sagen vs. erwähnen



In lesson 14.3, we are presented with the following sentence:

German: Matthias hat zwar am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt, ...
English: Matthias did mention a surprise on the telephone, ...

I'm struggling with the grammatical structure "sagen was von ..." meaning " to mention".  On the one hand, this does not appear to me to be a free translation, but rather a standard grammatical construction in German for saying "to mention". On the other hand, I'm unable to find online additional examples with a similar construction. 

As the verb "erwähnen" also means "to mention", I'm interested in knowing whether the following two German sentences are identical in meaning. If not, I would appreciate a translation/explanation that illustrates the difference between two.
1 - Matthias hat zwar am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt.
2 - Matthias hat zwar am Telefon eine Überraschung erwähnt

Thanking you in advance for your clarification.


Further to my enquiry above, I'm now wondering whether a better translation of the German would be the following:

German: Matthias hat zwar am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt.
English: Matthias did say something about a surprise on the telephone.

Looking forward to your response.


There is something else interesting about the sentence:
Nein, Matthias hat zwar am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt, aber mehr hat er dann auch noch nicht verraten.

I think zwar is being used as a modal particle here. Accordingmy  grammar book it can be used in a concussive sense followed by aber.
So the first clause concedes something followed by although/but/however...

Modal particles get used a lot in the course without any explanation. I was very confused by them before I discovered what they were. Apparently Rocket will be adding something about them in the new version.

On sagen, yes i would translate it as "say" as well but I am not bothered about "mention". I wonder if there is something about nature of the sentence that makes mention a better translation, even if it is not in the dictionary as sagen.


Hi Simon,

Funny that you brought up modal particles. For me it's one of the most elusive elements in German grammar. I try to grasp what I can regarding their meaning and use, but I've resigned myself to the fact that they are probably too complex at this stage, and are reserved for more advanced levels of learning. 

That being said, I understand the use of "zwar" in the example above as being the first part of the compound conjunction "zwar ... aber". In the Rocket German course, I already encountered the compound conjunction "je...desto", and when I looked into the grammatical structure at the time, I found that there are 3 types of conjunctions in German: coordinate, subordinate, and compound; and there is a list of commonly-used compound conjunctions, one of which "zwar...aber". 

The compound conjunction "zwar ... aber" is used to connect two main clauses, which are adversative clauses ("Adversativsatz"). The best translation that I found for this compound conjunction is "It's true that..., but".

Taking into consideration all of the above, I believe that the most accurate English translation for the German example in lesson 14.3 would be:
"No, it's true that Matthias said something about a surprise on the telephone, but he didn't reveal more."

I'll be curious to hear Julia's input on all of this.

All the best to you.   


Yes modal particles are tricky as there is no direct equivalent in English. I think using them correctly is very advanced and they can lead to misunderstandings if used incorrectly.
However they do crop up a lot in level 2 and 3 and they can be very confusing if they are not recognised, which is why I think there should be something on them in a grammar section.
At a basic level, if you can recognise them, you can pretty much ignore them. The trouble is that they all have their own meaning apart from their function as modal particles.

The rather simplistic way I look at is that if you can't work out what a word is doing in a sentence and leaving it out makes not difference to the meaning, then it could be a modal particle. :-)


That's an interesting way of defining a modal I agree with you that the main difficulty is that modal particles often do not have a word-for-word translation in English, making it confusing to know how to use them. 

In general, I understand modal particles to be words which function primarily as a pause (e.g. "also"), an emotion (e.g. "nun"), or to add emphasis (e.g. "ja" and "schon"). It appears however that only after hearing German spoken over a period of time, does the use of modal particles start to fall into place and begin to integrate itself naturally into speech.

Since I am only in the latter half of level 2 and haven't yet encountered any introduction to modal particles, I wasn't sure whether or not they would be formally presented later on in the course. They appear to be important enough (owing to the fact that they appear so frequently in the lessons), that there should, in my opinion, be at least an introduction to this topic in level 3, with examples to demonstrate their use. 


Hallo PaulS108 und sfpugh, 

you are on the right track! "Zwar...aber" is a so called compound conjunction hence you can also call them connecting particles in this case which means they connect two consecutive propositions.

Now have a look at the whole sentence:
"Nein, Matthias hat zwar am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt, aber mehr hat er dann auch noch nicht verraten." - "No, Matthias did mention a surprise on the telephone, however he didn't reveal more."  

So in this case zwar is introducing a statement ("hat am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt") followed by a constraint ("mehr hat er dann auch noch nicht verraten"). This is the most common use and meaning of zwar...aber. These two always belong together. As a side note, "zwar...(je)doch" would also be possible.

Your suggested phrase "Matthias hat zwar am Telefon eine Überraschung erwähnt."
would also be fine to use and as their meaning is very similar, if not the same. 

I wouldn't use the translation "No, it's true that Matthias said something about a surprise on the telephone, but he didn't reveal more."  as it would alter the meaning of the German sentence. 

There isn't 'one' correct translation for zwar...aber, it's more about looking at the sentence as a whole and translating the true meaning into target language without sounding unnatural. 

I hope this answers your question! Let me know if I can be of further assistance.




Hallo Julia, 

Thank you for your clarification of zwar...aber. It was very helpful.

I wish to re-visit my original question above regarding the structure "hat was von einer Überraschung gesagt". You say that my suggested translation' "said something about a surprise" would alter the meaning of the German sentence. That being the case, I need a better understanding of this structure.

In the German sentences below, I gave them what would appear to me to be the best English translation: 

German example 1: Er hat am Telefon eine Überraschung gesagt. 
English translation 1: He mentioned a surprise on the telephone.

German example 2: Er hat am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt. 
English translation 2: He mentioned something of a surprise on the telephone. (I thought that "something of a surprise" would be the same as "something about a surprise", but perhaps that would need to be "etwas/was über einer Überraschung"?)

In lesson 14.3, although the basic German sentence appears as in example 2 above, the English translation appears as in example 1 above, so the meaning or purpose of the additional words  "was von" is unclear to me. Please help me get my head around this one!




Hallo PaulS108,

"Matthias said something about a surprise on the telephone, but he didn't reveal more." - "Matthias hat zwar am Telefon was von einer Überraschung gesagt, aber mehr
hat er dann auch noch nicht verraten."
This translation would be fine, however if you want to include zwar in your translation "Matthias did say something about a surprise..." would work slightly better. 

What I meant in my previous comment was that the suggested translation "It's true that..., but" wouldn't always work for "zwar...aber", because it would translate back into something like "Es ist wahr/es stimmt, dass....aber..." and that wouldn't be as close to the original wording as the other translation. 

In regards to your original question about the meaning of "sagen (et)was von ...":
The literal translation is "to say something about" but "to mention" works too. 
A couple of other examples would be:

"Matthias kommt heute nicht zur Arbeit. Er hat (et)was von einer Erkältung gesagt, aber mehr weiß ich nicht." - "Matthias is not coming to work today. He said something about/mentioned a cold but I don't know more."

A: "Weißt du wo Matthias ist?"  B: "Ich glaube er hat (et)was von einem Termin gesagt. Er kommt bestimmt ein bisschen später." - A: "Do you know where Matthias is?" B: I think he said something about /mentioned an appointment. He will probably come a bit later."




Hallo Julia -

I think I have a good understanding of this now. Thank you for your explanation as well as your examples to put everything in context. 

Freundliche Grüße,

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