I am translating a technical book on agriculture, despairing over the German phrase "ein durchgängiges Wurzel-Erde-Netz," meaning soil that is alive will form a root-soil net that pervades every corner of the ground under the plant. Can I translate that into "forming a pervasive root-soil net" or "a consistent root-soil net," or what other adjective would you suggest? And would you hyphenate root-soil net?

EDIT: How about "a root-soil network completely pervading the spade sample"? (a spade sample being a piece of soil dug out from a growing field; spade samples play a central role in the context of the phrase I need to translate)

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    Hi. I think "root network" is probably what you are looking for. Pervasive is often used in a negative sense in English. If you don't want a negative meaning, then perhaps "well developed" would be better.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 20:23
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    Please elaborate on what the hyphens imply in the original German. Are they present in the original? root-soil-net is not immediately clear. A network of roots in soil? A synergy of root and soil? Commented Oct 31, 2023 at 21:08
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    Hello back, thanks for both your replies. True, "network" sounds better than just "net." As for "pervasive" I had thought the same, i.e., as having a negative ring to it. The hyphens used in the German phrase are mandatory; they function to form the 3-part compound in this case. A (lesser legible) variant would be "Wurzelerdenetz". The English version, something tells me, does not need a hyphen at all because I have learned you only need it to combine different parts of speech, which is not the case in "root soil network," am I right?
    – Karina
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 10:05
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    Thanks, Sam! "Spade sample," at least in the German version "Spatenprobe," is a new word because the whole concept of taking spade samples is new in agriculture.
    – Karina
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 11:55
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    It is actually a spade that is used for it, not a shovel.
    – Karina
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


(Full disclosure: I am not in any way trained or educated in any agricultural or geological disciplines; however, I am a native English speaker born and raised by hobby-gardening parents in a small American farming town who went on to earn a bachelor's degree in a STEM field.)

Let me machine translate your partial sentence via Google-translate:

"– auf dem Spaten sieht der Bodenausstich zusammenhängend wie Pudding aus – ein durchgängiges Wurzel-Erde-Netz (ist zu sehen)."

"- on the spade the ground excavation looks like pudding - a continuous root-soil network (can be seen)."

While the machine translation is by no means perfect it seems to me that it is trying to get the following point across: a sample is taken using a spade/shovel, and when viewing this sample (like a slice of cake) a dense root structure can be seen throughout.

Were I to translate this (partial) sentence I would probably say something like:

"- on the spade the sample looks like sponge cake - with a dense root structure throughout [the soil]."

This is because I believe that it is primarily the roots themselves that we are concerned about and the surrounding soils can be merely assumed/implied. (Also, to my American ear "pudding" evokes images of homogeneous custard-like desserts, which seems very unlike the chaotic root-ball structures one would see when re-potting plants; I used "sponge cake" to stay dessert-themed and still evoke the kind of things one would see in the crumb structure of a good slice of bread or in the organic meshings of an exfoliating loofah... Heck, on second though maybe "loofah-like" is the better comparison?)

However, if the phrase "Wurzel-Erde-Netz" will be referenced time and time again in the manuscript, then I would probably go with:

"- on the spade the sample looks like sponge cake - with a dense root-soil matrix throughout."

The word choice of "matrix" here will definitely have weird science-jargon feel to it compared to the previous layman wording, but it should serve to make a succinct noun-phrase for technical documentation. And a quick Google Scholar search shows that I'm not entirely crazy with this particular word construction as it appears to have been in (sporadic) use from at least 1968 through to the present day.


I am not sure what you are translating, but literally translating "ein durchgängiges Wurzel-Erde-Netz" gives us something like: "a continuous root-soil-network".

You've given the additional clarification, "soil that is alive will form a root-soil net that pervades every corner of the ground under the plant."

Given that context, I would be tempted to render it something like, "a pervasive root-soil ecosystem".

I prefer "ecosystem" to "network" since I think it better captures the living, symbiotic nature.

Unlike other commenters, I do not think "pervasive" has a negative connotation in English - it simply means "everywhere". However, if you are concerned, you could use a word like "ubiquitous" or "extensive".

Depending on your flexibility in rendering the translation more figuratively, you might consider adding "vibrant" to the translation: "a vibrant, pervasive root-soil ecosystem"

UPDATE: a few hours later

After thinking about it, I would go with a looser, but smoother, English rendering, that I think captures the essence: a vibrant ecosystem encompassing the roots and soil

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