In Müller-Schubert’s Winterreise the sixth lied begins with

Manche Trän’ aus meinen Augen
ist gefallen in den Schnee: (…)

Why is Manche Trän(e[n]) in singular? Is this rather a “I have to accept it like this because it’s poetry” and in that case I’d like to know the meaning or effect of using the singular, or, I need to think of it as meaning sind gefallen instead (which I doubt).

Or, is Manche and not manche? That is, it’s a noun (which I also doubt, since I cannot find it as a noun in the dictionaries).

  • 2
    As you can see for example on Duden.de, manch- can be used in singular.
    – Chris
    Jun 22 '15 at 21:47
  • 4
    "Manche Träne" is regular German, no artistic license needed.
    – Carsten S
    Jun 22 '15 at 23:14

The indefinite pronoun manch can be used in singular as well as in plural. This is reflected in the English translation with many:

  • singular: Many a tear from my eyes has fallen into the snow.
  • plural: Many tears from my eyes have fallen into the snow.

Manch has distinct singular and plural inflections, but the feminine singular inflection happens to be the same as the plural inflection in all three genders, which might be a cause for confusion at first:

A) SINGULAR inflections of manch (e.g. nominative and accusative case):

manche Träne (fem.); mancher Mensch (masc.); manches Haus (neut.)

B) PLURAL inflection (e.g. nominative and accusative case):

manche Tränen (fem.); manche Menschen (masc.); manche Häuser (neut.)

More on the inflection of 'manch' here in canoo.

  • 1
    Of course all plurals would be like feminine singular. They all have die. Gender distinctions are lost in plurals (hence the tendency for PC language to use unclear plural forms). If one grammatical gender’s plural is like feminine singular, they will all be. It’s more of a rule than an exception (though it still has exceptions: dative plural being the most prominent).
    – Jan
    Jun 23 '15 at 0:22
  • 1
    @Jan This is a weird way of thinking of it. It will also mostly confuse people. Just because the article is die, it doesn't suddenly make a noun feminine singular. Die Männer is still masculine nominative plural and you should really not be saying die Männer is feminine, but der Mann is masculine. Jun 25 '15 at 9:26

It's most certainly not a noun. Duden (German dictionary, like Webster) doesn't know of it and neither do I (rather well-educated native speaker).

I am very sure that Manche trän' means manche Träne which does make sense as in some or numerous tears. A little like focusing on each individual tear rhetorically/symbolically, giving them more gravitas. Using this phrase in normal conversation would sound rather puffy though, at least in my opinion, roughly comparable to speaking like a protagonist out of a shakespearean play.

Duden also mentions that manch(e[r]) means an individual person or thing, that sums up with more of its kind to a quantity that matters, but the exact count is not given OR (like in this case) some, but not all persons or things among others, but to an extent that it matters (rough translation of Duden's definition)

Interestingly enough, I might not have noticed that myself. It would be great to hear from someone who knows a little more about the grammatical aspect of it.

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