1. Objectives

In this unit you will learn how to:

  • Identify and translate extended adjective constructions.
Last revised on October 2, 2014.

2. Extended Adjective Constructions Using Participles

In Unit 7 we learned how present and past participles can be used as adjectives in German, e.g., ein gekochtes Ei (“a boiled egg” or “an egg that is boiled”) and der singende Vogel (“the singing bird” or “the bird that is singing”). Thus you can see that the participle can be translated with a relative clause beginning with “that.”

German, unlike English, can provide even more extensive information about the noun simply by placing an entire phrase as a modifier before a noun. For example, an entire participial phrase of any length can appear between a noun and its article:

ein in Wasser gekochtes Ei
an egg boiled in water / an egg that is boiled in water

ein in heißem Wasser gekochtes Ei
an egg boiled in hot water / an egg that is boiled in hot water

ein in heißem Wasser gekochtes und dann gegessenes Ei
an egg boiled in hot water and then eaten / an egg that is . . .

The use of such constructions is quite common in scientific and professional literature and, consequently, we must learn how to identify such constructions and how to translate them.

Note in the above examples that there is no finite (conjugated) verb and that the participles have endings, which indicates that they are functioning as adjectives. Thus we are dealing with a phrase modifying a noun, not with a sentence. Note, too, that the introductory word is followed immediately by a preposition, which is one common indicator of an extended adjective construction. Extended adjective constructions using a participial phrase, such as the examples above using the past participles gekocht and gegessen, are the most common type. For example, the structure of der im Käfig singende Vogel, which uses the present participle singend, can be understood as:

introductory word (article / adjective) +  
im Käfig
prepositional phrase +  
participial adjective +  

To translate this phrase, we link the introductory word with the noun, e.g., der + Vogel (“the bird”), and then translate in reverse order:  singende + im Käfig  (“singing in the cage”).

Example sentences using participles:

Münchener sind die in München wohnenden Leute.
“Münchener” are the people living in Munich.
[or:] “Münchener” are the people who live in Munich.

Ich habe ein in Stuttgart gebautes Auto.
I have a car built in Stuttgart.

Last revised on October 2, 2014.

3. More Examples of Extended Adjective Constructions

Using prepositional phrases and regular adjectives:

Diese Flüssigkeit ist kein in Wasser löslicher Stoff.
This fluid is not a substance soluble in water.

Die Kommission sucht die für diese Taten verantwortlichen Soldaten.
The commission is looking for the soldiers responsible for these deeds.

Without introductory articles / adjectives:

In Rußland gefundene Kunstwerke sollen zurückgegeben werden.
Art works found in Russia shall be returned.

Wasser und Öl sind zu festen Stoffen werdende Flüssigkeiten.
Water and oil are liquids that turn into solid substances.

Without prepositional phrases:

Hier wohnen das Landleben liebende Bauern.
Here live farmers who love life on the land.

Die die Literatur liebenden Studenten studieren oft Anglistik.
The students who love literature often major in English.

Er sucht den Lauf der Maschine betreffende Vorschriften.
He is looking for rules concerning the operation of the machine.

With two adjacent prepositions:

In für Strahlen undurchlässigen Stoffen wurde kein solches Molekül gefunden.
No such molecule was found in substances impermeable to rays.

Viele dieser Frauen werden auf in England sich befindenden Universitäten arbeiten.
Many of these women will work at universities situated in England.

Last revised on May 29, 2018.

4. Translating Extended Adjective Constructions

No matter what kind of extended adjective construction you come across, always remember that none of the words appearing before the noun are the main verb of the sentence and that they all belong together. The sanctity of the noun phrase, as you learned in earlier units, still must not be broken, regardless of how long it may be.

The following examples explain methods to translate some of the example sentences from the preceding section.

Example: Diese Flüssigkeit ist kein in Wasser löslicher Stoff.

As soon as you see an introductory article or adjective followed by a prepositional phrase (such as kein in Wasser . . .), then find the word that follows the prepositional phrase (löslicher). The prepositional phrase is acting as a modifier of that subsequent word, so mark off the prepositional phrase and that modified word (a participial adjective or regular adjective) from the rest of the construction (kein + Stoff) and first translate what remains: “This fluid is not a substance.” Then come back to the phrase you marked off (as described in Section 1 of this unit): “soluble”+ “in water,” knowing that it is a modifier of “substance.”

Example: In Rußland gefundene Kunstwerke sollen zurückgegeben werden.

If there is no article or adjective (such as In Rußland . . .), then separate the prepositional phrase (In Rußland) and its following adjective (gefundene) and translate the remaining word(s) (Kunstwerke) before translating the prepositional phrase and adjective: “works of art” + “found” + “in Russia”

Example: Die die Literatur liebenden Studenten studieren oft Anglistik.

When two articles appear together (Die die), you are dealing with either an extended adjective construction or a relative-pronoun clause. If it’s the former, then recognize the first one as the beginning of the entire enclosing noun phrase. That tells you that everything in between is just modifiers of the main noun: the second (die) and the noun that follows it (Literatur) plus the word after the noun (liebenden). Then follow the same procedure as above: “the” + “students” + (who are) “loving” + “the literature”

Example: In für Strahlen undurchlässigen Stoffen wurde kein solches Molekül gefunden.

If you come across two prepositions together (In für), then separate off the internal prepositional phrase (für Strahlen), as well as any remaining words (undurchlässigen). Then follow the same procedure as above: “in” + “substances” + “impermeable” + “for rays”

You can practice your analysis of some of this unit’s examples by playing the Unit 13 Syntax Untangler activity. (Link opens in a new window.)

Last revised on October 9, 2018.

5. Further Advice Regarding Extended Adjective Constructions

Despite its length, an extended adjective construction is no different from a regular adjective: it appears before a noun and has the appropriate adjectival ending. If it appears in a series of adjectives then it will usually be separated from other adjectives (or extended adjective constructions!) by a comma:

ein in Stuttgart gebautes, deutsches Auto
a German car built in Stuttgart

das in Frankfurt stehende, von dem berühmten Architekten entworfene Gebäude
the building which was designed by the famous architect and is situated in Frankfurt

Occasionally an extended adjective construction will appear within another extended adjective:

das von dem in Frankfurt wohnenden Architekten entworfene Gebäude
the building designed by the architect who lives in Frankfurt

The outermost extended adjective construction modifies Gebäude: das von . . . Architekten entworfene Gebäude. The inner construction modifes Architekten: dem in Frankfurt wohnenden Architekten. Then we begin to translate in the following order:

the +  
building +  
designed +  
von dem Architekten
by the architect +  
living +  
in Frankfurt
in Frankfurt

In other words we do not read in a straight line but rather we move from beginning to end and then backwards, quite the opposite of what we would do in English. And when these constructions are nested inside each other, we read from the outermost to the innermost.

Although you may find these constructions frustrating at first, as you gain comfort via practice, you will come to appreciate how efficiently they allow complex relationships to be communicated.

Last revised on October 6, 2014.