Er möchte das nicht als Lehrer / als Lehrer nicht sagen (position "nicht")

thtoan79

Senior Member
Vietnamese
Hello dears,

I have a book, written in my language, named 'Deutche Sätze', and there are some words of the author making me confused because he seem to contradict himself.

At first, he said:

1, 'Er möchte das nicht als Lehrer sagen' means 'Not as a doctor, he wants to say this'

2, 'Er möchte das als Lehrer nicht sagen' means 'As a doctor, he doesn't want to say this'

Then, he said:

3, 'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen' means 'As a doctor, I don't want to say this'

4, 'Ich möchte das als kein Arzt sagen' means 'Being not a doctor, I want to say this'

Sentences 1 and 3 have been translated into 2 too far different meanings although they have the same structure. I'm at a loss now. My first language is not English so please excuse me if I have made some mistake in my effort to translate them from my Vietnamese into English (I'm not sure).

Thank you in advance.
 
  • Akira181

    Member
    English
    I'm still learning German myself but as far as I understand it, the position of "nicht" is flexible in a sentence.

    I believe 1, 2 and 3 have similar meanings. (Lehrer means teacher by the way :))

    1 - 'Er möchte das nicht als Lehrer sagen' = "He does not want to say that as a teacher"

    2 - 'Er möchte das als Lehrer nicht sagen' = "He does not want to say that as a teacher"

    3 - 'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen' = "I do not want to say that as a doctor"

    4 - 'Ich möchte das als kein Arzt sagen' = Not really sure on this one but I think it means "I want to say that not as a doctor"
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Your feeling is correct! The translation of sentence 1 is plain wrong.

    Both, 1 and 2, translate into "As a teacher, he doesn't want to say that". The changed position of the negation 'nicht' does not change the meaning.

    Sentence 1 is probably supposed to be phrased as "Er möchte das als Nicht-Lehrer sagen" (= in a less literal but more idiomatic English: "Without being a teacher, he wants to say this")

    Sentence 4 is not idiomatic and simply bad German (even though, it is not grammatically wrong). I'd prefer 'Ich möchte das als Nicht-Arzt sagen'.

    4 - 'Ich möchte das als kein Arzt sagen' = Not really sure on this one but I think it means "I want to say that not as a doctor"
    Nah...the German version still doesn't work well...

    "I want to say that not as a doctor (but as a friend)" = "Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt, sondern als Freund, sagen"
     

    thtoan79

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    He also has two other example for this:

    'Er liebt sie nicht' means 'He doesn't love her'

    'Er liebt nicht sie' means 'He doesn't this girl (but another one)'

    Are they wrong too?
     

    Akira181

    Member
    English
    I would be inclined to say your translations are correct but then I understand why you are confused.

    I think Manfy would have to explain this one
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    'Er liebt sie nicht' means 'He doesn't love her'

    'Er liebt nicht sie' means 'He doesn't love this girl (but another one)'

    Are they wrong too?
    No, these sentences are correct.

    Since your textbook is written in Vietnamese, maybe the author was trying to make a close correlation between Vietnamese and German word positioning and maybe that is the reason why he chose somewhat odd example sentences. Since I don't know Vietnamese grammar, I can't be certain, but I've seen such tendency in other textbooks before.

    Generally speaking, in German the negation 'nicht' is positioned in front of the negated word or group of words. The notable exception is, it is always positioned after the finite verb.
    Ich nicht liebe sie. :cross:
    Ich liebe nicht sie. :tick: 'nicht' is negating 'sie'
    Ich liebe sie nicht. :tick: 'nicht' is negating the whole sentence 'ich liebe sie'

    That's a simplified explanation, but it's a start. :) Negation is a long and often complex topic in many languages.
     

    thtoan79

    Senior Member
    Vietnamese
    I'm now confused more, so

    'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen' = 'As a doctor, I don't want to say that'

    But

    'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt, sondern als Freund, sagen' = 'I want to say that not as a doctor, but as a friend'

    How can it make sense?
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    How can it make sense?
    You're right again to be confused!
    In written language the word order is very important, or else the sentence might be misunderstood. In spoken language the intonation is more important than word order -- as a native speaker I tend to forget that sometimes (because my brain is automatically adding intonation to the written language!!).

    'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen' -> in written language 'nicht' is negtating 'als Arzt', therefore the primary translation should be 'I want to say that not as a doctor'

    In spoken language (bolded words are stressed; underlined words are half-stressed):
    'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen' = 'I want to say that not as a doctor' ('nicht' negates 'als Arzt')
    'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen' = 'As a doctor, I don't want to say that' ('nicht' negates 'sagen')

    In written language this last sentence should be better phrased this way to avoid ambiguity:
    "Als Arzt möchte ich das nicht sagen" = 'As a doctor, I don't want to say that' (this word order makes it clear that 'nicht' negates 'sagen')
    or "Ich möchte das als Arzt nicht sagen" (this has the same meaning as the previous version)
     

    manfy

    Senior Member
    German - Austria
    Glad I could help! :)

    On second thought: The German grammar is usually trying to be very precise and unambiguous. Therefore I think the punctuation is officially wrong in this sentence 'Ich möchte das nicht als Arzt sagen' if you want the express 'As a doctor, I don't want to say that'.

    Better versions:
    'Ich möchte das nicht, als Arzt, sagen' or 'Ich möchte das nicht - als Arzt - sagen'. With this punctuation 'als Arzt' is better separated from 'nicht sagen'.
    But it still looks strange in written language. The last 2 sentences in my post #8 are stylistically much better and clearer and they have the very same meaning.
     
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