German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

While reading Heinrich von Kleist´s Die Marquise von O (very easy to read thanks to Kleist´s extensive usage of commas...), I stumbled upon a phrase which I couldn´t quite explain, even if the meaning is pretty clear.

Bald darauf ward der Familie, eben zu einer Zeit, da sich auch der Forstmeister von G..., des Kommandanten Sohn, in dem Hause eingefunden hatte, der sonderbare Schrecken, durch einen Kammerdiener, der ins Zimmer trat, den Grafen F... anmelden zu hören.

or :

Bald darauf ward der Familie der sonderbare Schrecken, durch einen Kammerdiener den Grafen F... anmelden zu hören.

(Spoiler: F... is thought to be dead and buried at that time of the novel)

The way I understand it, either it is a typing mistake or a old form for (die Familie ? Somehow "der Familie" klingt besser) or I can´t find the subject (special grammatical form?).

share|improve this question

"ward" is an old form of "wurde". This construction

Der Familie ward der sonderbare Schrecken, den Grafen F. anmelden zu hören.


Die Familie hatte den sonderbaren Schrecken, den Grafen F. anmelden zu hören.

In modern German you wouldn't say "Mir wurde es Schrecken". To most people this will sound grammatically wrong. However some similar expressions survived and are still used, like "Mir wurde es Angst und Bange", which used to be "Mir ward es Angst und Bange". Coming back to your example this would look like

Der Familie wurde es Angst und Bange...

share|improve this answer
Thanks, so it can be seen like the fear "came to the family" ("der Schrecken wurde der Familie") ? Or is an "es" implied (but then "der Schrecken" cannot be the subject anymore)? – Yves Jul 21 '14 at 21:51
"Schrecken" is in this case not the grammatical subject. The grammatical subject is in all those cases "es" and in the original example the sentence is called "subjektlos", because the subject would be "es" in a sentence "Der Familie ward es Schrecken...". This "es" is in many cases negligible. "Es wird mir übel" -> "Mir wird übel" etc. – Axel Jul 21 '14 at 22:37
Thanks, so why the nominative case (der besondere Schrecken) ? – Yves Jul 21 '14 at 23:47
@Axel Das ist leider falsch. Subjekt ist hier "Schrecken"! "Werden" ist hier absolutes Verb in der Bedeutung "widerfahren". Siehe Grimms Wörterbuch, sv. werden, I.C.1. Beispiel von Schiller: "dem mann musz hülfe werden".… Hier fehlt also kein "es"! "Der Familie wurde Schrecken, ... zu hören." bedeutet: "Der Familie widerfuhr der Schrecken, ... zu hören." – what Jul 24 '14 at 12:02
Oh, das wusste ich wirklich nicht. Ich dachte immer es wurde ein "es" weggelassen, weil sich alle entsprechenden Sätze um dieses "es" erweitern lassen. Man lernt nie aus. Danke! – Axel Jul 27 '14 at 12:00

It is already mentioned in the other answers, that "ward" is an old form of "wurde". So a translation I consider as quite similar in English would be: "Soon afterwards the family was [this is the ward-counterpiece] subjected to the peculiar horror, to get count F. announced by the servant."

A little bit more modern would have been "ward ... zuteil", "zuteil" being the correspondence to the "subjected" above.

share|improve this answer
As I said, I perfectly understood the meaning, but your translation doesn´t grammatically stick to the original. In German it would be something like : "Der Familie wurde (es) den besonderen Schrecken (angetan)" (a passive impersonal form), or "Die Familie unterlag dem besonderen Schrecken..." (or some passive form with "Die Familie" as subject), i.e. Schrecken would be a complement (bad translations, but I only wish to underline that I don´t understand how "der Schrecken" can be the subject of the phrase). – Yves Jul 21 '14 at 21:59

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.