Especially I would like to know when this is a correct complete German sentence:

  • What type of grammatical structure do the first two words belong to?
  • Is it common to speak that way? I refer to the grammatical structure of the first 2 words. (Sounds like from the Middle Ages.)
  • Can you translate the original sentence into English as shortly as possible?

Are there more ways in German to abbreviate a subordinate clause by use of a participle? (Would während sie das Haupt senkte, schlief sie langsam ein be a correct alternative?) This part was exported to a new question.


5 Answers 5


The grammatical structure you're looking for is the modaler Genitiv, which is a type of modal adverbial. These are mostly set phrases such as

erhobenen Hauptes, schweren Herzens, ruhigen Gewissens, stehenden Fußes.

For a detailed study see the dissertation Adverbiale Kasus des Deutschen, pages 122–135.

As for the grammatical correctness of the sentence, the verb senken can be used transitive or reflexiv, so both

Er senkte das Haupt


Der Brustkorb hebt und senkt sich (from Duden)

are grammatically correct. If you google for senkenden, then you'll see that it's used in very different circumstances, e.g.,

Mit Kosten senkenden Maßnahmen wurde der Betrieb gerettet.

Here, the costs are lowered. In contrast,

senkenden Hauptes

doesn't say what is lowered: The thing that is lowered should stand in the Akkusativ, while Hauptes is Genitiv.

Conclusion: senkenden Hauptes schlief sie ein is semantically impossible, and probably also grammatically not correct.

  • thx for your effort. I dont understand why Erhobenen Hauptes geht er aus der die Wohnung is ok but Senkenden Hauptes is wrong according to your reasoning, it sounds uncommon, i agree, but it seem grammatically correct or at least common google.com/search?q=%22erhobenen+hauptes+geht%22&ie=UTF-8 I still dont know what type of grammatical structure this is, it would probably shed a lot of light onto the grammatical/semantic correctness...but we are approaching the answer :). Also mit Kosten senkenden Mass. has a different function than erhobenen Hauptes, basically a sub. clause
    – Hauser
    Jul 30, 2011 at 19:59
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    @Hauser: Erhobenen Hauptes is correct, no question. As I wrote in another comment, gesenkten Hauptes is also correct. (And this is the opposite of erhobenen Hauptes!) Jul 30, 2011 at 20:15
  • Agree, its the opposite, but whats then the rule? It must be a state not a present action that the participle describes?
    – Hauser
    Jul 30, 2011 at 20:32
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    The answer doesn't mention the obvious and important difference between 'senken' (aktiv) and 'sinken' (passiv) which is the first level of error. If such a sentence should be attempted, then by using 'sinkenden Hauptes'.
    – markus
    Aug 9, 2011 at 13:25
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    @markus: No, my answer doesn't (fully) address this point, and this is for the simple reason that it had been mentioned in previous answers already. Is this already a reason for downvoting my answer? :-( By the way, I did address the point partially by pointing out clearly that 'senken' is transitive. (And I'd say that also 'sinkenden Hauptes' is semantically not allowed unless you're a famous poet.) Aug 9, 2011 at 19:49

I’m unsure, but it sounds wrong to me:

“Senkenden Hauptes schlief sie langsam ein.”


“Sinkenden Hauptes schlief sie langsam ein.”


“Das Haupt senkend, schlief sie langsam ein.”

In einem Zugabteil, wo man dem langsamen Sinken zusehen kann, finde ich die Formulierung durchaus angebracht, auch wenn Haupt sehr feierlich klingt, und durch Kopf gut ersetzt werden kann, wenn das nicht gewünscht ist.

English attempt:

“Lowering her head, she fell asleep.”

  • How can senkenden Hauptes be wrong, but sinkenden Hauptes be correct - it would be the same grammatical structure? It are still her muscles lowering the head, you can argue if it is a active but unconscious(senken) or passive(sinken) process imo? Thx for the english translation, is there a option of expressing this in english without comma & subordinate clause?
    – Hauser
    Jul 30, 2011 at 10:31
  • I can't cite rules, but 'senkenden' would, imho, work in a sentence like 'Senkenden Hauptes wurde der Hund eingeschläfert', when both parts are passiv. Jul 30, 2011 at 12:47
  • @Hauser: Because, how else should I express the situation? "Sie schlief, das Haupt sinken lassend, ein". But not "Sie schlief, das Haupt senken lassed, ein". Sie senkt das Haupt, das Haupt wird gesenkt, das Haupt sank. Sehenden Auges habe ich mich auf die Diskussion eingelassen. Es fehlt ein mit? "Mit sinkendem Haupt schlief sie ein." Man schreibt ja auch nicht "Wehender Fahnen zogen sie ins Stadion" oder "Tränender Augen lasen sie abstruse Beispiele im Netz." Aug 1, 2011 at 14:25
  • @hendrik following your reasoning above i would think now Sinkenden Hauptes schlief...Mit sinkenden Haupt is correct as not transitive/reflexive!?
    – Hauser
    Aug 2, 2011 at 1:25
  • ... mit sinkendem Haupt sinkendem. But is it transitive or reflexive? I'm sorry ... Aug 2, 2011 at 2:07

From a grammatical point of view it's a correct expression As Hendrik pointed out in the comments of this answer, it's neither a grammatically nor a semantically correct expression. The verb "senken" is transitive and requires an object.

The common German idiom you're looking for is

mit gesenktem Haupt(e) ...

The phrase for the opposite meaning

erhobenen Hauptes ...

is formed using the genitive case though.

Both idioms are not day-to-day expressions, but they're not outdated.

  • yeah erhobenen Hauptes gives a lot google hits, but im still looking for the exact terminus of this grammatical structure using a particple...
    – Hauser
    Jul 30, 2011 at 10:35
  • Maybe one should point out that "senkenden Hauptes" is for sure not semantically correct. Is it grammatically correct? I'm not sure, "senken" is either transitive or reflexive! Jul 30, 2011 at 19:04
  • @splattne: The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that "senkenden Hauptes schlief sie ein" is not even grammatically correct since the Objekt for "senkenden" is missing. Jul 30, 2011 at 20:17
  • @Hendrik You're right. senken is a transitive verb, so only "Das Haupt senkend" would be a grammatically right. Nice catch! I'll update my answer.
    – splattne
    Jul 30, 2011 at 20:56

The idiomatic expression:

Sein Haupt senken

is used to depict a gesture of humility (similar to "seinen Blick senken").

It is not - at least not commonly - used in the context of falling asleep where the expression "ihr Kopf [Haupt] sinkt nieder" would be more appropriate ("Kopf" would be a more modern synonym of "Haupt").

  • sry was a bit inexact probably, i meant if it is common to use this type of grammatical structure - senkenden hauptes. But you are right, haupt is a bit old stlye, while erhobenen Hauptes you imo still find in current novels(?).
    – Hauser
    Jul 30, 2011 at 10:26
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    @Hauser: gesenkten Hauptes is also quite OK. Jul 30, 2011 at 18:59
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    @Hendrik Vogt: I disagree for the context with falling asleep. "Gesenkten Hauptes" is a synonym to "kleinlaut", "beschämt". Of course you could go to bed ashamed - but I doubt very much that this is meant in the context above.
    – Takkat
    Jul 30, 2011 at 19:08
  • @Takkat: I only meant to say that it's common to say gesenkten Hauptes. I didn't mean to imply any context. Jul 30, 2011 at 19:16

In German: "sinken" and "senken" is not the same. It' offtopic but maybe you should check that first :-)

Maybe you could write something like: "Ihr Kopf fiel nach vorne, sie schlief einfach ein." or so...

In addition to that: In German you have to use commas to seperate main clause from subordinate clause. I don't know how good your German is but maybe this could help: Nebensätze. If you don't get along I can give further explanations...

  • Hi sarah and welcome here. thx for your answer, but i was aware of this, look at my comment on users anwers. You would also say senkenden Zeigefingers schloss er seine Drohung ab? The main question is what tpye of grammatical structure this is and how to say the same without using a subordinate clause.
    – Hauser
    Jul 30, 2011 at 12:25
  • @sarah thx, im aware of your edited information. The question is not how to transform the sentence but what type of grammatical structure this is and the shortest translation into english. Im exactly looking for NOT using a subordinate clause and comma to make it as short as possible in one clause without loosing meaning :)
    – Hauser
    Jul 30, 2011 at 13:48
  • 1
    @Hauser: You wouldn't say senkenden Zeigefingers; I claim that it's semantically impossible, and I think it's not even grammatically correct. Jul 30, 2011 at 19:05

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