Hypothetical Comparison Clauses in German

This was the topic of my Masters Thesis and starts with a simple observation illustrated in (1) below: Subordinate clauses introduced by als ob (‘as if’) in German can be interpreted in two different ways. They can either function as something very close to a manner adverbial such that they modify the manner of the activity expressed by the verb of the matrix clause (1a), or they can refer to the whole proposition of the main clause (1b). (I believe this ambiguity is also present in English.)

(1a) Emma hat eine Auszeichnung gefeiert, als ob sie schüchtern wäre.
(1b) Emma hat eine Auszeichnung verschwiegen, als ob sie schüchtern wäre.
‘Emma {celebrated/concealed} an award as if she was shy.’

In my thesis, I investigated syntactic and semantic factors influencing the interpretation of this ambiguity – for instance the lexical aspect or aktionsart used in (1) – as well as the relation between this type of adverbial clause and non-sentential adverbials using experimental methods.


Göbel, A. (2016).  Ambige Adverbialsätze an der Syntax-Semantik Schnittstelle: Eine psycholinguistische Fallstudie zu ‘Als ob’. [slides (only in German)] (‘Ambiguous adverbial-clauses at the syntax-semantics-interface: A psycholinguistic case study on als ob (‘as if’)’) Talk at the Workshop “Position and Interpretation: Syntax, Semantics and Information-Structure of Adverbial Modifiers”, June 2016.