I have noticed in both commercial folk music as well as older texts it seems very often that constructions with "sei" (alter sein/ist?) are being frequently used. Meanwhile I have almost never seen it in (my) homework assignments, newspaper text, TV or from other modern sources.

Is it still part of the german language?

Example of some old text where it occurs:

enter image description here my attempt at reading (lol):

Anschaulicher, als durch dieses Gleichniß vom menschlichen Leibe, läßt sich gewiß nicht zeigen, wie notwendig es für das Gedeihen einer jeden gesellschaftlichen Verbindung sei, daß deren Glieder stets in Eintracht mit einander bleiben...

Edit: OMG here is also word Leib as in Leibler(?) (Kullback-Leibler Divergenz für die Mathe-freaks)

Is it also an example of Hochdeutsch or something else?

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    It's still used by mathematicians - does this count as modern usage? – Arsak Jul 17 '18 at 22:13
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    @Marzipanherz I suppose it does. Any reference would be welcome. – mathreadler Jul 17 '18 at 22:16
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    Sorry, I can't listen to volksdümmliche Musik longer than 10 seconds. Btw: What you can see and hear in this video is NOT (I repeat: IT IS NOT) traditional music. This is modern commercial music, composed and produced to earn money. It developed from traditional music, but it no longer has to do anything with real traditional music. Calling the music from your video traditional is like claiming hip hop would be the same as soul music. It developed from three, but it no longer has anything in common with it. – Hubert Schölnast Jul 18 '18 at 6:57
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    @HubertSchölnast I changed to commercial folk music instead. – mathreadler Jul 18 '18 at 9:49
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    Hearing 10 seconds of volkstümliche Musik and then knowing that this is not Volksmusik is like listening to 10 seconds of hip hop and knowing, that this is not soul music. Also compare en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksmusik and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkstümliche_Musik – Hubert Schölnast Jul 18 '18 at 13:31

Actually, your two examples show two totally different forms of "sein".

The sei from the folk music song is simply a dialect version of the infinitive sein, which is shortened to "sei" in lots of (mainly southern) dialects. These dialects are still very much alive in German.

The text example shows a sort of "reported speech". It is actually hochdeutsch, but sei in that example is Konjunktiv I. This usage is a bit archaic, as we probably wouldn't use Konjunktiv with "zeigen" today - with other verbs of expression (like "sagen", for example), the usage of Konjunktiv I sei in reported speech is totally common.

  • Ah, that is very fascinating two different sources of sei, one dialectal and one historic. – mathreadler Jul 18 '18 at 6:25
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    Historic is not quite right, see my amends – tofro Jul 18 '18 at 7:10

I have not turned on the sound, but I doubt that there is anything traditional about that song. Anyway, sei in it is merely a dialect version of sein. On the other hand, the sei in the quoted text is Konjunktiv I. That form is stil alive and well, but I do indeed see no reason for Konjunktiv in contemporary grammar in that place.

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    Ah, so which dialects use sei instead of sein? Any sources would be appreciated as well. – mathreadler Jul 17 '18 at 22:34
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    @mathreadler The song title you've linked "A Lausbua muss er sei" is Bavarian dialect. In high German this would read as "... muss er sein". – Arsak Jul 17 '18 at 23:27

In the modern spoken language, the konjunktiv present (as in the form sei) is rarely used except in Switzerland and Vorarlberg, see indirekte Rede « atlas-alltagssprache.

It is therefore not surprising that modern texts use the konjunktiv present less frequently than older texts.

As the others have already pointed out, the song you have linked has a dialectal form of sein.


The reason for the decreasing usage has to do with the forms. The konjunktiv present is often not distinguishable from the indicative present. In that sense, the konjunktiv present is going the way the indicative preterit has gone in Southern German: it is disappearing because it has merged with another form.

In the following forms, konjunktiv and indicative present have completely merged:

  • ich singe
  • wir singen
  • sie singen

The only distinction between konjunktiv and indicative present in the following forms is a schwa, which is easily lost in speech:

  • du singest – singst
  • ihr singet – singt

Consequently, the only form with a reliable distinction between konjunktiv and indicative present is the third person singular:

  • er/sie/es singe – singt

On the other hand, dialects in Switzerland and Vorarlberg have conserved a more complete konjunktiv present paradigm than other dialects or Standard German. In Bernese German – as an example for a Swiss German dialect – the entire paradigm is distinct:

  • i singi – singe
  • du singisch – singsch
  • är/si/äs singi – singt
  • mir singi – singe
  • dihr singit – singet
  • si singi – si singe
  • Wow Bern dialect seems very unique. är/si/äs, mir, dihr I think I have never seen. – mathreadler Jul 18 '18 at 6:48
  • It is not all that unique. Other Swiss German dialects share most/all of these forms. – mach Jul 18 '18 at 8:36
  • That is weird, maybe I have simply not heard enough Schweizerdeutsch to know what it sounds like. – mathreadler Jul 18 '18 at 18:28

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