Interferences English-German: "When we would buy this..."

Ampelfrau

Senior Member
Galego/Spanish, Spain
Hi everyone:

Yesterday, talking in English with a German friend of mine, she said the following: "When we would buy this thing instead of that one, we would save money."

I am no native English speaker, but this doesn't match any of the English grammar I've ever studied, and I am pretty sure this is a clear interference from the German "Wenn wir das kaufen würden,...". For me, the correct formulation would be "If we buy this one, we will save money" (first conditional structure, present+future), or maybe "If we bought this one, we could save money" (a second conditional).
Which is correct?

I think that Germans tend to use "would" in English anytime they'd say "würde" in German, and "when" anytime they would say "wenn", also in conditional sentences where there's a clear difference between "When" and "If". Another example of what I mean said by this same friend:
-When you go to the supermarket today, get some milk for me.
I think in this case she meant "If you go to the supermarket today", that is, 'in case you go', because she didn't know whether I was going or not (and I fact, I wasn't at all).
For me, saying "When you go to the supermarket today" implies that somehow I know the other person is going to the supermarket at some point, so I ask them to get something for me.

I tried to discuss this examples with her and other colleagues, but being all German they all agreed these are perfectly correct structures.
I was surprised because for me there's something wrong in there, and they all have a high level of English, a level where you should be aware of the usual mistakes and interferences from your own language, so I started wondering if maybe I missed something in my English lessons...

So, I am really interested in hearing the opinion of a native English speaker: is this really grammatically correct? Does this sound natural? Have all my English lessons been wrong, or is this just an usual interference for German speakers (like there are with any other language)? Woudl it be correct to say "If we would buy this", and with what meaning?

Thanks in advance for your feedback!
 
  • Frank78

    Senior Member
    German
    Indeed this is native language interference.

    "Wenn wir das kaufen würden, dann würden wir Geld sparen" -> second conditional in English as you wrote above: If we bought this one, we could (or: would) save money"

    The first conditional is usually translated without "würde" into German:

    If it rains on Saturday I'll stay at home. -> Wenn es Sonnabend regnet bleibe ich zu Hause/werde ich zu Hause bleiben.
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You certainly won't hear that sentence from anybody I know. I would be very surprised to see/hear it in the UK media. Nor does that structure appear in my book of Spanish grammar (for English speakers).
     

    Ampelfrau

    Senior Member
    Galego/Spanish, Spain
    Thank you all for your feedback!
    I'll definitely sleep better tonight ;) And I will have some ground on which to base my arguments (apart from grammar).
     

    berndf

    Moderator
    German (Germany)
    I was surprised because for me there's something wrong in there, and they all have a high level of English, a level where you should be aware of the usual mistakes and interferences from your own language, so I started wondering if maybe I missed something in my English lessons...
    These are things that are extremely difficult for Germans to grasp as as German is lacking the conceptual difference between subjunctive and conditional as well as the conceptual difference between if- and when-conditions. So, occasional lapses of this kind are not surprising, even for Germans with a command of English. But it is surprising that they insisted on their mistakes after being alerted: These two issues are very carefully explained in English class already in high-school because they are so difficult for Germans.
     

    Ampelfrau

    Senior Member
    Galego/Spanish, Spain
    So, occasional lapses of this kind are not surprising, even for Germans with a command of English. But it is surprising that they insisted on their mistakes after being alerted
    That is exactly what made me have so many doubts about it...
    Thanks for your feedback too and for confirming that there is indeed some rather common difficulty for Germans in that aspect.
     

    djweaverbeaver

    Senior Member
    English Atlanta, GA USA
    Hi,

    I would argue that the sentence is not grammatically incorrect in and of itself; it is the intention that makes it incorrect. If the intention is a condition "if...then" statement as you all assumed and explained above, then the sentence is incorrect.

    However, if the intention is to express habitual activities at some point in the past, then the sentence is grammatically correct and makes sense:
    When(ever) we would buy this thing instead of that one, we would save money. = Immer wenn wir das eine anstatt des anderen kaufte, sparten wir Geld.

    It's one of the possible translation of the pretérito imperfecto in Spanish: Cada vez que comprábamos esta cosa en lugar de ésa, ahorrábamos dinero.

    Context and intention are important, but yes, if then statements are a very common source of error for German speakers.
     
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