Saturday, 22 May 2010

More or Less?

I've spent a large part of this week trying to revise various points of German grammar. One useful outcome came from reading about the valency (Valenz) of verbs. Valency is about the number and types of complements (Ergänzungen) a verb requires. Complements include subject, dative object, accusative object, genetive object, prepositional object and so on. Why was this useful? Because it began to make sense of how verbs are handled in dictionaries and when I looked at the Duden Stilwörterbuch I found everything clearly explained in an article preceding the alphabetic entries Zur Anlage des Buches - About the layout of the book. I really should have read that years ago!

More or Less? sums up my puzzlement about when to use verbs in plural and when in singular. For instance,  when oder binds two singular subjects then the  verb will be in the singular - Entweder du oder dein Kollege bringt ... However, if one of the subjects is plural then the verb definitely takes the plural form when the plural subject is next to the verb - Der Lehrer oder die Studenten können ... If the plural subject comes first it seems not to matter whether singular or plural is used - Die Eltern oder der Sohn bestellt/bestellen ...

What is more difficult is using an indication of quantity (Mengenangabe) - Menge, Anzahl, Reihe, usw. No problem when the following noun is also singular but when the noun is plural then the verb might still be singular. Everything depends on whether the subject is seen as a collection of related things (in which case singular) or as referring to unrelated things. I found a discussion about this online This was reiner Zufall as they discuss the very examples I was working with. If I come across examples where the verb is in the plural then I shall give them some thought but I'm not going to spend time worrying about it if I'm speaking or writing. I shall use the singular and be very surprised if I am ever challenged.

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