German is feared for its impersonal style. But look close and you’ll see the persons meddling in the background, which makes translating from German even sneakier than you thought!
There’s two types of nouns: living and dead ones. German likes dropping the human agents, but it doesn’t like inanimate objects taking their place, so it sneaks in the people without naming them:
The nominalized verb “Tragen” becomes a vehicle for this invisible human. If you translate this syntax into English, “wearing” becomes a dangling modifier – it’s got no human agent to attach to.
The quick fix for the dangler – and most other writing ailments – is to CUT THE PASSIVE (“are prevented”). Now “wearing” clearly belongs to “helmets”:
Now “wearing” attaches to “helmets.” To English speakers, it’s implied that there’s got to be a person under the helmet, so you wouldn’t need to mention them.
The English structure would be grammatical but not logical in German, because “das Tragen” is just a noun-verb, and it cannot perform another verb:
What now? The dead helmet cannot prevent an accident in German either. In English, it can. Therefore it’s unnecessary to include the gerund “wearing,” which is just a remnant of the German’s trying to sneak in the human:
The German back-translation, while concise, would sound incomplete to German readers:
Even without the verb “tragen,” Germans would intuitively phrase this to imply human agency, thus making it a passive sentence:
Summary: Get rid of passives and danglers. Let inanimate objects act. Always look for the shortest phrase.
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