. 6
( 12)


Left-adjoin an XP dominated by VP to VP or IP.

In the example in (85), repeated here for convenience, the object das Buch has
been scrambled (left-adjoined) to IP.
[VP t1 gelesen]2 hat [IP [NP das Buch]1 [IP keiner t2 ]]
The scrambled element is subject to certain semantic and pragmatic con-
straints: the De¬niteness Constraint and the Focus Constraint. The De¬nite-
ness Constraint requires scrambled elements to be semantically de¬nite. For
example, direct objects must be de¬nite in order to be scrambled to the left
of sentential adverbs, as the examples in (114) and (115) demonstrate. The
Focus Constraint requires that scrambled elements be unfocused (Webelhuth
1992:194). An element is focused if it contains new information (if it is the
rheme of an utterance). For example, a direct object cannot be scrambled to the
left of an indirect object if it is focused, as in (112b).
Much has been written on the syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic (discourse)
factors that in¬‚uence word order in German. For further details and discussion,
see, for example, Boost 1955, Lenerz 1977, Hoberg 1981, L¨ tscher 1981, H¨ hle
o o
1982, and Eroms 1986.

3.7.4 Distribution of pronominal elements
The distribution of anaphors (re¬‚exive and reciprocal pronouns) in comparison
to pronouns has played an important role in the development of generative
grammar.42 The distribution of anaphors and pronouns is particularly interesting
because of cross-linguistic variation. For example, whereas Icelandic allows
the re¬‚exive sig ˜himself™ to be co-referential with (refer to the same entity as)
the subject of the matrix clause in a sentence like (119a), English does not, as
(119b) demonstrates.43
(119) a. P´ turi ba° Jens um a° raka sigi .
Peter asked Jens for to shave re¬‚
˜Peter asked Jens to shave him.™
b. — Peteri asked Jens to shave himselfi .
˜Peter asked Jens to shave him.™
In the following we will look at some of the salient characteristics of the
distribution of anaphors and pronouns in German. To avoid confusion, we will
refer to these using the theory-neutral terms “re¬‚exive pronoun” and “non-
re¬‚exive pronoun.”44
In German, a re¬‚exive pronoun is used after a preposition to signal co-
reference with the subject of a clause.45
Syntax 143

(120) a. Die Fraui hatte mehrere tausend Dollar bei sichi .
˜The woman had several thousand dollars on her.™
b. Siei schloss die T¨ r leise hinter sichi .
˜She closed the door quietly behind her/herself.™
Notice the variation in the corresponding English sentences. English requires
a non-re¬‚exive pronoun instead of a re¬‚exive in (120a), but allows both in
(120b). In some expressions, only a re¬‚exive pronoun is allowed following a
preposition when co-reference with the subject is intended.
(121) a. Shei looked at herselfi .
b. — Shei looked at heri .
If a re¬‚exive pronoun occurs in an NP, it is co-referential with the nearest
“subject.” The nearest subject in (122a) is the sentential subject; the nearest
subject in (122b) is in the NP itself.46
(122) a. Mariai hat [den Stolz auf sichi ] nie verloren.
˜Maria has never lost pride in herself.™
b. Mariai hat [Petersi Stolz auf sichj/— i ] nie verstanden.
˜Maria has never understood Peter™s pride in himself.™
In A.c.I. (Accusative and In¬nitive) constructions, a re¬‚exive pronoun refers
back to the object of the ¬nite verb; a non-re¬‚exive pronoun refers back to the
subject (Durrell 2002:52).
(123) a. Er ließ seinen Vateri sichi in der Villa verstecken.
˜He had his father hide himself in the villa.™
b. Eri ließ seinen Vater ihni in der Villa verstecken.
˜He had his father hide him in the villa.™
If the re¬‚exive is the object of a preposition in an A.c.I. construction, it refers
back to the subject of the ¬nite verb.
(124) Eri ließ mich bei sichi arbeiten.
˜He let me work at his place.™
In in¬nitive clauses with zu ˜to™, the referent of the embedded pronoun
(re¬‚exive or non-re¬‚exive) depends on the referent of the understood subject
of the in¬nitive, PRO. The referent of PRO is itself dependent on the type
of verb in the matrix clause. If the matrix verb is a verb of subject control
(e.g., versprechen ˜to promise™), PRO is co-referential with the subject of
the matrix verb. In an in¬nitive clause embedded under a verb with subject
control, a re¬‚exive pronoun is co-referential with the subject of the matrix
verb; a non-re¬‚exive pronoun is co-referential with the object of the matrix
144 German

(125) a. Karli versprach Peterj , [PROi sichi zu entschuldigen].
Karl promised Peter re¬‚ to excuse
(Karl promised to apologize.)
b. Karli versprach Peterj , [PROi ihnj zu entschuldigen].
Karl promised Peter him to excuse
(Karl promised to excuse Peter.)

If the matrix verb is a verb of object control (e.g., bitten ˜to ask™), PRO is co-
referential with the object of the matrix verb. In an in¬nitive clause embedded
under a verb with object control, a re¬‚exive pronoun is co-referential with the
object of the matrix verb; a non-re¬‚exive pronoun is co-referential with the
subject of the matrix verb.
(126) a. Karli bat Peterj , [PROj sichj zu entschuldigen].
Karl asked Peter re¬‚ to excuse
˜Karl asked Peter to apologize.™
(Peter was asked to apologize.)
b. Karli bat Peterj , [PROj ihni zu entschuldigen].
Karl asked Peter him to excuse
˜Karl asked Peter to excuse him.™
(Peter was asked to excuse Karl.)
Notice that even though the re¬‚exive in (126a) is referential with Peter, the
object of the matrix clause, it is co-referential with a subject, namely, the
subject of the embedded clause, PRO.

1. Indicate the category of each word in the following sentences: N(oun),
V(erb), A(djective), Adv(erb), P(reposition), Det(erminer), Aux(iliary),
Pro(noun), Con(junction).
(a) Welches Auto passt zu Ihrer Pers¨ nlichkeit?
(b) Sie haben pl¨ tzlich großen Hunger und gehen in ein Lokal.
(c) Ich muss mich leider mit einer Beschwerde an sie wenden.
(d) Ich glaube, dass das das Buch ist, das du brauchst.

(e) Das Haus verf¨ gt uber einen sch¨ n angelegten Garten.
2. Draw phrase-structure trees for the following phrases (NP, PP, VP, AP,
(a) ihr gr¨ ßtes Schiff
(b) erstaunlich klein
(c) mit ihrer Freundin
(d) ein Buch uber Tischtennis
(e) auf dem langen Weg nach Italien
Syntax 145

(f) sehr gl¨ cklich uber deinen Besuch
(g) einen Roman schreiben
(h) die Verurteilung des Angeklagten
(i) selten lachen
(j) bei seinem Freund ubernachten
3. Write one PS-rule for each of the following sets of phrases:
(a) durch den Park; f¨ r sehr lustig; nach oben; von vor dem Start
(b) zufrieden; sehr zufrieden; mit ihren Mitarbeitern zufrieden; mit ihren
Mitarbeitern sehr zufrieden
(c) hinauf; den Berg hinauf; langsam hinauf; den Berg langsam hinauf
4. Use labeled bracketing to indicate the structure of the following IPs and
(a) meine Schwester den Roman gelesen hat
(b) dass meine Schwester den Roman gelesen hat
(c) Claudia nach Berlin fahren wollte
(d) ob Claudia nach Berlin fahren wollte
(e) ich einen Kaffee trank
(f) w¨ hrend ich einen Kaffee trank
5. Use labeled bracketing and co-indexed traces to indicate the structure of the
following CPs.
(a) Meine Schwester hat den Roman gelesen.
(b) Den Roman hat meine Schwester gelesen.
(c) Hat deine Schester den Roman gelesen?
(d) (Sie wollte wissen,) welchen Roman meine Schwester gelesen hat.
(e) (der Roman,) den meine Schwester gelesen hat

1 An asterisk before a sentence indicates that the sentence is unacceptable.
2 Generative-transformational grammar is a version of generative grammar that recog-
nizes a “transformational component” that mediates between the underlying struc-
ture of sentences (a more abstract level of representation) and their surface structure
(a level that corresponds to the spoken language). The transformational component
contains movement rules (transformations) that can change the order of constituents
in underlying structure. See section for a discussion of movement rules in
3 For the view that noun phrases are headed by determiners and should therefore be
referred to as determiner phrases (DPs), see Abney 1987.
4 Cross-linguistically, speci¬ers do not always occur to the left of their heads “ nor
do complements always occur to the right. As argued in section 3.6, for example,
verbal complements in German occur to the left of their heads.
5 A node is any point connected by a line in a tree diagram.
6 For the sake of simplicity, a relatively ¬‚at phrase structure is assumed here. In the
NP in (2), for example, the NP node immediately dominates Det, N, and PP. A more
146 German

articulated view of phrase structure recognizes a level of structure between the word
level and the phrase level. In an NP, this level would be N" (N-bar). In the NP in (2),
NP would immediately dominate Det and N", and N" would immediately dominate
N and PP.
7 Subcategorization is the assignment of a lexical item to a subclass (subcategory)
of the syntactic category to which it belongs, typically with respect to the types of
phrases with which it can occur. A subcategorization frame is that part of the lexical
entry for a word that indicates the details of its subcategory.
8 Although genitive NP complements are most common, accusative NPs are also
possible: die Sitzung letzten Montag ˜the meeting last month™ (Dudenredaktion
9 Pronouns cannot be preceded by determiners, which is further evidence that they do
not occur in N positions: — [NP [Det die] [N sie]].
10 A copula or “linking verb” is a verb like English be whose main function is to link
the subject of a sentence with the predicate. In the sentence She is a doctor, the
copula is links the subject, she, with the predicate complement, a doctor.
11 In general, NPs that bear the semantic roles of goal, source, and bene¬ciary
are typically in the dative case. This holds for bare NPs; those NPs that are the
objects of prepositions bear a wider range of semantic roles. For example, many
prepositions assign the dative case to NPs that bear the role location. See chapter
4, section 4.5, for a discussion of semantic (thematic) roles.
12 See Durrell 2002:137 for a list of frequent adjectives that govern the dative.
13 See Durrell 2002:39“41 for further discussion of the use of von instead of the
14 Some can function both as prepositions and postpositions (gegen¨ ber dem Hotel/dem
Hotel gegen¨ ber ˜across from the hotel™).
15 The word hinein in a sentence like Sie ging hinein ˜She went in™ is an adverb.
16 The exercises to this chapter address the PS-rules that capture the generalizations
about the structure of PPs in German, as well as the structure of APs and AdvPs.
17 An AP is used attributively when it precedes the noun it modi¬es (das [AP sehr
kleine] Kind ˜the very small child™). An AP is used predicatively when it follows
a copulative verb like sein ˜to be™ (Das Kind ist [AP sehr klein] ˜The child is very
18 Only a few adjectives used predicatively (e.g., treu ˜true to™) can precede as well
as follow their NP complements: treu seinen Grunds¨ tzen/seinen Grunds¨ tzen treu
a a
˜true to his principles™.
19 Wipf (2004:144) argues that the use of extended modi¬ers in spoken German
is increasing. He notes that extended modi¬ers of various lengths are currently
used routinely in German newscasts. He also observes that the spontaneous use
of extended attributes by interviewees in response to impromptu questions from
reporters is rather common.
20 It is widely assumed that German is an SOV language, that is, that German word
order is underlyingly Subject“Object“Verb. Classic arguments for this view can be
found in Koster 1975 (Koster™s arguments for Dutch can be applied to German).
21 A constituent is one or more words that make up a syntactic unit. The NP einen
Kuss ˜a kiss™, for example, is a constituent of the sentence Ich gab ihm einen Kuss
˜I gave him a kiss.™
Syntax 147

22 This prediction involves the basic (underlying) word order of the two languages. As
discussed in sections 3.7.1 and 3.7.3, various syntactic and pragmatic requirements
can alter this basic order.
23 Note that we can explain this difference in word order in English and German if we
assume that German VPs are underlyingly head-¬nal. This assumption also allows
us to maintain the generalization that complements occur closer to their heads than
do adjuncts.
24 PRO in (71b) is the “empty” (understood) subject found in in¬nitival clauses. In a
sentence like Sie weigerte sich, PRO ihm einen Kuss zu geben ˜She refused to give
him a kiss™, PRO is co-referential with the subject of the main clause in which the
in¬nitival clause is embedded (it refers to the same person to which the pronoun sie
˜she™ refers).
25 Under the model of grammar used here, PS-rules generate the underlying repre-
sentations of clauses (their underlying structure), and movement rules modify these
structures to yield the surface representations of clauses (their surface structure).
Surface structure represents the actual word order of a sentence as it is spoken.
26 See Vikner 1995:42“46 for arguments in support of the assumption that the ¬nite
verb occupies the C-position in main clauses. For an alternative view “ that the ¬nite
verb occupies the C-position in main clauses only in inversion constructions (main
clauses that are not subject-initial) “ see Zwart 1997 (Zwart™s arguments for Dutch
can be extended to German).
27 The term “topicalization” (which we adopt here) is commonly used to identify this
movement rule because the constituent that it moves to the Spec position of CP is
often a topic (also “theme”), that is, what the sentence is about. See section 3.7.3
for further discussion of the notion of “theme.”
28 Drach (1940) is credited with ¬rst formulating the rule that every major clausal
constituent (Satzglied), with the exception of the ¬nite verb, can occupy the ¬rst
position in a main clause (Uszkoreit 1987:24).
29 An immediate constituent is one of the parts into which a linguistic unit is imme-
diately divisible. The XPs (phrases) that are immediate constituents of IP are NP
and VP. The XPs that are immediate constituents of VP are all the XP adjuncts and
complements of the V.
30 If a clause contains a wh-phrase, but that phrase remains in its underlying position
and another phrase moves to Spec-CP, this yields an echo question.
(i) Ich soll was auf den Tisch legen? (Dudenredaktion 2005:905)
I should what on the table lay ˜I should put what on the table?™
31 See section 3.7.3 for a discussion of scrambling.
32 See M¨ ller 1998:3“20 for arguments in favor of this analysis.
33 As the example in (86b) demonstrates, abstract features for mood “ as well as
abstract features for tense “ can appear in In¬‚.
34 The es that appears in impersonal passives is not a subject. Whereas subjects in
German are not limited to the Spec-CP position, place-holder es is: — Uberall wurde
es getanzt ˜Everywhere was there dancing.™
35 This sentence, as well as the versions below with the adverbial CP in sentence-initial
and sentence-internal position, are from Dudenredaktion 2005:1062.
36 Although not indicated in (101b), Topicalization also applies in the embedded CP
to move was into the Spec position of that CP.
148 German

37 Pragmatic restrictions are those that are determined by the context in which an
utterance is expressed.
38 The terms “theme” and “rheme” stem from work on the information structure of
sentences that was ¬rst begun by Mathesius (e.g., 1929) and further advanced by
linguists such as Firbas (e.g., 1964) and others in the Prague School of Linguis-
tics. These terms are used here informally as labels for old information and new
39 The symbol < can be read here as “before.” Lenerz de¬nes the unmarked order of
constituents as the one that is not subject to any constraints.
40 The sentences in (111) and (112) and the grammaticality judgments are from Lenerz
(1977:43). In (111), the indirect object is the answer to the question posed and hence
the rheme (it contains the nucleus of the utterance). In (112), the direct object is the
41 The sentences in (113) are from Lenerz (1977:68; 101).
42 Binding Theory, a subtheory of the Government and Binding version of generative
grammar, deals with the distribution of nominal elements like anaphors and pronouns
in relation to their antecedents. For an overview of some of the theoretical issues
involved in dealing with the distribution of these elements, see, for example, Harbert
43 The Icelandic example is cited in Harbert 1995:193.
44 We will not consider the distribution of reciprocal pronouns.
45 Co-reference is indicated by co-indexation. Items that bear the same index are
46 The examples in (122) are from W¨ llstein-Leisten et al. 1997:114.
47 The sentences on which the examples in (125) and (126) are based are from Durrell

4.1 Introduction
Semantics is the sub¬eld of linguistics that deals with meaning in human
language. It is concerned with the meaning of words and sentences. This chap-
ter deals primarily with issues in sentence-level semantics: tense and aspect,
modality, and voice. Word-level semantics is treated brie¬‚y.

4.2 Lexical semantics
Lexical semantics deals with the meaning of words. One area of lexical seman-
tics involves the semantic relationships among words. The relationships we
will discuss here are synonymy, antonymy, hyponymy, and meronymy.

4.2.1 Synonymy
Synonyms are words that have the same meaning in some or all contexts.
Examples of synonyms in German are Anschrift/Adresse ˜address™, Abend-
essen/Abendbrot ˜supper™, zwei/zwo ˜two™, and erhalten/bekommen/kriegen ˜to
get™. Although these pairs (triplets) can be exchanged in most contexts without
causing a change in meaning and are therefore synonyms, as the examples
below demonstrate, they differ in various non-semantic ways.
(1) a. Man muss seinen Namen und seine Anschrift angeben.
b. Man muss seinen Namen und seine Adresse angeben.
˜One has to give one™s name and address.™
For example, Adresse is a loanword from French, and Anschrift is the “German”
word created by Philipp von Zesen to replace it during the seventeenth-century
efforts to rid the language of foreign elements.1 Both words live on in the
language today, like many other pairs of synonyms with a similar history.
Abendbrot is a northern German synonym of Standard German Abendessen
˜supper™; it exempli¬es the existence of regional synonyms. The word zwo is the
historically feminine form of the word for ˜two™; zwei is the historically neuter
150 German

form. Zwo is used colloquially instead of zwei, especially on the telephone, to
ensure clarity (zwei has the same diphthong as eins and drei; zwo does not). The
verbs for ˜get™ (like zwo and zwei) differ in style: erhalten is formal, bekommen
is neutral, and kriegen is colloquial.

4.2.2 Antonymy
Antonymy is the relationship of oppositeness. There are various types of
opposites. The terms used here to refer to three of the most common types
of opposites are complementary pairs (complementaries), gradable antonyms,
and converses. Examples of complementary pairs are lebendig ˜alive™ and
tot ˜dead™, richtig ˜correct™ and falsch ˜incorrect™, and offen ˜open™ and
geschlossen ˜closed™. The relationship between complementaries is such that
the negative of one implies the positive of the other. If a plant, for example, is
not lebendig, then it is tot. If a door is not offen, then it is geschlossen.
Gradable antonyms are pairs like groß ˜large™ and klein ˜small™, heiß ˜hot™
and kalt ˜cold™, and lang ˜long™ and kurz ˜short™. Gradable antonyms differ
from complementaries in that the negative of one does not necessarily imply
the positive of the other. If a house is not groß, this does not necessarily mean
that it is klein. If it is not heiß outside, this does not imply that it is kalt “ it could
be warm. Gradable antonyms can be viewed as being two terms at the opposite
ends of a scale that includes intermediate terms. For example, the scale with
kalt at one end and heiß at the other includes k¨ hl ˜cool™, lauwarm ˜tepid™, and
Cruse (1986) identi¬es at least three different types of gradable antonyms:
polar, overlapping, and equipollent antonyms. This distinction is of particu-
lar interest because it highlights a difference between two pairs of gradable
antonyms in German and English: gut and schlecht versus good and bad.
The notions “pseudo-comparative” and “true comparative” are useful in
distinguishing Cruse™s three subtypes of gradable antonyms. The comparative
form heavier, for example, does not mean ˜heavy to a greater degree™, but ˜of
greater weight™, as the following sentences show;2 it is therefore the pseudo-
comparative of heavy.3
(2) a. ?This box is light, but it™s heavy.
b. This box is light, but it™s heavier than that one.
The word hotter, however, does mean ˜hot to a greater degree™; hotter is the
true comparative of hot:
(3) a. ?It™s cold today, but it™s hot.
b. ?It™s cold today, but it™s hotter than yesterday.
Semantics 151

Two antonyms are polar antonyms if there is a pseudo-comparative corre-
sponding to each member of a pair. The antonyms light and heavy are polar
antonyms, as are the antonyms long and short.
(4) a. It™s long, but it™s shorter than the other one.
b. It™s short, but it™s longer than the other one.
Antonyms are overlapping antonyms if there is a pseudo-comparative cor-
responding to one member of the pair, but the other member has a true
(5) a. John™s a dull lad, but he™s cleverer than Bill.
b. ?Bill™s a clever lad, but he™s duller than John.
Both members of a pair of equipollent antonyms have true comparatives.
(6) a. ?It™s hot, but it™s colder than yesterday.
b. ?It™s cold, but it™s hotter than yesterday.
If we compare the terms for ˜good™ and ˜bad™ in German with the corre-
sponding terms in English, we see that they do not belong to the same subgroup
of antonyms. German gut and schlecht appear to be polar antonyms.
(7) a. Es ist gut, aber es ist schlechter als das andere.
b. Es ist schlecht, aber es ist besser als das andere.
English good and bad, on the other hand, are overlapping:
(8) a. ?It™s good, but it™s worse than the other one.
b. It™s bad, but it™s better than the other one.
There is a certain amount of variation among speakers in their judgments of
gradable antonyms. According to Cruse (1986:219), good and bad are polar
antonyms for a minority of English speakers.4
Converses are the ¬nal type of opposite to be discussed here. Examples
of converses are Eltern ˜parents™ and Kinder ˜children™, armer ˜poorer™ and
reicher ˜richer™, and hinter ˜behind™ and vor ˜in front of™. Two terms, A and B,
are converses if they relate two entities, x and y, in such a way that x A y is
equivalent to y B x. Using this “formula,” we can show that hinter and vor, for
example, are converses. In the following sentences, hinter and vor are A and
B; Stuhl and Tisch are x and y.
(9) a. Der Stuhl ist hinter dem Tisch.
˜The chair is behind the table.™
b. Der Tisch ist vor dem Stuhl.
˜The table is in front of the chair.™
152 German


Kind Erwachsene(r)

M¤dchen Junge Frau Mann

Figure 4.1 Lexical taxonomy for Mensch

Because the two sentences are equivalent when we switch the order of Stuhl
and Tisch and substitute vor for hinter, we can say that hinter and vor are
converses. Other examples of converses are besitzen ˜to own™ and geh¨ ren
˜to belong to™, Arbeitgeber ˜employer™ and Arbeitnehmer ˜employee™, and
Ehemann ˜husband™ and Ehefrau ˜wife™.

4.2.3 Hyponymy
Hyponymy is the relation between two lexical items in which the meaning of
the ¬rst is included in the meaning of the second. Because a Rose ˜rose™ is a type
of Blume ˜¬‚ower™, we can say that Rose is a hyponym of Blume. Blume is the
superordinate (more general) term. Nelke ˜carnation™, like Rose, is a hyponym
of Blume; thus both are co-hyponyms of Blume.
Lexical taxonomies like the one illustrated in Figure 4.1 can be constructed
on the basis of hyponymy. Kind ˜child™ and Erwachsene(r) ˜grown-up™ are
co-hyponyms of Mensch ˜human being™; M¨ dchen ˜girl™ and Junge ˜boy™ are
co-hyponyms of Kind; and so on. If we try to construct similar taxonomies
for animals, it is not unusual to ¬nd lexical gaps.5 Whereas the superordi-
nate Pferd ˜horse™ has the female and male co-hyponyms Stute ˜mare™ and
Hengst ˜stallion™, the superordinate Hund ˜dog™ only has a uniquely female
hyponym, H¨ ndin ˜bitch™.6 The superordinate Katze ˜cat™ only has a uniquely
male hyponym, Kater ˜male cat™.7
If we compare lexical taxonomies in German with their counterparts in
English, differences are not dif¬cult to ¬nd. For example, English hang, lay, set,
and stand are all co-hyponyms of put. Although German has the corresponding
co-hyponyms h¨ ngen ˜to hang™, legen ˜to lay™, setzen ˜to set™, and stellen ˜to
stand™, there is no superordinate term corresponding to put. In German, one
must choose from among the different verbs used to express the notion ˜put™,
whereas in English it is perfectly acceptable to use the general term instead
of a more speci¬c one. Hawkins (1986:28“29) argues that German regularly
forces a semantic distinction where English uses a broader, undifferentiated
term. Some additional examples that support his claim are English know versus
German kennen, wissen, and k¨ nnen; leave versus lassen, verlassen, uberlassen,
Semantics 153

abreisen, abfahren, gehen; and stop versus aufh¨ ren, halten, stehenbleiben,
aufhalten, innehalten, anhalten, and unterlassen.
There are of course examples of lexical differences between German and
English where English has several terms that correspond to a single term in
German. For example, English slug and snail correspond to German Schnecke
(with or without a Geh¨ use ˜shell™). English has watch and clock, whereas
German simply has Uhr. If we look at these examples in terms of taxonomies,
we can say that English lacks a superordinate term for slug and snail as well as
one for watch and clock. Although German does have hyponyms for Schnecke
and Uhr, these are expressed differently than in English. In German, the terms
slug and snail are expressed with a phrase rather than with a simple word:
Schnecke ohne Geh¨ use ˜slug™, Schnecke mit Geh¨ use ˜snail™. Hyponyms for
a a
Uhr are typically expressed using compound nouns: Armbanduhr ˜watch™,
Wanduhr ˜wall clock™, Tischuhr ˜table clock™.

4.2.4 Meronymy
The term “meronymy” is used to refer to a part“whole relationship. For exam-
ple, Finger ˜¬nger™ is a meronym of Hand ˜hand™, since a ¬nger is a part of a
hand. T¨ rklinke ˜doorknob™ is a meronym of T¨ r ˜door™. Kinnst¨ tze ˜chinrest™,
u u u
Saitenhalter ˜tailpiece™, Steg ˜bridge™, and Schnecke ˜scroll™ are all meronyms
of Geige ˜violin™.
An interesting example of meronymy in German that has no exact counterpart
in English is the relationship between the meronyms Messer ˜knife™, Gabel
˜fork™, and L¨ ffel ˜spoon™ and the term that refers to them collectively, Besteck
˜eating implements for one person™. Although the term cutlery in English might
appear to correspond to Besteck, it is quite different. As Cruse (1986:97) points
out, cutlery is a mass noun that refers to eating implements in general. Cruse
characterizes cutlery as a “quasi-superordinate” of the “quasi-hyponyms” knife,
fork, and spoon. That is, the relationship is one of hyponymy, not meronymy.
Besteck, on the other hand, is a count noun. It is made up of a Messer, Gabel,
and L¨ ffel, and each of these can be said to be a part of a Besteck (Durrell

4.3 Tense and aspect
Tense is a morphosyntactic category used in the description of verbs that allows
speakers to locate an event or situation in time. Aspect is a category that allows
speakers to express the internal temporal contour of an event or situation in
various ways. The perfective aspect views an event or situation as a whole;
the imperfective aspect, on the other hand, views the internal structure of an
154 German

event or situation. There are various types of imperfective aspects: habitual,
progressive, etc.9
In sections 4.3.1 through 4.3.4, we will look at the semantics of the different
tenses in German (present, past, present perfect, etc.). It is important to note
that terms like “present tense” and “past tense,” when applied to verbs in
German, refer to different forms of the verb. As we will see, these forms can
express more than just tense. For example, they also express notions that can
be categorized as aspect. In section 4.3.5, we will consider one aspect, the
progressive, and consider the explicit ways in which progressive meaning is
expressed in German.

4.3.1 The present tense
The basic meaning of the present tense in German is ˜non-past™ (Vater 1994:62).
The present is thus used to express events that occur (or situations that obtain)
at the moment of speaking, those that take place after the moment of speaking
(future events), habitual events, and timeless “truths.”

(10) a. Meine Freundin sitzt gerade auf dem Sitz neben mir.
˜My girlfriend is sitting right now on the seat next to me.™
b. Ich fahre morgen nach Berlin.
˜I™m going to Berlin tomorrow.™
c. Sie kauft t¨ glich ein.
˜She shops daily.™
d. Vier minus zwei ist zwei.
˜Four minus two is two.™

In German, the present tense must be used to express an event that is hap-
pening at the moment of speaking “ even if the event began in the past.
This explains why the present in German can correspond to the perfect in

(11) a. Stef¬ und Peter wohnen seit zwei Jahren in ihrem neuen Heim.
Stef¬ and Peter live since two years in their new home
b. Stef¬ and Peter have lived in their new home for two years.

In the German example, the present is used because Stef¬ and Peter are still
living in their new home. The prepositional phrase seit zwei Jahren ˜for two
years™ indicates that they began to live there two years ago.10
The use of the present to depict purely past events, the “historic present,” is
a stylistic device that has the effect of making the past event more alive and
immediate. It is used in narrative ¬ction and newspaper headlines, and is often
found in colloquial speech (Durrell 2002:295).
Semantics 155

(12) a. Die Stille ringsum war groß. Und aus einem kleinen Tor, das . . . sich
pl¨ tzlich aufgetan hatte, bricht “ ich w¨ hle hier die Gegenwartsform,
o a
weil das Ereignis mir so sehr gegenw¨ rtig ist “ etwas Elementares
hervor, rennend, der Stier. (attested; Vater 1994:65)
˜The silence all around was huge. And out of a small gate that had
suddenly opened bursts out “ I choose here the present because the
event is so present to me “ something elemental, running, the bull.™
b. Radfahrer bedroht Frau
˜Bicyclist threatens woman™
c. Gestern gehe ich wie immer an den Briefkasten und . . .
˜Yesterday I go like always to the mailbox and . . .™

As Vater notes (1994:65), the present is not required in these situations. It is
clear from the context that a past event is being described. The present can
therefore be used to bring the past event alive for the reader/listener.
The present in German can be translated in various ways into English, as the
following example demonstrates.
(13) Sie l¨ uft nach Hause.
a. ˜She runs home.™
b. ˜She is running home.™
The present tense in (13a) has two interpretations, both of which are potential
interpretations of the sentence in German. It can describe a one-time event
(˜She runs home, opens the door, and . . . ™) or it can describe a habitual action
(˜She runs home every day after work™). The German sentence can also have
progressive meaning, as in (13b). Context can help to distinguish between these
different readings of the German present; the addition of adverbial phrases can
also help.
(14) a. Sie l¨ uft nach Hause, offnet die T¨ r . . .
a u
˜She runs home, opens the door . . .™
b. Sie l¨ uft jeden Tag nach Hause.
˜She runs home every day.™
c. Sie l¨ uft eben nach Hause.
˜She™s running home.™
As these examples demonstrate, present tense verb forms in German can convey
aspectual information as well as tense.

4.3.2 The past and the present perfect
Both the past and the present perfect are used in German to describe past
156 German

(15) a. Er wohnte in Berlin.
˜He lived in Berlin.™
b. Er hat in Berlin gewohnt.
˜He lived/has lived in Berlin.™

An essential difference between the two is their relationship to the moment of
speaking. The past typically does not have a close relationship to the present;
the present perfect does. This difference can be made explicit by distinguishing
among three different times: event time (E), speech time (S), and reference
time (R). Event time is the time at which an event (situation) that is being
described takes place; speech time is the time of an utterance; and reference
time is the time “from which an event is seen” (Reichenbach 1947:289). Using
the notions of event time, speech time, and reference time, Vater (1994:69; see
also Erich and Vater 1989) characterizes the past as specifying that event time
and reference time are simultaneous (E,R) and that reference time precedes
speech time (R < S). The present perfect, on the other hand, speci¬es that
event time precedes reference time (E < R) and that speech time and reference
time are simultaneous (S,R). The major difference between the two tenses is
the location of reference time. With the past, it is simultaneous with event time
(which is prior to speech time); with the present perfect, it is simultaneous with
speech time. The following diagrams illustrate this difference concretely.12
(16) a. past
E ,R S

| |
b. present perfect

| |
This characterization of the past and present perfect explains the difference
in acceptability between the past and the present perfect in the following
(17) Ist dein Onkel zu Hause? ˜Is your uncle at home?™
a. ? “ Nein, leider nicht, er fuhr nach Mainz.
˜No, unfortunately not; he went to Mainz.™
b. “ Nein, leider nicht, er ist nach Mainz gefahren.
˜No, unfortunately not; he™s gone to Mainz.™
In this example, reference time is simultaneous with speech time; the question
is whether the addressee™s uncle is home at the time the question is posed. An
answer to this question that uses the past is odd because the reference time
Semantics 157

for the past is prior to speech time. An answer in the present perfect, however,
is completely appropriate because the reference time for the present perfect is
identical to speech time.
The past in German is appropriate for narration. It has the effect of transport-
ing the listener/reader to the scene of the past action. A passage from Frisch™s
Homo Faber demonstrates this.
(18) Ich erinnere mich genau an jene Zeit, Parteitag in N¨ rnberg, wir saßen
vor dem Radio, Verk¨ ndung der deutschen Rassengesetze. Im Grunde
war es Hanna, die damals nicht heiraten wollte; ich war bereit dazu.
(Frisch 1957:55)
˜I remember that time exactly, party congress in Nuremberg, we sat in
front of the radio, announcement of the German race laws. Basically
it was Hanna who didn™t want to get married then; I was ready to.™

In this passage, the narrator, using the present tense, says that he remembers a
particular time in the past. He then switches to the past tense to take the reader
back to that time.
The past is primarily used in written German, a medium that is typical for
narrative discourse. The present perfect, on the other hand, is characteristic
of the spoken language. Any past action that is relevant to the moment of
speaking will be conveyed in the present perfect, since the reference time for
the present perfect is located in the moment of speaking. Of course the past can
occur in speech, and the present perfect in the written language. An example of
the past in the spoken language can be found in a passage from D¨ rrenmatt™s
Der Richter und sein Henker (˜The judge and his hangman™). In this passage,
Inspector B¨ rlach relates the last pieces of the puzzle as he explains to the
murderer exactly how the murder was carried out (D¨ rrenmatt 1952:140).
(19) “Das weitere ist einfach: du fuhrst uber Ligerz nach Schernelz und
ließest den Wagen im Twannbachwald stehen . . . Bei den Felsen
wartetest du Schmied ab, er erkannte dich und stoppte verwundert.
Er offnete die T¨ re, und dann hast du ihn get¨ tet. Du hast es mir ja
u o
selbst erz¨ hlt.”
˜The rest is simple: you drove via Ligerz to Schernelz and left the
car in the forest near Twann . . . You waited for Schmied at the
cliffs, he recognized you and stopped, surprised. He opened the
door, and then you killed him. You™ve told me so yourself.™
B¨ rlach introduces the narrative by using the present tense, “The rest is simple.”
He then tells the story using the past (fuhrst ˜drove™, ließest ˜left™, etc.) until the
moment before the murder was committed. At this point B¨ rlach switches to
the present perfect and says, “and then you killed him” (und dann hast du ihn
get¨ tet). When B¨ rlach switches to the present perfect, he ends the narrative and
o a
158 German

brings the conversation back to the present. By switching to the present perfect,
B¨ rlach looks back at what happened from the perspective of the present. He
and the murderer are no longer reliving the events of the past.
Although there are similarities between the past and present perfect in
German and the past and present perfect in English, they are by no means
identical. Compare the tenses used in the following two English sentences with
the tenses used in their German equivalents.

(20) a. Anna went to France twice.
Anna ist zweimal nach Frankreich gefahren.
b. Anna has been to France twice.
Anna ist schon zweimal nach Frankreich gefahren.

In the English sentence in (20a), the use of the past tense conveys that Anna
will not go to France again; it describes a closed-ended situation. The present
perfect in the English sentence in (20b) leaves open the possibility that Anna
will go to France again sometime; it describes an open-ended situation. The
present perfect is used in both of the German sentences, since they are expressed
from the perspective of the present. The speaker looks back from the moment
of speaking over the past and determines how many times a particular event has
occurred. The closed-ended versus open-ended meanings conveyed by the past
and present perfect in English are conveyed in German not by a difference in
tense, but by simple adverbial phrases (zweimal ˜twice™, nie ˜never™) versus ones
that contain schon or noch (schon zweimal ˜already twice™, noch nie ˜never yet™).
The generalizations related here concerning the past versus the present per-
fect in German apply to the standard language. In spoken colloquial German,
the present perfect is gaining ground over the past. This development is the
most pronounced in southern German dialects, where the present perfect serves
essentially as the single tense with which to convey past events. Past forms are
still used (by some speakers) only with sein ˜to be™, the modal verbs, and some
high-frequency main verbs (Dudenredaktion 2005:520).

4.3.3 The future tenses
Vater (1975, 1994) argues that German does not have a future tense. Accord-
ing to Vater, the temporal meaning of so-called “future” forms (werden +
in¬nitive/perfect in¬nitive) is only secondary.14

(21) a. Er wird nicht heiraten. (future)
˜He will not marry.™
b. Jemand wird ihn gesehen haben. (future perfect)
˜Someone will have seen him.™
Semantics 159

Semantically, werden behaves like a modal verb. Like other modals (k¨ nnen o
˜to be able to™, m¨ ssen ˜to have to™, etc.), werden has both inferential and non-
inferential meaning. In its inferential use (indicating that what is said is based
on inference), werden expresses a degree of probability that lies between the
degree expressed by m¨ ssen (strong) and k¨ nnen (weak).15
u o
(22) a. Peter muss zuhause sein. (Peter is de¬nitely at home.)
b. Peter wird zuhause sein. (Peter is probably at home.)
c. Peter kann zuhause sein. (Peter is possibly at home.)
In its non-inferential use, werden expresses an intention of the subject or an
expectation of the speaker (Vater 1994:74).
(23) a. “Ich werde alles veranlassen”, sagte der Intendant. (attested; Vater
˜“I will initiate everything,” the manager said.™
b. Paul wird tun, was ich gesagt habe. (Vater 1975:124)
˜Paul will do what I said.™
According to Vater, it has a purely temporal future meaning in this use, a
meaning that can also be found with other modal verbs:
(24) a. Es will regnen.
it wants to-rain
˜It will rain.™
b. Der Tunnel soll 1993 fertig sein.
the tunnel should 1993 ¬nished be
˜The tunnel is to be ¬nished in 1993.™
A strong argument for treating the meaning of werden as primarily modal
rather than temporal comes from its inability to change the temporal meaning of
the main verb with which it occurs (Vater 1994:74). In the following examples,
the addition of werden in the (b)-sentences does not change the present, past,
or future reference of the (a)-sentences.
(25) a. Es ist zehn Uhr. ˜It™s ten o™clock.™
b. Es wird zehn Uhr sein. ˜It™ll be ten o™clock.™
(26) a. Paul hat das Buch gelesen. ˜Paul has read the book.™
b. Paul wird das Buch gelesen haben. ˜Paul will have read the book.™
(27) a. Paul hat das Buch (bis) morgen gelesen.
˜Paul will have read the book by tomorrow.™
b. Paul wird das Buch (bis) morden gelesen haben.
˜Paul will have read the book by tomorrow.™
The factor that remains constant in these pairs of sentences is the time reference;
the factor that changes is the addition of modality with the addition of werden.
160 German

Vater (1994:74“75) argues that the strongest evidence against treating the
werden construction as one that expresses the future comes from the obser-
vation that a modality-free future can only be expressed with the present
(28) a. Morgen ist Dienstag. ˜Tomorrow is Tuesday.™
b. Morgen wird Dienstag sein.
tomorrow will Tuesday be
According to Vater, (28b) is possible only with a modal interpretation: ˜Tomor-
row is probably Tuesday.™

4.3.4 The past perfect
The past perfect in German locates a past event prior to another point in time
in the past.16 That is, the past perfect speci¬es that event time is prior to
reference time (E < R) which is prior to speech time (R < S). In the follow-
ing example, reference time is the point at which Hanna arrived at the train
(29) Kurz nachdem der Zug abgefahren war, kam Hanna am Bahnhof an.
˜Shortly after the train had left, Hanna arrived at the train station.™
Notice that the past is used to express the event that coincides with reference
time. The past perfect has a close relationship to the past, a relationship that
mirrors the relationship between the present perfect and the present. As Schip-
poreit and Strothmann argue (1970:29), there are two parallel sets of tenses in
German: the past perfect and the past, the set used in storytelling (die erz¨ hlte
Welt ˜the world of narration™); and the present perfect and the present, the set
used in conversation (die besprochene Welt ˜the world of conversation™).18 The
sentence in (29) contains the set for narration; the following sentence contains
the set used in conversation.
(30) Kurz nachdem der Zug abgefahren ist, kommt der Schaffner und
kontrolliert die Fahrscheine.
˜Shortly after the train has left, the conductor comes and checks the
There is an additional past perfect tense, the double past perfect (formed with
the past perfect of the auxiliary together with the participle of the main verb),
which is used to describe an event in the past that happened before an event that
one would describe using the past perfect. The following example, with past,
past perfect, and double past perfect forms, illustrates the relationship between
the tenses.
Semantics 161

(31) . . . aber als sie ankamen, war der Platz leer. Old Firehand
untersuchte ihn genau. Es waren inzwischen neue Scharen von
Tramps angekommen gewesen; die Fl¨ chtigen hatten sich mit diesen
vereinigt und waren dann ohne Verweilen in n¨ rdlicher Richtung
davongeritten (attested; Litvinov and Radˇ enko 1998:203)
˜ . . . but when they arrived, the place was empty. Old Firehand
checked it out thoroughly. New hordes of tramps had arrived in the
meantime; the transients had banded together with them and had then
ridden away, without lingering, in a northerly direction™

In this example, the arrival of the new hordes of tramps is expressed using the
double past perfect (waren . . . angekommen gewesen) because it precedes the
event of the transients banding together with them and riding away, which is
conveyed using the past perfect (hatten . . . vereinigt; waren . . . davongeritten).
These events are in the past perfect since they precede the point in time when
the place was empty, expressed with a past tense form (war).
Those southern German speakers who do not have past forms in their speech
also do not have past perfect forms, since the past perfect is made up of the
past tense form of haben ˜to have™ or sein ˜to be™ and the past participle of the
main verb. In order to express a past event that precedes another past event,
these speakers use the double present perfect (formed with the present perfect
of the auxiliary together with the participle of the main verb).
(32) Und wie sie mich gefunden haben, bin ich angefroren gewesen.
(attested; Litvinov and Radˇ enko 1998:203)
˜And when they found me, I had started to freeze.™
Although the double present perfect is not considered “correct” in written
Standard German (Dudenredaktion 2005:521), it can be found in the spoken
language and in written texts that have a spoken character.19

4.3.5 Progressive meaning
The German past, like the present (see section 4.3.1), can have progressive as
well as non-progressive meaning.
(33) Ich las das Buch.
a. ˜I read the book.™
b. ˜I was reading the book.™
Although there is no progressive in German that corresponds to the progressive
in English, there are a number of ways to make progressive meaning explicit
in German. For example, the progressive reading of (33) can be made explicit
by saying im Buch ˜in the book™ instead of das Buch ˜the book™.
162 German

(34) Ich las im Buch. ˜I was reading the book.™

Other examples of this strategy of using a noun in a prepositional phrase are
the following (Durrell 2002:305):

(35) a. Meine Mutter ist an der Arbeit. ˜My mother is working.™
b. Ich strickte an einem Pulli. ˜I was knitting a pullover.™

Another strategy is to use adverbs like eben ˜just™ or gerade ˜just™ (Durrell

(36) a. Du liest eben den Anfang. ˜You™re reading the beginning.™
b. Er schl¨ ft gerade hier im Wohnzimmer in seinem Laufgitter.
˜He™s sleeping here in the living room in his playpen.™

In addition to these two strategies, there are two constructions that can be
used to make progressive meaning explicit. The ¬rst progressive construction
is am/beim/im + nominalized in¬nitive + sein.

(37) a. W¨ hrend die Piraten noch auf einer Insel am Feiern sind, l¨ uft die
a a
“Neptun” mit den alten und neuen Herren wieder aus mit Kurs auf
Spanien. (attested; Zifonun et al. 1997:1877)
˜While the pirates are still celebrating on an island, the Neptune goes
out again with the old and new gentlemen, heading for Spain.™
b. Auch Familie Schwarz ist beim Aufr¨ umen. (attested; Krause
˜The Schwarz family is also tidying up.™
c. Einfache Arbeiten im gewerblichen Sektor sind im Schwinden.
(attested; Krause 2002:118)
˜Simple jobs in the industrial sector are dwindling.™

This progressive construction is more common in the spoken language than in
the written standard (Dudenredaktion 2005:434). Forms with beim and im are
less common than those with am (Krause 2002:88).
The second progressive construction is dabei sein + in¬nitival clause.
According to Krause (2002:88), this construction is roughly as common as
the progressive formed with am + sein. Literally, the dabei sein construction
means ˜to be in the process of doing something™.

(38) Eint¨ pfe mit viel Geschmack und wenig Fett sind auch denjenigen zu
empfehlen, die gerade dabei sind, uber¬‚¨ ssige Pfunde loszuwerden.
(attested; Krause 2002:131)
˜Stews with a lot of ¬‚avor and little fat can be recommended to those
who are getting rid of spare pounds.™
Semantics 163

Not all examples of dabei sein + in¬nitival clause, however, have progressive
meaning, as the following example demonstrates.
(39) Der Kurzstreckenl¨ ufer ist gerade dabei, das Ziel zu erreichen.
˜The sprinter is about to reach the ¬nish line.™
In this example, dabei sein means ˜to be about to™ rather than ˜to be in the
process of™. The interpretation of dabei sein is dependent on the meaning of
the in¬nitive. If the verb is punctual, as in (39), dabei sein is interpreted as
meaning ˜to be about to™. If the verb depicts an action that is punctual but can
be iterated, dabei sein can have progressive meaning:
(40) Sie seien dabei gewesen, Wild zu fotogra¬eren. (attested; Krause
˜They were apparently taking pictures of game animals.™
In general, verbs that depict non-iterative punctual actions (e.g., jemanden
erkennen ˜to recognize someone™, etwas ¬nden ˜to ¬nd something™) are not
compatible with the progressive. These verbs are known as “achievements” in
Vendler™s (1967) classi¬cation of verbs. States (e.g., wissen ˜to know™, ahneln
˜to resemble™) are also incompatible with the progressive. The progressive has
internal temporal structure (Comrie 1976:24), whereas achievements and states
do not. Achievements are instantaneous; they lack duration. Although states
have duration, they are stable situations that lack internal structure (Smith
1997:32). The following sentences demonstrate the incompatibility of states
with the progressive in German:20

(41) a. Er ist am Amerikanersein. ˜He is being an American.™

b. Er ist dabei, einen BMW zu besitzen. ˜He is owning a BMW.™
The following attested example with sterben ˜to die™, which is typically classi-
¬ed as an achievement, might appear to be a counterexample to the incompat-
ibility of achievements and the progressive:
(42) Die n¨ chste Patientin Nadolnys ist dabei zu sterben. (attested;
Krause 2002:200)
˜Nadolny™s next patient is dying.™
However, as Krause points out (2002:199), this use of sterben focuses on the
process that leads to death, not the actual moment of death itself. A verb that
describes a process that has an end point (an “accomplishment” in Vendler™s
typology) is perfectly acceptable in the progressive.
(43) Ein Fernsehteam des NDR war gerade dabeigewesen, . . . eine
Reportage . . . zu drehen, als . . . (attested; Krause 2002:103)
˜A television team of the NDR had been ¬lming a reportage when . . .™
For further discussion of progressive constructions in German see, for example,
Zifonun et al. 1997:1877“1880 and Krause 2002.
164 German

4.4 Modality and evidentiality
Modality refers to the various means by which speakers express different
attitudes towards or degrees of commitment to a proposition (Saeed 2003:135“
136).21 For example, a speaker can use an adverb or a modal verb, as shown in
(45), to express a high degree of certainty in the truth of the proposition in (44).
(44) J¨ rgen ist krank. ˜J¨ rgen is sick.™
u u
(45) a. J¨ rgen ist bestimmt krank. ˜J¨ rgen is de¬nitely sick.™
u u
b. J¨ rgen muss krank sein. ˜J¨ rgen must be sick.™
u u
In this discussion of modality in German, we will focus on the types of modality
expressed by the modal verbs. There are many terms in the literature for
different types of modality. We will distinguish here between two major types
of modality, epistemic and root. We will also look at the evidential use of
modals in German, since this is related to the epistemic use. As we will see,
the modals in German have a range of meanings. In general, they can be used
to express root modality as well as either epistemic modality or evidentiality.

4.4.1 Epistemic modality
Epistemic modality involves the speaker™s assumptions or assessment of pos-
sibilities and indicates the speaker™s degree of con¬dence in the truth of the
proposition expressed (Coates 1983:18). In uttering the sentence in (45b), for
example, the speaker uses the modal m¨ ssen ˜to have to™ to conclude, on the
basis of available evidence, that the proposition J¨ rgen ist krank ˜J¨ rgen is
u u
sick™ is extremely likely to be true. The verbs d¨ rfen, k¨ nnen, m¨ gen, m¨ ssen,
u o o u
and werden can all be used to express epistemic meaning. They differ in the
degree of certainty they express in the likelihood that a proposition is true. They
are arranged here from strongest to weakest (Buscha et al. 1993:21; Durrell
(46) a. Das muss ein Tippfehler sein.
˜That has to be a typo.™
b. Das d¨ rfte ein Tippfehler sein.
˜That™s probably a typo.™
c. Das wird wohl ein Tippfehler sein.
˜That™s probably a typo.™
d. Das mag ein Tippfehler sein.
˜That™s possibly a typo.™
e. Das kann ein Tippfehler sein.
˜That may be a typo.™
f. Das k¨ nnte ein Tippfehler sein.
˜That might be a typo.™
Semantics 165

When the modal k¨ nnen is used in its Subjunctive II form, as in (46f), it
expresses a weaker degree of certainty than when it occurs in its indicative
form, as in (46e).
When modals are used epistemically, they are subject to various restrictions.
The in¬nitives they occur with are also subject to restrictions. The modal d¨ rfen,
for example, must occur in a Subjunctive II form in order to be interpreted
epistemically. The following sentence, with the indicative form darf, can only
have a non-epistemic interpretation.

(47) Er darf zu Hause sein.
˜He™s allowed to be at home.™

˜He™s probably at home.™

Epistemic modals typically occur in the present or past indicative. The most
common tense for epistemic modals is the present, but the past is used when
necessitated by narration.

(48) Hinter ihnen stand Elisabeth, und der Herr neben ihr mußte, wenn
nicht alles t¨ uschte, Professor Mertens sein, der Chirurg, Annas
˜Elisabeth was standing behind them and it seemed that the
gentleman next to her had to be Professor Mertens, the surgeon,
Anna™s husband.™ (attested; Laetz 1969:5)

In this example, the past form musste is used in keeping with the narrative
mode (the verbs stand and t¨ uschte are past forms).
Epistemic modals can appear in the Subjunctive I.

(49) Er entsann sich der Stellung, in welcher der Wagen auf der
Landstraße gestanden hatte, und schloß daraus, daß die Fahrt in
ostlicher Richtung . . . gehen m¨ sse. (attested; Laetz 1969:79)
˜He recalled the position in which the wagon had stood on the country
road and concluded that the direction of travel must be eastwards.™

Subjunctive I forms, however (m¨ sse in the example here), are used to indicate
indirect speech. Subjunctive I plays no role in the interpretation of the modal. In
short, epistemic modals occur in the present indicative, unless the conventions
of narration or indirect speech require the past or Subjunctive I.23
In general, the in¬nitive that appears with an epistemic modal is stative (it
expresses a state or condition). Fullerton (1977) claims that German modals do
not naturally have an epistemic reading unless the in¬nitive is stative. Br¨ nner
and Redder (1983:60) claim that an epistemic reading is more likely with stative
verbs than with non-statives. Verbs that mean essentially ˜to be™ are typically
found with epistemic modals, for example, herrschen ˜to prevail™, liegen ˜to be
166 German

situated™, sein ˜to be™, and vorliegen ˜to be™. The following sentences provide
examples of epistemic modals with in¬nitives that have a variety of stative

(50) a. Ziemlich abgegriffen ist das Blatt. Folglich muß es zu einem oft
gelesenen Buch geh¨ ren. (attested; Welke 1965:74)
˜The page is rather well worn. It must therefore belong to a book
that was read often.™
b. Das muss eine Menge gekostet haben. ˜That must have cost a lot.™
c. Die Anh¨ he hatte eine leichte Senke, und hinter der Senke mußten
die Amerikaner liegen. (attested; Laetz 1969:75)
˜The hill had a slight valley, and the Americans had to be lying
behind the valley.™
d. Er muss es ja wissen. ˜He has to know.™

As the (b)-sentence above shows, perfect in¬nitives (gekostet haben ˜have
cost™) can occur with epistemic modals. Although the presence of a perfect
in¬nitive often signals epistemic meaning, root modals may also occur with
perfect in¬nitives.

4.4.2 Root modality
Root modality is essentially non-epistemic modality. Because modals can have
both root and epistemic meaning, as the following sentence demonstrates,
sentences with modals are potentially ambiguous.

(51) Er muss mindestens 1,80 m sein. (Heine 1995:21)
a. root: ˜(They are looking for a new goalkeeper;) he has to be at least
six feet tall.™
b. epistemic: ˜(On the basis of the available evidence I am led to
conclude that) he must be at least six feet tall.™

In general, the context of an utterance can help to disambiguate it. The context
can be extra-linguistic and involve facts that are known or observable. The
context can also be linguistic. As mentioned in the previous section, stative
predicates tend to favor epistemic modality. Verbs of action and telic verbs
(verbs with a clear end point, e.g., build a house, write a novel), on the other
hand, are associated primarily with root modality (Heine 1995:25).25 Tense can
also help to disambiguate. Whereas epistemic modality is essentially limited
to modals in the present and past, a root interpretation is possible with modals
regardless of tense. A modal in the perfect will thus have an unambiguous root
Semantics 167

(52) Auf einmal ist mir schlecht geworden, da habe ich schnell
hinausgehen mussen, dann bin ich gleich ins Bett gegangen.
(attested; Laetz 1969:46)
˜Suddenly it made me ill so I had to go outside quickly, then I went
to bed immediately.™

Root modality includes a number of different meanings. Some of the core
notions are obligation, permission, and ability.
(53) obligation
a. Fußg¨ nger mussen sich an Verkehrsregeln halten.
˜Pedestrians must observe traf¬c rules.™
b. Ich soll nicht so viel fernsehen. ˜I™m not supposed to watch so much TV.™
(54) permission
a. Sie durfen hier parken. ˜You can park here.™
b. Du kannst herein kommen. ˜You can come in.™
(55) ability
Du kannst gut schwimmen. ˜You can swim well.™
Root modality also includes a notion of possibility that is distinct from the
epistemic notion of possibility. Compare the epistemic use of k¨ nnen in (46e),
repeated here for convenience, and the root interpretation of k¨ nnen in (56).
(46) e. Das kann ein Tippfehler sein.
˜That may be a typo.™
(56) possibility
Wir k¨ nnen heute baden gehen, es ist warm genug. (Buscha et al.
˜We can go swimming today, it™s warm enough.™
Notice that the sentence in (56) contains an action verb (baden gehen ˜to go
swimming™), the type of verb found with root interpretations of modals, whereas
the epistemic use in (46e) contains the stative verb sein ˜to be™.
Another type of root modality is prediction.
(57) a. Das fehlende St¨ ck der Autobahn soll bald gebaut werden. ˜The
missing piece of highway is to be built soon.™
b. Morgen wird es bestimmt regnen. ˜Tomorrow it is de¬nitely going to
c. Er will es nicht zugeben. ˜He won™t admit it.™ (Durrell 2002:363)
Buscha et al. (1993:20), as well as Durrell (2002:363), while acknowledging a
“future” reading of wollen in sentences like (56c), also note a difference between
168 German

this use of wollen and the use of werden in the same sentence. According to
Buscha et al., for example, wollen, unlike werden, retains a weak sense of its
basic meaning (volition, intent).
The ¬nal type of root modality is volition.
(58) volition
a. Ich werde es heute Abend noch erledigen. ˜I am going to ¬nish it
tonight.™ (Durrell 2002:301)
b. Er will das Buch kaufen. ˜He intends to buy the book.™
c. Willst du mir helfen? “ Ja, ich will dir helfen.
˜Will you help me? “ Yes, I will help you.™ (Durrell 2002:363)
The ¬rst two examples here clearly express the idea of intent, which can be
subsumed under the notion of volition. The third example demonstrates another
sense of wollen, that of willingness, which can also be included under the notion
of volition. According to Durrell (2002:363), werden does not convey this sense
of willingness.

4.4.3 Evidentiality
Evidentiality is a semantic category that is similar to epistemic modality.
Whereas epistemic modality allows a speaker to indicate different attitudes
towards the truth of a given proposition, evidentiality allows a speaker to
indicate an attitude towards the source of the information in the proposition.
According to Palmer (1990:12), “both judgment [epistemic] and evidential sys-
tems present speakers with the means of indicating that they do not guarantee
the truth of their statements, so that, if the statements proved to be untrue, they
cannot be accused of lying.” In both English and German, a speaker can use a
separate clause or an adverbial expression to indicate the source of an assertion.
For example, some of the ways in which one can qualify the assertion She was
sick (Sie war krank) are the following.
(59) a. I heard that she was sick.
b. I™m told that she was sick.
c. She was supposedly sick.
(60) a. Man behauptet, sie sei krank gewesen. ˜They claim she was sick.™
b. Sie war angeblich krank. ˜She was supposedly sick.™
c. Sie war vermutlich krank. ˜She was presumably sick.™
In German, unlike English, modals can be used with evidential meaning. The
evidential use of modals, however, is limited to sollen and wollen. The modal
sollen allows a speaker to indicate that the source of the assertion is an entity
other than the speaker.
Semantics 169

(61) Sie soll krank gewesen sein. ˜She was supposedly sick™; ˜I hear that
she was sick™; etc.

The modal wollen indicates that the subject itself is the source of the assertion.

(62) Sie will krank gewesen sein. ˜She claims to have been sick.™

The evidential use of modals is sometimes treated as a type of epistemic
modality (Zifonun et al. 1997:1897; Dudenredaktion 2005:565, 567). However,
the evidential use of modals differs in several ways from the epistemic use. For
example, evidential modals are not limited to the present or past, like epistemic
modals; they can also occur in the present perfect.
(63) a. Er hat krank sein sollen.
˜They claimed that he was sick.™
b. man hat sp¨ ter wissen wollen, daß . . . (attested; Leirbukt 1988:178)
˜one later claimed to know that . . .™
This and additional evidence support an analysis that treats the evidential use
of modals as distinct from the epistemic use.26

4.5 Thematic roles
Thematic roles are the semantic roles that are played by the entities involved
in a situation or event.27 For example, in the sentence in (64), Gabi plays the
role of agent, P¨ ckchen is the theme, and Post is the goal.
(64) Gabi hat das P¨ ckchen zur Post gebracht.
˜Gabi (agent) has taken the package (theme) to the post of¬ce

An agent is de¬ned as the entity that initiates or carries out an action and is
capable of volition. A theme is the entity that is moved by an action or whose
location is described. A goal is the entity towards which a motion takes place.
In (64), the theme is a direct object. In (65), it is a subject.
(65) Gestern bin ich von Berlin nach M¨ chen ge¬‚ogen.
˜Yesterday I (theme) ¬‚ew from Berlin (source) to Munich (goal).
The sentence in (65) also contains a source, the entity from which a motion
takes place, as well as a goal.
Two additional thematic roles are illustrated in (66), instrument (the entity
with which an action is performed) and patient (the entity that undergoes an
action and often a change of state).
170 German

(66) Mit einem Messer hat der Junge seinen Onkel lebensgef¨ hrlich
˜The boy (agent) critically injured his uncle (patient) with a knife

The three ¬nal thematic roles that will be identi¬ed here are experiencer,
percept, and location. An experiencer feels or perceives something; a
percept is the entity that is felt or perceived.

(67) Mein Sohn hat ein Ger¨ usch geh¨ rt.
a o
˜My son (experiencer) heard a sound (percept).™

A location is the place where something is located or takes place.

(68) Er lag auf dem Sofa.
˜He (theme) lay on the sofa (location).™

Thematic roles are useful in discussing issues that range from the rela-
tionship between the active and the passive (see the discussion in 4.6) to the
identi¬cation of verb classes based on systematic linkings between thematic
roles and grammatical relations. For example, the so-called spray/load verbs
in English have the characteristic that they can map the theme or the goal
onto the grammatical function of direct object (Foley and Van Valin 1984:57;
Rappaport and Levin 1988:50“53).28

(69) a. Helen (agent) sprayed paint (theme) on the wall (goal).
b. Helen (agent) sprayed the wall (goal) with paint (theme).

The clear verbs can map the theme or the source onto the direct object.

(70) a. Mark (agent) cleared the dishes (theme) from the table (source).
b. Mark (agent) cleared the table (source) of dishes (theme).

In the remainder of this discussion of thematic roles, we will look brie¬‚y at the
ways in which German and English map thematic roles onto the grammatical
relation of subject.
Both German and English allow the thematic roles agent, experiencer,
theme, patient, and goal to be realized as subjects.

(71) a. Sie ohrfeigte ihn. ˜She (agent) slapped him.™
b. She slapped him.
(72) a. Sie sah den Zettel in meiner Hand. ˜She (experiencer) saw the
note in my hand.™
b. She saw the note in my hand.
Semantics 171

(73) a. Ein Apfel ¬el vom Baum. ˜An apple (theme) fell from the tree.™
b. An apple fell from the tree.
(74) a. Der Schnee zerschmilzt. ˜The snow (patient) is melting.™
b. The snow is melting.
(75) a. Ich bekam einen Strafzettel. ˜I (goal) got a ticket (penalty notice).™
b. I got a ticket.
experiencer subjects are the norm in English, whereas in German they are
often realized as accusative or dative NPs.
(76) a. I™m freezing.
b. I™m hot.
c. I really like the ¬lm.
(77) a. Mich friert.
me-acc. freezes ˜I™m freezing.™
b. Mir ist heiß.
me-dat. is hot ˜I™m hot.™
c. Mir gef¨ llt der Film sehr.
me-dat. pleases the ¬lm very ˜I really like the ¬lm.™
In addition, whereas English allows the roles instrument and location
to function as subjects, German typically does not (K¨ nig and Nickel

(78) a. Vor einigen Jahren kaufte ein Pfennig zwei bis drei Stecknadeln.
˜A few years ago a pfennig (instrument) would buy two or three
b. A few years ago a pfennig would buy two or three pins.
(79) a. — Dieses Zelt schl¨ ft vier. ˜This tent (location) sleeps four.™
b. This tent sleeps four.
In German, instrument and location are typically expressed as objects of
(80) a. Mit Geld kann man nicht alles kaufen. (K¨ nig and Nickel 1970:75)
with money (instrument) can one not everything buy
˜One can™t buy everything with money.™
b. In diesem Zelt k¨ nnen vier Personen schlafen. (K¨ nig and Nickel
o o
in this tent (location) can four people sleep
˜Four people can sleep in this tent.™
In general, subjects in German are semantically more restricted than those in
English. However, one of the restrictions noted in Rohdenburg 1974 (a study
172 German

based on a large corpus and large numbers of native speakers) and discussed
further in Hawkins 1986:56“61 may have since become more relaxed. For
example, the following sentences (from Hawkins 1986:58) suggest that whereas
hotel can function as the subject of English forbid, Hotel cannot function as the
subject of its German counterpart, verbieten ˜to forbid™.
(81) a. This hotel forbids dogs.

Dieses Hotel verbietet Hunde.
An on-line search, however, yields examples like the following:
(82) a. Hotel verbietet Kinder ˜Hotel forbids children™
(www.abendblatt.de [October 13, 2005])
b. Das Hotel verbietet Getr¨ nke von außerhalb.
˜The hotel forbids drinks from outside.™
(http://reisen.ciao.de [October 4, 2007])
In general, though, it is the case that “non-agentive roles are converted to
subjects signi¬cantly less frequently [in German] than they are in English,
and . . . English subjects correspond regularly to prepositional phrases (or
dative-marked NPs) in German” (Hawkins 1986:58).30

4.6 Voice
Voice is a grammatical category that allows a speaker to alter the pairing of the-
matic roles with grammatical functions. A transitive verb like besch¨ digen ˜to
damage™ in the active voice realizes the agent as a subject and the patient
as a direct object. In the passive voice, the patient is realized as the sub-
ject and the agent is either left unspeci¬ed or appears in a prepositional
(83) a. active voice


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