The question is on the highlighted expression in this passage from Der arme Müllerbursch und das Kätzchen (1857), as collected by the Grimm brothers.

In it, three mill hands had each brought a horse with him, and the one having brought the best horse was to inherit the mill.

Wie er nun heim kam, so waren die beiden andern Müllerburschen auch wieder da: jeder hatte zwar sein Pferd mitgebracht, aber des einen seins war blind, des andern seins lahm.

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Question 1

Which is the correct way to parse the expression? If neither is correct, please let me know what is going on.

Reading A

  • In des einen seins war blind, seins is what is called an independent possessive pronoun.
  • des einen modifies seins.
  • des einen is a shorthand for des einen Müllerburschens.
  • Since the usual word order is as in der Motor dieses Autos, there is an inversion in des einen seins.
  • des einen seins means literally his of the one or the one's his.

Reading B

  • des einen seins should be read on the model of English of mine as in mother of mine (or a friend of yours). That is to say, des is determining seins.
  • It is thus a shorthand for das Pferd des einen seins
  • das Pferd des einen seins means the horse of [the] one his.
  • Apparently something very unusual is going on since a pronoun, seins, is being modified by another, einen.

Question 2

If the expression is old fashioned and there is a modern way of saying the same thing, please let me know what it is.

In English, one might say that of the one and that of the other, in which that carries no concept of possession.

2 Answers 2


Your reading A seems to be correct (I must, however, admit I don't really understand your reading B)

Des einen seins can be ripped apart to "Das Seine des einen" and is a kind of grammatical tautology, expressing possession both through genitive and the personal pronoun.

In today's language, I would be using only one of both means to express posession:

Das (Pferd) des einen war blind, das des anderen lahm

And a blind shot at the possible reasoning of this (I don't really think it's just archaic language):

There are some southerly dialects that simply don't have the genitive. They express the possessive through dative and a personal pronoun:

Was ist das für ein Pferd? Das ist das Pferd des Bauern.

degenerates to

Was ist das für ein Pferd? Das ist dem Bauer sein Pferd.

in those dialects. So your sentence in dialect form would look like

Dem einen seins war blind, dem andren seins lahm

(Note that would be "wrong" in Hochdeutsch, also it is, apart from the dative, identical to yours)

Now let's guess this sentence has originally been written in this dialect form and was later revised by someone claiming to use Hochdeutsch who simply replaced the dative with the genitive, leaving the rest of the sentence intact (and thus a bit weird). Or maybe it simply was an early case of hyper correction.

  • 1
    It's comforting that we came up with exactly the same translation ... :) (even including parentheses)
    – Matt L.
    Jun 29, 2016 at 7:51
  • "Das ist dem Bauern sein Pferd." is possible in southerly dialects, but "Das ist das Pferd von dem Bauern." is more common.
    – raznagul
    Jun 30, 2016 at 8:58
  • @raznagul As always, probably depends - Schwäbisch would rarely use a preposition when it can do without. Dem Bauer sein Pferd is much more commonly used here.
    – tofro
    Jun 30, 2016 at 9:01
  • @tofro: Fair point. I don't know Schwäbisch. (I'm from Carithia living in Vienna.)
    – raznagul
    Jun 30, 2016 at 9:04

This expression is definitely archaic. I cannot judge whether at that time it was standard language use, or if - as I assume - it was literary language not commonly found in non-literary writing.

Your "Reading A" is correct. des einen stands indeed for des einen Müllerburschens. The possessive is expressed twice here, once by the genitive des and the other time by seins, which is unusual.

A current idiomatic way expressing the same could be

..., aber das (Pferd) des einen war blind, das des anderen (war) lahm.

where the words in parentheses could be omitted. Even simpler would be the following:

..., aber das eine war blind, das andere lahm.

which is also correct and conveys the same meaning, because it was already mentioned before that each of them owns a horse, so we could leave out the possessive altogether.

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