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In my current translation project I have the phrase "there appears to be something lying in a heap," referring to a rope ladder which is sitting on the ground at a certain point in an underground tunnel. Rather than being laid out straight along the ground, is it positioned like a pile of leaves.

Google Translate gives me "auf einem Haufen liegen" for "lying in a heap," but this is the same as "lying on a heap," or "lying on a pile," which is not what I am trying to say. The rope ladder is the heap; it is not on top of anything else. I am also not sure about "in einem Haufen liegen" since it is not actually in anything.

I can think of ways to convey the literal meaning such as "haufenartig" or "in Haufenform" but I am not sure this is colloquially normal language. Please advise!

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There appears to be something lying in a heap.

Yeah, no. You can't say auf einem Haufen for in a heap of single things. Only for a multiple things. For single things, it always means on a heap (of other things). So you have to rephrase, e.g.

Da scheint irgendwas hingeschmissen worden zu sein.

That conveys that it's a single item but also a mess. But German speakers would likely just say

Da scheint irgendwas herumzuliegen.

as that verb herumliegen exists for that particular purpose.

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Example: A couple of humans stumbled and fell over - now, in German, you say: They are lying on a heap.

Die Menschen liegen auf einem Haufen.

Which is of course ambiguous, but you get the right meaning from context.

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