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The last line of the quatrain of the famous German nursery rhyme “Müde bin ich” is “Über meinem Bette sein.” Why is the plural being used there? Or is it a different form of “das Bett”?

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The final "e" in "Bette" indicates the dative case and is not a plural form. It normally isn't used in contemporary German anymore, however there are some fixed expressions like "zu Hause" where it is still encountered nowadays.

So

Über meinem Bette.

is singular and equivalent to

Über meinem Bett.

and the plural is

Über meinen Betten.

  • Do you have any contemporary evidence the "außer Hause" is really a "fixed expression"? Except for 98-year-old Butlers still serving their masters I feel as if 30-year secretaries often deny access to their superiors with "Sry, der Herr Influencer ist in einem meeting außer Haus." – LаngLаngС Oct 30 '18 at 15:20
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    @LangLangC "Außer Hause" is definitely used in (older) literature, but you are right, "außer Haus" is much more common today. I guess "zu Hause" would be a better example. – fragezeichen Oct 30 '18 at 15:31
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    @fragezeichen It is not least a question of education. I suppose the 98 years old butlers are better educated than the 30 years old secretaries and use higher registers of speech. 30 years old secretaries may have other advantages. – Christian Geiselmann Oct 30 '18 at 19:47
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    @LangLangC »Herr Meier ist nicht im Hause«: Diese Art der Formulierung kommt mir nicht ungewöhnlich vor. »Herr Meier ist außer Hause« klingt (in meinen Ohren) noch etwas förmlicher, floskelhafter, habe ich aber in den letzten Jahren auch noch gehört. – Philipp Oct 30 '18 at 20:16
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    More contemporary examples: "Tourismus ist im Zuge der Industrialisierung selbst zur Ware geworden" (source), "Wie im Fluge" (source), "Bildgeschichten vom Rande Europas" (source). The dative ending isn't completely dead yet. – Schmuddi Oct 30 '18 at 22:41
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Summary:

In

über meinem Bette sein

the word Bette is not plural. It's an antiquated dative singular often found in poetry.

Wikipedia quotation:

(from the wikipedia article about Dative case, emphasis mine)

In general, the dative (German: Dativ) is used to mark the indirect object of a German sentence. For example:

  • Ich schickte dem Mann(e) das Buch. (literally: I sent "to the man" the book.) – Masculine
  • Ich gab der Frau den Stift zurück. (literally: I gave "to the woman" the pencil back.) – Feminine
  • Ich überreiche dem Kind(e) ein Geschenk. (literally: I hand "to the child" a present.) – Neuter

In English, the first sentence can be rendered as "I sent the book to the man" and as "I sent the man the book", where the indirect object is identified in English by standing in front of the direct object. The normal word order in German is to put the dative in front of the accusative (as in the example above). However, since the German dative is marked in form, it can also be put after the accusative: Ich schickte das Buch dem Mann(e). The (e) after Mann and Kind signifies a now largely archaic -e ending for certain nouns in the dative. It survives today almost exclusively in set phrases such as zu Hause (to the house, lit. going home), im Zuge (in the course of), and am Tage (in the afternoon), as well as in occasional usage in formal prose, poetry, and song lyrics.

Note: am Tage doesn't mean in the afternoon, but on the day (am Tage des Jüngsten Gerichts = on the Day of Judgement) or during daytime. The translation of zu Hause is also questionable.

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