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Different Syntax in Idioms

From:Henrik Theiling <theiling@...>
Date:Wednesday, July 13, 2005, 13:27

Thomas Wier asked about this:

I just noticed idioms in German that use different syntax that normal
language: the preposition 'nach' is used as a postposition in certain
idiomatic expressions:

   dem Vernehmen nach      = according to reports
   meiner Ansicht nach     = in my opinion

Usually, it is:

   nach Ansicht des Arztes        = in the doctor's opinion
   ?*der Ansicht des Arztes nach

This is not *significantly* different syntax, however, since many
prepositions could be postpositions in older German.  E.g. 'wegen' is
still frequently used as a postposition, making the sentence appear
slightly more formal, even in non-idiomatic expressions.

However, 'nach' cannot generally be used as a postposition, I think.
This seems to only be possible in idioms.

A somewhat different phenomenon: there are popular idioms that sound
slightly ungrammatical to me, but still, they are frequently used
*only* in that particular version.  The difference is that these are
colloquial only, while the above examples are formal German.

    Hat nicht sollen sein.   ~   It just didn't work this time.
                                 (Or something like this.  I don't
                                 know an equivalent in English.)

    Grammar problem: the verb order is, well, wrong.  Theoretically,
    it should be: '(Es) hat nicht sein sollen.'

    Butter bei die Fische!   ~   Ok, now let's do it!
                                 (Again, I don't know an idiom in

    Grammar problem: 'bei' cannot be used with accusative case.
    Instead 'an' or 'zu' (depends) should be used: 'Butter an die

Both sentences with corrected grammar are no idioms anymore and would
confuse listeners.



Jörg Rhiemeier <joerg_rhiemeier@...>
Kris Kowal <cowbertvonmoo@...>