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I'm reading "Götz von Berlichingen mit der eisernen Hand" which is the drama written by Goethe, and I encountered this sentence:

Metzler, Sievers am Tische. Zwei Reitersknechte beim Feuer. Wirt.

My question is about "am Tische." I know it hides "sitzen" following this, however I can't understand why "Tisch-e", not "Tisch". "Tische" is plural form of "Tisch", however when "Tische" is plural form, I can't explain "am" because I think "an den Tischen" is correct in this case.

Maybe this is the old-German specific rule. Could you explain this?

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This is an (older) form of dative found in (usually monosyllabic) nouns.

Der Tisch - des Tisch(e)s - am Tisch(e) - den Tisch

Today, the 'e' in the dative form is usually left out. But depending on the rhythm of the sentence or the register of language used (poetic, ironic, etc.) you may still want to include it.

Here are more such cases:

Das Bad - des Bad(e)s - im Bad(e) - das Bad

Das Weib - des Weib(e)s - beim Weib(e) - das Weib

Das Tier - des Tier(e)s - vom Tier(e) - das Tier

Der Stock - des Stock(e)s - am Stock(e) - den Stock

Das Buch - des Buch(e)s - im Buch(e) - das Buch

You find this with male and neuter words, not with female ones.

Die Frau - der Frau - bei der Frau - die Frau

I believe, in the middle ages there was something like bey der frouwe, but I am not sure. Some medieaevalist will show up here and give more competent information.

Likewise it seems to be rarely applicable to words with more than one syllable:

Das Segel - des Segels Segeles - dem Segel Segele - das Segel

Moreover, it seems that the modern German ear ist not any more used to this 'e' but in words that often appear in old texts, particulary stage plays, or wherever modern man gets in contact with older language. For example

Das Boot - des Boot(e)s - dem Boot(e) - das Boot

should technically be correct, but at least I personally have to struggle a lot to get used to it. It sounds a little bit overdone.


I see now that this topic actually has been discussed repeatedly in his forum. In this post: Wie wird die Redewendung "wie es im Buche steht" grammatisch gebildet? there is even a link to an entire scholarly paper on the topic. Probably it offers deeper insight than what I wrote here free-handedly.


And now I see that perhaps my impromptu theory of only monosyllabic words being affected could be disputed:

Das Gesetz - des Gesetzes - dem Gesetz(e) - das Gesetz

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  • The dative with -e is also still found in laws. E. g. Alle Staatsgewalt geht vom Volke aus (Article 20 (2) of the German Constitution [Grundgesetz/Basic Law]) – RHa Aug 5 '17 at 20:39
  • Yes. And this - unfortunately - brings to my attention that my theory about monosyllabic words is not really robust: Vor dem Gesetze sind wir alle gleich. – Christian Geiselmann Aug 5 '17 at 23:25
  • The Grundgesetz has Alle Menschen sind vor dem Gesetz gleich (Article 3) so your theory about monosyllabic words seem to be valid here. – RHa Aug 6 '17 at 9:44

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