Thursday, 13 May 2010

Meaningful Cases

A change of case or the use of one word rather than another can change the meaning of German sentences. I still struggle sometimes. For instance, what is the difference between the following two sentences?
  • Ich habe gestern den Chef gesprochen
  • Ich habe gestern mit dem Chef gesprochen
The first sentence refers to a conversation with a quite particular intention about a particular subject. The second leaves this open. It might just as easily have been a general conversation.

Two sentences now where the only change is in the preposition used
  • Wir haben von dem Chef gesprochen
  • Wir haben über den Chef gesprochen
The former means the boss was mentioned and the latter that he was the topic of conversation.

In some instances the change of preposition involves a shift of tense. For example:
  • Wir freuen uns über das Geschenk
  • Wir freuen uns auf die Ferien
The first is about present enjoyment and the second is looking forward to enjoying. Sich freuen is by no means the only verb that requires you to memorise the accompanying prepositions because of the radical difference of meaning. But who said learning German was easy?

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