Learners of German would often be unclear in these problem areas.

The problem gets worse when an indirect or direct object is involved, as this makes it even more difficult for a listener to understand what it is exactly, you're trying to say.

The comma before you're trying to say is really confusing, what's the logic between you're trying to say and the former sentence? I mean, I do understand the meaning of this whole sentence, but the grammatical logic confuses me a lot.


1 Answer 1


Might just be a case of one comma too many or one comma too few; whether from confusion, indecision or stylistic choice, we may never know.

if it ended

...understand what it is, exactly, you're trying to say.


...understand what it is exactly you're trying to say.

That might make it easier to read.
Either separate 'exactly' into a 1930's, Oxfordian, style... or for the modernists leave it alone.

Alternatively, leave out 'exactly' entirely.

...understand what it is you're trying to say.

  • To my understanding, the whole part "understand what it is you're trying to say." is hard to accept, if it's either "understand what it is" or "understand what you're trying to say." it would be more understandable. "understand" itself as a verb needs to be followed by a noun which is "what it is" or "what you're trying to say". I just don't understand the combination of these two.
    – preachers
    Aug 18, 2018 at 16:56
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    I think, as a former writer of radio news reports, that this problem may arise partly because writers sometimes use commas to indicate likely pauses for readers, especially when the latter don't have adequate time to prepare the bulletin. Aug 18, 2018 at 16:58
  • If I were to say this part I would add a "that" between them as "understand what it is that you're trying to say".
    – preachers
    Aug 18, 2018 at 16:58
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    @preachers - tbh, it's verbal 'filler'. Often used in reporting. As a native you get so used to it you barely spot it any more. Yes, it would easily shorten to 'what you're trying to say' Aug 18, 2018 at 17:03

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