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Setting aside the fact that there are better ways to say what these sentences are trying to say, are both these sentences grammatically correct? If not, please explain.

Ein Mensch darf nicht durch Untätigkeit von einem Roboter verletzt werden.

Ein Mensch darf durch Untätigkeit von keinem Roboter verletzt werden.

If grammatically correct, are they both saying the same thing?

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3 Answers 3

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I see no problem with grammar, but both at least fail to clarify, that the rule concerns passiveness of the robot. With the more appropriate Untätigkeit eines Roboters (simple genitive) the second variant can no longer be used.

I consider the intended meaning to be transported with a translation similar to:

Kein Mensch darf durch Untätigkeit eines Roboters verletzt werden.

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Both sentences are grammatically correct.

There are a lot of ambiguities in both wordings (e.g. whose Untätigkeit is meant, or whether inactivity of a robot or injured by a robot is meant), which isn't ideal for a robot law. However, as you wrote, let's set that aside for a while.

There's a subtle difference in what is negated between the two example sentences.

Ein Mensch darf nicht durch Untätigkeit von einem Roboter verletzt werden.

Here, it's either "darf" or "durch Untätigkeit" that is negated by "nicht". It's unclear which one is meant, but in the end, it doesn't make a big difference for the meaning of this sentence.

Ein Mensch darf durch Untätigkeit von keinem Roboter verletzt werden.

Here, ein Roboter is negated (nicht ein Roboter = kein Roboter = no robot).

Here, the ambiguity of "von" leads to two possible interpretations:

  1. (How every human would interpret it:) No human can be injured by a robot due to the human's inactivity. The word order excludes that Untätigkeit refers to the robot here, it clearly refers to the human in this case because it comes before the "injured by no robot" part.

  2. (How no sane person, but every robot would interpret it:) It's ok for a human to be injured as long as it happens by inactivity of no robot, i.e. it's ok if it happens because all robots are active.

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Both sentences are grammatically correct, the only problem might come from various possible ambiguities; it's hard to say whether the examples differ in that.

Anyway, note that "kein" in "durch keinen Roboter" indicates that the whole sentence is negated. The meaning is "it is not allowed...", i.e. the verb "darf" is also negated. The position of the negation in the article "k+ein" is perhaps weird, but correct.

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