you have to use relative clauses.

1. Der Zug, aus Deutschland ankommend, wird bald ankommen.

Der aus Deutschland kommende Zug wird bald ankommen.

Der Zug, der aus Deutschland kommt, wird bald ankommen.

I also recommend to use the verb kommen for telling the origin. The verb ankommen wants the destination as its locational adverbial.

2. Die Kakteen, auf der Fensterbank wachsend, sind schön.

Die auf der Fensterbank wachsenden Kakteen sind schön.

Die Kakteen, die auf der Fensterbank wachsen, sind schön.

Both forms are common. The relative clause is often used when there's an additional clause inside.

Die Kakteen, die auf der Fensterbank, wo auch sonst, wachsen, sind schön.

Such inserts can't be represented easily in the participles form.

What you can sometimes find is a construction that looks very similar to your examples but has a completely different meaning:

Er schlich sich, den Strauß Blumen in der Hand haltend, langsam von hinten an.

This is indeed a participle clause but it does not explain a noun. Rather than that, it's an adverbial that tells a circumstance. You may even skip the participle:

Er schlich sich, den Strauß Blumen in der Hand, langsam von hinten an.

This form is called absoluter Akkusativ and it means exactly the same. You have to guess a matching verb from context. The common property of such clauses is that they revolve around an extra accusative item.

  • 2
    +1, but I would say that such clauses are not ungrammatical, just uncommon. For example Spiegel from 13.06.1988: "Die brisante Ladung, aus Italien kommend, trug Etiketten verschiedener europäischer Chemie-Firmen[...]." However, most of the clauses with "kommend" are indeed adverbial, as searching the DWDS corpus for "@kommend" shows.
    – Dodezv
    Apr 27, 2023 at 6:24
  • 2
    How is this ungrammatical? It is just an adjective phrase in apposition. Cf. Die Kakteen, nicht besonders groß, sind schön. (I don't disagree though that this so uncommon that it is only borderline acceptable.) Apr 27, 2023 at 8:32

Yes, they are grammatical. It is very unusual to use a Partizip I in this way, but in principle, this is just an attribute moved behind the phrase it is modifying (which I would call an apposition, but others use that term only in a narrower sense).

Helbig/Buscha's "Deutsche Grammatik: ein Handbuch für den Ausländerunterricht" has a very good paragraph on this (Ch. 12.2.3):

Eine Möglichkeit der Hervorhebung des attributiven Adjektivs und Partizips im literarischen Stil besteht darin, diese in abgesonderter Nachstellung zu verwenden. Diese Nachstellung ist nur möglich, wenn die Adjektive und Partizipien zumindest paarweise auftreten oder wenn sie nähere Bestimmungen bei sich haben. Die Absonderung erfolgt dadurch, dass das Attribut in Kommas eingeschlossen wird und nicht flektiert wird.

The Partizip I is already a quite rarely used and more literary form, which makes this kind of construction sound weird. Other examples of the same kind with adjectives or Partizip II sound more idiomatic:

  • Das Mädchen, jung und unternehmungslustig, fuhr an die See. (From: das junge und unternehmungslustige Mädchen)
  • Die Kinder, von der Sonne gebräunt, liefen über den Strand. (From: die von der Sonne gebräunten Kinder)

The important restriction here is that the phrase must not be "simple" -- things like das Mädchen, alt, ... are mostly unacceptable.

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