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Here is a sentence:

Sie blickte ihn nur aus ernsten Augen an.

My question is what would be the most idiomatic translation of "aus ernsten Augen"? Couldn't find a matching use-case for the "aus" preposition. DeepL suggests

She only looked at him from serious eyes.

Sounds kind of clumsily put to me.

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  • 1
    How about "She gave him a serious look"? Not everything can be literally translated word by word.
    – tofro
    Aug 9, 2023 at 15:38
  • 1
    You are asking for a better English expression.
    – RalfFriedl
    Aug 9, 2023 at 18:16
  • The English translation should be selected by an English native speaker, but from my understanding of the German phrase, I note that it is similar to "she just gave him a pensive look / melancholic look" ...?
    – Alazon
    Aug 9, 2023 at 19:53
  • What I see here is actually NOT what I imagine from the German phrase: fineartamerica.com/featured/…
    – Alazon
    Aug 9, 2023 at 19:54

2 Answers 2

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I’m not a native English speaker (but a German), so you won’t get a good idiomatic translation from me, but I think I can help you get the gist of the whole sentence so that you can write your own translation.

There are, in my opinion, 3 peculiarities that give the phrase a deeper meaning:

  1. "nur": Yes, the translation would be "only" or maybe "just". But the purpose of that word in this sentence is, to make it clear that "she" does nothing but look. At this moment she is only busy looking at him. Fully focused, nothing else matters.
  2. "aus": As already written in another answer, one usually says someone looks "mit ihren Augen". The word "aus" (from) creates/reinforces the impression that she is actively looking instead of being a passive observer. Her gaze hits him like a ray of light.
  3. "ernste Auge ": Yes, this is "serious eyes". But I’m not sure, if this formulation is quite accurate or at least if it is strong enough. Serious eyes in this case are not just sad or angry or "not happy" or anything, but they create an impression of ultimate seriousness that leaves no room for maneuver.

Of course not completely objectively, but that’s how I feel it. Hope it helps.

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The phrasing is slightly unusual in German. Normally you would say:

Sie blickte ihn nur mit ernsten Augen an.

And generally, you do looking mit your eyes, not aus your eyes in German most of the time; however, aus may be rare, but it is easily understandable, and does not seem wrong to German speakers (plus it is plenty attested throughout the ages).

Mit ernsten Augen (and similar phrases, like mit traurigen, fröhlichen, neugierigen Augen etc.) is a very common expression, and as such is a little “worn,” i.e., people read over it, think „Aha, ernste Stimmung“, and do not really have a picture of earnest eyes before their inner eye. It is a nice writer's trick to make all-too commonplace metaphors come to life again by using a slightly unusual phrasing. (A simple example I recall from Wolf Schneider was to write „Wellen, hoch wie Häuser“ instead of the stock phrase „haushohe Wellen“, which technically means the same thing.) This may be the intention of the author here.

In any event, you want to know what would be the “most idiomatic translation” of a sentence that, most likely intentionally, avoids the most idiomatic phrasing in German. That is probably really a question for English Language SE, but you may want to use a slightly unusual phrasing in English too, e.g. “she gave him a look from serious eyes” or something similar.

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