I'm reading Wolfram Eilenberger's Tiempo de Magos, and I'm pretty puzzled by this chunk:

Para los románticos, esta relación fundamental reflexiva de la autoconciencia era el ejemplo clásico de cualquier forma de referencia crítica a un objeto. Un ejemplo clásico y generalizable es el de lo que sucede cuando «el ser conocida una esencia por otra [coincide] con el autoconocimiento del ser conocida».

You can see some more surrounding context on Google Books.

What are these conocidas refering to? I think I'm just not following the grammar here at all.

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    Una esencia. A classic example is what happens when an essence being known, by [or for??] another [essence], coincides with the self-awareness of the essence being known. Or maybe the translator screwed up. Would you be able to provide a link to the whole text? I couldn't find it online. I see that the original is German, and that it hasn't been translated to English. Jul 29, 2019 at 4:54
  • Ah...! I think I see now. Thank you. And I added a link to the page on Google Books. Jul 29, 2019 at 10:03
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    It's technically grammatically correct but ugh, I wouldn't have written it this way. The first one is fine, the second one would read much better with de ser conocida. The problem is that ser can be a verb or a noun (and a masculine one at that). If they had used another verb that weren't also a noun (like estar, ignoring the meaning change), it would read just fine. Jul 29, 2019 at 10:04
  • @guifa - I feel like if we could take a look at the original German we could get something much better. Jul 29, 2019 at 12:36

1 Answer 1


Whenever you an ecounter the sequence el [verbo], it can be helpful to swap it out with the sequence el acto/la acción de [verbo] (the el generally isn't even necessary):

El estudiar por la mañana es mejor porque estás más despierto.

is equivalent to

El acto de estudiar por la mañana …

Verbs can take various complements without any problem:

¿Esta cosa? Comprarla me saldrá muy caro ahora.

Verbs are technically neuter, and agree in the neuter (which just happens to share its endings with the masculine singular). That's why we say "caro".

Where your example gets even more complicated is that instead of being just a verb perhaps with some complements, it also has an explicit subject. Most students of Spanish are told that to have a subject (certainly a change of subject) one must use a conjugated verb form, although that's not strictly true.

In your example, we have

… cuando el ser conocida una esencia por otra coincide con …

So here we can break this down as

cuando el ser conocida una esencia por otra coincide  con 
       ^---------------sujeto-------------^ ^-verbo-^

The subject is

el ser conocida una esencia por otra 
|   |     |           |          |
|   |     |           |          +-> agente (sujeto si fuese activa)
|   |     |           +-> sujeto del verbo nominalizado
|   |     +-> participio pasado (concuerda con el sujeto, esencia)
|   +-> «sustantivo» (infinitivo por ser verbo nominalizado)
+-> artículo nominalizador (facultativo)

So when we get to the second one, we can break it down in the same way

del ser conocida  (___)
 |   |     |        |
 |   |     |        +-> sujeto implícito «esencia»
 |   |     +-> participio pasado (concuerda con el sujeto implícito)
 |   +-> objeto de la preposición (infinitivo por ser verbo nominalizado)
 +-> preposición más artículo nominalizador («de» valdría igual)

While this is perfectly grammatically correct, it sounds absolutely awful for one small reason: ser is also a noun, and in particular, it's a masculine noun, which makes seeing a feminine adjective after it a bit odd. The addition of (a) the explicit subject, and (b) the agent in the first use, help prevent this interpretation and it sounds okay. The second time, though, there is nothing to prevent the reading as "the known being" (rather than "being known"), except for the gender which then just makes it sound wrong, even if, as shown, it's technically correct.

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