Sentence structure dass/um zu – random example

I don’t suppose someone could check if this phrase is correct:

– “Ich glaube, dass dem Gemälde versucht, zu zeigen, sie ein sehr schweren Leben zu haben.”

I’m trying to say something like:

– “I believe that the painting is trying to show they have really hard lives.”

I understand the idea of subclauses like:

Ich , dass (i.e., the second verb comes at the end of the dass clause). But I’m not so sure how to arbitrarily piece these together.

The ideas I struggle with are how to use dass / zu constructs in big sentences, with several subclauses. If what I wrote makes sense, yay, but it’s a bit accidental! If you could explain why it’s okay that’d be great :). Many thanks in advance!!!


(asked by Edd)

5 comments on “Sentence structure dass/um zu – random example

  1. Ok so… let’s first do the raw correct version and then change it into nice written style:

    – Ich denke, dass das Bild (is subject here and a neuter – hence das) versucht zu zeigen (or “zu zeigen versucht”), dass sie wirklich ein schweres Leben (Leben is used in singular in those situations) haben.

    So… we have 4 actions:

    – thinking, trying, showing and having.

    Each action will get its own sentence, be it major or minor/dependent. Showing is closely connected to trying using a zu-construct. If we extend that part with additional info, the minor sentence will become more visible.

    – …., dass das Bild versucht, den Besuchern der Austellung zu zeigen, dass…

    The having-part is not connected using a zu-construct because the subject changes (picture is trying, they are having).

    Now … this sentence is correct but it doesn’t sound very nice. Why not? Because we have double-das(s) followed by another dass-clause. Also, pictures aren’t really actively doing things. In German people would probably phrase it in a way that makes it clear also in speech that the painters/fotographers of the picture are trying that…. how would this be done? Using a passive. Let’s do that first:

    – Ich glaube, dass mit dem Bild versucht wird zu zeigen, dass sie ein schweres Leben haben.

    An alternative with less verbs would be this:

    – Ich glaube, dass das Bild zeigen/verdeutlichen soll, dass sie….

    Now there is still the triple das(s) issue. We can tackle this using the possibility to connect 2 main sentences. This works if the first one is rather short… people do it mostly with ich denke/ich glaube…

    – Ich glaube, das Bild soll zeigen, dass….

    Now, the first “das” is confusing here when you hear it as your grammar radar thinks it is a “dass” and expects a minor sentence with verb final. When you hear “bild” you will have to reevaluate the whole structure … so let’s use the passive option:

    – Ich denke, mit dem Bild wird versucht zu zeigen, dass….

    My personal favorite would be this:

    – Ich denke, mit dem Bild soll versucht werden zu zeigen, was für ein schweres Leben sie haben.

    Using the combination of soll and passive reflects the intention-idea better than the mere statement that it is done . Might seem redundant but to me it is the best phrasing based on flow, rhythm and nuances.
    Hope that helps :)
    Please feel free to ask more stuff like this… I love explaining structural things.

  2. briguy says:

    Ok, du hast schon darum gebittet, ich dir mehr davon zu fragen. deswegen das mache ich jetzt:). Was ist der Regel fuer “Spiegelsaetze” und zu-Satzteilen.
    “Ich glaube, dass mit dem Bild versucht wird zu zeigen…”
    Koente man auch sagen: “Ich glaube, dass mit dem Bild versucht zu zeigen werden”

    oder dieser Satz: Er hat auf den Baum zu klettern versucht.
    Es scheint mir, dass gar niemand schreibt 2 Verben nach dem wort “zu”. Gibt das ein Regel, oder ist die erste Beispiel nur die bevorzugte Art, der Satz zu schreiben.
    (Falls du mich nicht verstehen konnte, kann ich diese Frage in Deutsch wiederschreiben)

    • ok so to really understand this you need to think of the whole zu-clause as a box of information answering to the question: what?.

      – I am trying… what? … to sleep/ to call my boss/ to ride my nice bike which I bought 3 years ago with no hands

      No matter how long and detailed the stuff in the zu-construct is… from the perspective of the main sentence it is just the what-box and that’s all that matters. Sure … sometimes you cannot stick a noun into the what box but just a verb but that doesn’t matter… a what-box is a what-box.
      And that gives us the answer to where we can place this box… anywhere a what box could be and also after the main clause has finished since the zu-construct has a verb in it.

      – Ich glaube, mit dem Bild wird versucht, zu zeigen,…. (behind main clause… most common in spoken since it takes the least amount of brain power to produce and comprehend)

      – Ich glaube, mit dem Bild wird, zu zeigen, versucht ….

      The structure here is this: Intro main sentence, pos 1 main sentence (mit dem Bild) pos 2 verb (wird) pos 3 what box (zu zeigen) – you can replace that with “etwas” and still have a grammatical sentence pos 4 leftover of main verb (versucht)
      This phrasing is not uncommon and you can find it in newspapers speeches, pontificating people’s language, vivid discussions and old writing. It will work so long as the zu-construct is rather short. The longer it gets the harder it’ll be to keep the tension for the leftover verb.

      – Ich glaube, zu zeigen wird mit dem Bild versucht,….

      Now here I put the what-box in position 1 of the main sentence… why not… the verb is in pos 2 as it should be (wird) so all is well. This phrasing is rather uncommon though and it adds a pintless emphasis to “zu zeigen” that implies “zu zeigen as opposed to sth. else”. But grammatically it is fine.
      Those are the possibilities. Now let’s take your example where we don’t have a main but a minor sentence to deal with… again all the possibilities:

      – Ich glaube, dass mit dem Bild versucht wird, zu zeigen,… (after clause is completed… possible because zu-constuct has verb in it)

      – Ich glaube, dass mit dem Bild zu zeigen versucht wird,…. again, this is well and in use…

      – Ich glaube, dass zu zeigen mit dem Bild versucht wird…. this is on the edge of wrong, don’t know why… could work in a poem maybe

      Now finally here’s what you wrote:

      – Ich glaubem dass mit dem Bild versucht zu zeigen wird,….

      This is not correct because no object box can ever be placed there (“etwas” won’t work there either). Addind dass to the main clause made the wird move to the end right behind what has been there before… and that was versucht. Sure… “zu zeigen” may have come right after “versucht”, but this is to be seen as a side sentence of it’s own separated by a comma. The end of the picture sentence is versucht and with dass in the beginning it is “wird”. So it is almost impossible (in any sentence-configuration) to have the zu-construction in between those verbs.
      Bottom line… think of a zu-construct as a regular what-box (direct object) that can contain “something”. Whereever this can go, the zu-construct can technically go, as weel. In addition the zu-construct can come after the other clause finished, because the zu-construct has a verb in it and can be seen as a regular minor sentence. This is also the most common phrasing.
      By the way, this system hold for any minor sentence… so you can deal with dass/obwohl/weil and so on sentences accordingly… think of them as a box answering to the respective question. The sentence can be placed whereever a suitable one word answer could be placed. Hope that helps:)

  3. briguy says:

    Ich musste das etwa neunmal lesen, weil es sehr kompliziert war. Neben kompliziert, war es auch ganz toll und helfreich! Es wurde langsam klarer jedermal dass ich es gelesen habe. Dieses Blog folge ich seit sehr langher. Mach weiter so!

    • Oh wei, 9 mal :)… ja, das ist bestimmt nicht einfach. Es wäre vielleicht klarer, wenn ich Farben und so nehmen würde und mehr Beispiele geben würde, wie in dem anderen Blog aber das würde zu lange dauern. Aber irgendwann wirst du es auch alles logisch finden. Du musst dur echt anfangen in Boxen zu denken.

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