Tag Archives: umlaut

Were I to be abducted by grammar aliens

Each Friday in Dialog in Deutsch we discuss words that we’ve encountered that we failed to understand. This week one of the words was entfahren. I’d not heard this before, but I did know the word entführen and so wondered if they were related. Turning to PONS for help, I found this example: ihm ist ein Schimpfwort entfahren – “he let a swear word slip” or “a swear word escaped his lips” (the Spanish translation is se le ha escapado un taco and so now I know that el taco is a word with many different meanings!). So far, so good. Then I go to the entry for entführen – “to abduct” or “to kidnap” – and it also gives entfahren. Why? here’s my supposition with the help of the word form tables from Canoo. The simple indicative past of entfahren is entfuhren, but the past subjunctive form is entführen. Here is the way that one English grammar website describes the past subjunctive “The past subjunctive is used in subordinate clauses and refers to unreal or improbable present or future situations.” A German grammar site offers this pearl: ”[D]ie reale Welt sieht wirklich sehr trist aus. Die Wunschwelt im Konjunktiv II dagegen ist rosig.“ If a swear word were to escape her lips…it might because she was studying grammar in the none-too-rosy real world.

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What a Difference a G Makes

One of my fellow Dialog in Deutsch participants works as a live-in carer for an elderly woman with dementia. She is a Betreuerin. In a novel I was reading, one of the characters set up scams to get people, perhaps elderly and with dementia, to part with their money. She is a Betrügerin. While there is a vowel difference in the second syllable – /ˈtrɔy/ vs. /ˈtry:/ – this is rather subtle for the non-native ear, and thus that G becomes quite important to distinguish whether someone is being helpful or doing something harmful.

According to the Wortbildung analysis on canoo.net, betreuen is formed from the prefix be and the adjective treu – “faithful” or “true” – and betrügen is formed by adding be to the verb trügen – “to deceive” and gegenteil-von.com gives treu sein as the opposite of betrügen!

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