I recently came across this sentence with the following translation:

Sämtlich waren sie dem Staat eigen. – They all belonged to the State.

So far, I have not seen such a construction with eigen and guess that the general construction is etwas jdm/etw(dativ) eigen sein. Is this correct?

Source: Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage 3rd Edition page 114, Martin Durrell, Arnold 1996.


Eigen is simply an adjective meaning "own" or "belonging to" (but also "peculiar" and "inherent to" which made it an English word used in mathematics based on David Hilbert's "Eigenwertproblem").

Mein Kollege arbeitet im Büro gerne mit seiner eigenen Tastatur

"My colleague likes to work with his own keyboard in the office"

"eigen" is one of the adjectives that can go with a dative that denotes ownership in elevated (and, somewhat archaic) language. Your example is formed that way:

Die Macht über die Bürger ist dem Staate eigen.

Die Frau sei dem Manne untertan.

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  • 2
    "untertan" isn't only archaic, but somewhat different in tone - it is much more about authority than ownership. And also a word that can be very inflammatory if used in the wrong context.... – rackandboneman Mar 10 '19 at 10:02
  • @rackandboneman Even not inflammatory I would say. Rather ridiculous. I imagine some man telling his wife: "Du bist mir untertan!" In modern German this is so out-dated that it sounds just totally misplaced. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 10 '19 at 22:57

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