Not knowing a basic usage or construction in a foreign language that you otherwise know well?

I’ve been learning and using German since my freshman year in HS, although there have been many periods when the opportunity to do so has dropped to zero. Lately I’ve been reading and listening to German more, because the internet makes it so easy to obtain foreign language media.

There are a few very common constructions that I don’t remember ever encountering in HS or university, when I was actively engaged in learning the language. My reading materials at the time were mostly literature and linguistics related, and it’s possible that these expressions just wouldn’t tend to come up in that context, but I tend to doubt it. Anyway, these are the expressions:

(1) es sei denn, a conjunction meaning “unless”

(2) A gerund form with zu that turns the verb into an adjective, as in die zu installierende Software (=“the software to be installed”)

(3) Von wegen!, which is about the same as “As if!” in English. How those two words can mean that, when neither of them seems to have the remotest related meaning perplexes me.
The second item was easy enough to figure out from context, but I was surprised to have been unaware of it after years of study. The third example is similar, yet without any context I would have had no idea whatsoever. And the first example I understood only by the fact that I was reading a German translation of LOTR.
What are your “missed things” in your foreign languages?

You know, my native language is German, and your three examples are very special cases, especially “von wegen” and “es sei denn”. For me as a native German speaker, English grammar and therefore constructions are not so much of a problem because our own grammar is so overwhelmingly complex that I just kinda shrug :wink: (no, not really, actually it took me many years of reading to get most of the nuances of English grammar which surely exist. But it’s more basic than German. Or French, my third language).

Anyway, the thing about English is about vocabulary, especially the unbelievable abundance of adjectives. Every time I read an English book by a really interesting author, say Terry Pratchett or Stephen Fry (which I both read lately), I’m well prepared to learn another bunch of really flowery adjectives for interesting concepts with complicated spelling. I look them up on my kindle in the Oxford Dictionary, say “aha” and instantly forget them. If I find them at all in Oxford’s, because sometimes they even don’t have an entry in the first place.

The reason that German has not so much use for complicated loan words (though we have them too): we can make those words up on the spot by the magic of compound words.

To sum it up, the overwhelming vocabulary of the English language is frightening.

(and spelling/pronunciation with all their inconsistencies are hard to)

That should be “hard too”, of course. :wink:

Ah, good old Gaudere’s law :D.

Unless it was a sentence fragment; "spelling / pronunciation are hard to remember. "

That also works!
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I speak French fluently, but I’ll be damned if I can get gender pronouns correct.

Not me, but a general one:

After many years of fighting English, I’ve decided (and realize it doesn’t affect anybody really) that English grammar and specially verbs aren’t “easier than those of Spanish or French”: they’re presented differently. If any of you is superbored and speaks a language whose verbs are officially difficult, do this:
take the full conjugation of one of your verbs,
and translate it to English keeping the same format.

You’ll need multiple auxiliary verbs. You’ll need phrasal verbs. In Spanish there are a few cases which are considered “confusing” because the same form of the verb appears twice; in English this is half the table.

So, it’s not surprising that every single Spaniard who’s ever told me “English verbs are SO much easier!” used them like a 10-pound hammer :smack:

One of my complaints about “French for foreigners” is in fact that they often teach you the verbs under the wrong name. It’s not “le conditionnel”, it’s “le present simple du conditionnel”. Damn it, if I want to look it up I need to know its real name! And yes, French has modes: deal!

It’s long seemed to me that different languages tend to have about the same level of complexity generally, but it’s distributed differently. German articles and quantifiers are complicated compared to English, but the two languages also diverge with regard to whether an article should be used at all in various contexts. For instance, you can use a definite article with just a person’s name in German, while in English that would be ungrammatical. Yet, if you stick in an adjective, then you can use an article, as in “The Great Zamboni”.

I rarely get to speak German, so my productive knowledge of the language is weak. But another common error of mine when I try to think in that language is with gendered pronouns for inanimate objects. I understand the structure of German nouns reasonably well; I can usually predict the gender of an unfamiliar noun. But if I refer to that noun with a pronoun, I’m likely to use a neuter pronoun as I would in English.

Lots of years of French. But while I probably learned the coffee terms early on, it just dawned on me that their term for boiling water pressed through grounds is expresso. Ex. Presso. Like what we make fun of people for saying in English/Italian.

I saw that recently, thought it was a typo at first, then realized it probably wasn’t one.

To me, “wegen” emphasizes the fact that there are reasons. “Von wegen!” therefore seems to me very much like “Because reasons!” in English - which type of idea the German expression might be ridiculing.

Well, had Europe known about coffee 500 years earlier than it did, it would have been “espresso” before various consonantal sound changes–just as it used to be Septimus Severus before it became Settimo Severo.

During the beatnik era of the late 1950s, when Venice was L.A.'s answer to North Beach, the Venice West Café’s front window boldly proclaimed the availability of “expresso”. Incorrect though it was, they wisely decided to leave it alone. You can’t stop English speakers from saying expresso, since they naturally tend to adapt foreign words to English phonological patterns.

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Interesting observation, though the meaning’s quite different.

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ETA I see that in Post #12 I typed e-x-p-r-e-s-s-o but it got changed to expresso by Auto-Cucumber.

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When something doesn’t literally mean the same but is equivalent in conversation. Used when translating idiomatically.

I’m ashamed to admit it after 32 years of learning English, I still pause when I have to decide what to write under “surname”, “name”, “given name”, “first name”, “last name”, “family name” and “christian name”. So confusing :o .

In Welsh, when you have a pronoun object, you use the possessive construction and have it possess the verb, which causes a mutation. (This is probably why the English have historically worked so hard to suppress the Celtic languages).

So loving (yn caru) him (e) is expressed as “his loving” (yn ei garu).

Except there’s some circumstance where that mutation is blocked, but I didn’t find out about it for a long time, and I can never remember what the rule is. It’s really hard to look up because it’s so complicated and involves such common words.

(Ah: here it is. When the verb is finite (conjugated), the mutations are blocked for the third person singular, and the masculine object adds an h- before vowels.)

I don’t think I’ll ever give the correct answer on first try when asked for my nom and/or my prénom… what? Nom is a false friend with the Spanish nombre, ok? You guys did it just to confuse us, you totally did!

I’ve never heard « present simple du conditionnel ». It’s either the « conditionnel présent », or, much more rarely, the « présent du condtionnel ». All the present tenses are simple, so there’s no need to distinguish them from a compound form.

As for myself, the construction I never get is the French « avoir beau faire quelque chose ». It means to do something in vain, but it never seems to parse right. I’m never sure if the « quelque chose » happens or not.