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Both DWDS and Duden specify folgend as an adjective. However, these uses in DWDS appear not to be using folgend as an adjective:

"Intelligence" Red X, 2014 (Filmuntertitel): Vor drei Wochen bist du losgezogen, einer Spur folgend, um deine vermisste Frau zu finden.

Den store Gatsby, 2013 (Filmuntertitel): Dieser Bestimmung folgend, rannte der 16-jährige Gatz weit, weit weg.

"Heroes" Chapter Five 'Hiros', 2006 (Filmuntertitel): Einer Fährte im Wind folgend, einem Stern am Himmel.

How does one explain the grammar in these cases? In English the word order is reversed: "following the trail". If one used the word order given in German, "the trail following," that would mean that the trail was following something else, specified previously. And "following" is not an adjective in English, but a preposition.

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Folgend isn't an adjective but the Partizip I of the verb folgen. Participles can work like adjectives e.g. in expressions as die folgende Spur; die folgende Bestimmung; die folgende Fährte im Wind. They qualify the noun just like a adjective then.

However, your examples

…, einer Spur folgend, …

Dieser Bestimmung folgend …

Einer Fährte im Wind folgend …

are all so called Partizipialausdrücke. You can spot them from the Partizip I or Partizip II at their end. They usually tell a circumstance, so they work as an adverbial inside the sentence.

It's the same in English, by the way. Following is not a preposition but a present participle, and following a trail is a participial phrase in English as well. In English, you can tell apart the participial phrases from adjectival use by the placement of the participle in front of the article.


About your word order comparison with English, you have to stop that. German and English word order are incompatible. It's a huge coindicidence if they match each other on an occassion.

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  • I don't know if it's a good idea to compare German Partizip I with English present participle too much, since English uses the present participle to form the continuous aspect, and that doesn't exist in German. English does use participle expressions as in German, for example (per Wikipedia) "The subject interesting him at the moment is Greek history." But German uses the reverse word order "Das ihn interessierende Thema ist im Moment die griechische Geschichte." I think using such expressions as adverbials is more unusual in English.
    – RDBury
    Mar 30 at 1:00
  • I only mentioned the English and word order in the hopes of eliciting information about the German word order, since the responses did not appear to recognize that as part of the grammar to be explained.
    – user44591
    Mar 30 at 1:08
  • Both the Cambridge and Merriam-Webster Dictionaries define "following" as a preposition, as well as a noun and an adjective. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/following merriam-webster.com/dictionary/following
    – user44591
    Mar 30 at 1:17
  • I see. This seems to be a convention specifically for following then. You could use ignoring in the same context. Is it considered being a preposition as well?
    – Janka
    Mar 30 at 11:30
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This is the Partizip I of folgen, in a use equivalent to English present participle. The sentence

Vor drei Wochen bist du losgezogen, einer Spur folgend, um deine vermisste Frau zu finden.

could be translated almost verbatim to

Three weeks ago you went out, following a trail, to find your lost wife.

Duden usually doesn't list inflected forms, I think. DWDS gives no meaning and says "partizipiales Adjektiv", refering you to folgen. Wiktionary has listed either adjective or present participle of "folgen" as word class.

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