zwei Menschen von unterschiedlichem Range

Instead of:

zwei Menschen von unterschiedlichen Rängen

I wonder what gramatical rule dictates the use of the singular dative Range rather than the plural dative Rängen, especially considering how the same idea works in English:

"two people from (two) different social ranks"


I can only speculate, why this variant is common in german but not in english. But I can explain the grammatical structure:

The singular indicates that "Rang" is referring on the indivdual rank of each person. So a literal translation (which sounds a bit odd in english) would be

Two people with different rank each.

I think - but this is speculation - the preference for Singular in this case is caused by the idiomatic phrase "von Rang" which is often used in singular, like in "ein Offizier von Rang (meaning 'an officer of high grade'). Another example is "aus dem Hause". It would be possible to hear the phrase

Zwei Prinzen aus unterschiedlichem Hause.

But, as a tertium comparationis, consider

Zwei Menschen aus unterschiedlichen Familien.

Zwei Menschen aus unterschiedlichen Städten.

where it would be very uncommon (if not wrong) to use the Singular, because no such idiomatic phrase for singular exists. These exmaples lead me to my hypothesis, that the Singular is caused by the idiomatic fixed phrase "Mensch von Rang".

This is also supported by the fact that

Zwei Menschen von unterschiedlichen Rängen

can also be translated as

*Two people from different balconies

since "Rang" also has the meaning of 'balcony' (in theatre or opera). This latter meaning is excluded by using the Singular, because for this meaning it would be obligate to use Plural - again, because the idiomatic singular phrase does not exist for the meaning 'balcony'.

  • Thank you. The possibility of the "each" interpretation had occurred to me, but I wasn't sure. Incidentally, would you prefer to use "Range" to "Rang" for the dative case? Apr 2 '17 at 10:50
  • 1
    Those Dativs with the additional "e" at the end are antiquating. They often occur in fixed idiomatic phrases like "aus dem Hause [Metternich]" or "vom Range [eines Offiziers]" - using this Dativ "Range" would emphasize the association to the idiomatic phrase. If you would not want this, use the Dativ "Rang" which is more common in recent german. But this is a rather slight nuance. Apr 2 '17 at 10:55

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