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This is a dialog that occurs in Asimov's, I, Robot:

“To Vincent Silver? — He hasn’t mentioned anything about it to me.” “I asked him to speak to no one. Apparently, he hasn’t.” “And what did he tell you?” “Let me put that item in its proper place. I want to talk about the Machines first.

I tried to translate "Let me put that item in its proper place", with

Lassen Sie mich diese Sache an der richtigen Stelle stecken.

However, I was told by a native German speaker that that was not correct. That what I wrote was English with German words, and Germans did not use such phrasing.

However, when I look in DWDS I do find many examples:

Kabel und Stecker prüfen Prüfen Sie, ob alle Kabel an der richtigen Stelle stecken und fest in den entsprechenden Anschlüssen sitzen.

Es finden sich bei allen Kräutern genaue Beschilderungen, welche in den Hochbeeten an der richtigen Stelle stecken.

And many others here. So what is incorrect about what I wrote?

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  • As German, I'd probably phrase it like "Lass mich das an seinen Platz stellen / legen / stecken / bringen" (depending on the actual mode of placement choosing one or the other verb) Dec 6, 2023 at 23:51
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    This might need some further explanation. It's clear to me that the phrase in question is meant figuratively: "Let's assign that topic its correct importance." Or: "Let's view that question from the right perspective." So perhaps the problem is the rather idiomatic phrase "put in its proper place" does not translate word for word into German. In the cables and plugs quote the phrase is obviously meant literally, so word for word translation works.
    – RDBury
    Dec 7, 2023 at 2:51
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    I agree with @RDBury. While the answer of bakunin is fine so far, it doesn't address the fact that the whole translation is incorrect. As far as I get it, that sentence means "let me put that topic in the right position on the agenda". Suggestion: "Lassen Sie mich diese Sache an die richtige Stelle einordnen". Dec 7, 2023 at 6:59
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    Good point. Figuratively speaking, one can use 'einordnen" when it comes to giving the correct framing or context to something. Olafant might have the better injections for this particular case with' Aber eins nach dem anderen'. "Etwas wohin stecken" is never used figuratively this way Dec 7, 2023 at 7:16
  • I consider this discussion to be the answer I was looking for, but am not able to mark it so. Also, in addition to einordnen to be used figuratively in this context, it appears that stellen may be used this way as well: bit.ly/3RfMjwm .
    – user44591
    Dec 7, 2023 at 15:08

2 Answers 2

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Additional to @bakunin's answer:

One way to express the ordering of thoughts in the sense of your question is the phrase

Alles zu seiner Zeit!
Everything at the proper time!

another one

Eins nach dem anderen!
One at a time!

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The problem you are facing is perhaps that German differentiates between "wo" (the place) and "wohin" (the direction) while English uses "where" for both.

I go to [...]. (where?)
I am at [...]. (where?)

German, in contrast, uses "wo" to ask for where one is but "wohin" to ask where one moves to. And similarly German uses different Kasus for locations and directions.

An der richtigen Stelle

This is a place. Something is there (or not). "Der" here is the Artikel for the Dativ Singular of a Femininum ("die Stelle").

An die richtige Stelle

This is a direction. Something is (being) moved there (or not). "Die" is also an Artikel, but Akkusativ Singular this time. Notice that in both cases the Adjektiv ("richtig") is inflected too: "richtigen" vs. "richtige".

This is why you found both forms in DWDS: they exist both and are both correct but mean different things.

To sum it up: you move something an die richtige Stelle and once you have done that it is an der richtigen Stelle.

PS: A Word of Caution!
While it is true that direction is expressed by using Akkusativ and place is expressed by using Dativ, that doesn't mean that "Akkusativ means movement". Akkusativ (the same goes for Dativ) is used for many things and direction is among them. A "forest" consists of "trees" but not every tree has to be part of a forest.

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