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Soweit ich weiß, man kann sagen „Das arme Gretchen“ oder „Die arme Gretchen“1 (im Singular, nicht im Plural). Welcher Artikel ist gewöhnlicher?

  1. The Philosophy of Grammar, von Otto Jespersen, 1924, p. 240.
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    Nobody with German as first language would say "Die arme Gretchen" ever. Am I right to suppose that that questions come from US America, where indeed some women have been given "Gretchen" as a name? – Christian Geiselmann Apr 3 '19 at 12:51
  • @ChristianGeiselmann: My question is actually based on two things: 1) it seems that in Ancient Greek, where words ending in the diminutive suffix -ιον are neuter as a rule, names ending in this suffix were sometimes used with a feminine article; 2) I found the cited passage by Otto Jespersen saying that something similar might be true in German. Since I don't know German, I wanted to ask about that here. I'm well aware that grammatical gender in German has little to do with the intuitions of English speakers, so I didn't even attempt to guess at the usual usage. – sumelic Apr 3 '19 at 17:41
  • Interesting. But why should things that might have been common in (some varieties of) Ancient Greek be common in German, then? Second, Jespersen is simply wrong. Or he has heared something like that in some very specific, local variety of speaking (dialect or so). In the past, dialects were very strong in the German speaking world, and actually each village had its own varieties of pronunciation, and even its own words sometimes. But this is not standard German. – Christian Geiselmann Apr 4 '19 at 8:03
  • @ChristianGeiselmann: I think the case of Gretchen as a given name should indeed be noted in the answers, in that the rules for diminutives wouodn't apply in that particular case. – O. R. Mapper Apr 5 '19 at 11:27
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Note, that Gretchen must be considered as a diminuitive from Grete or Gretel. (The name-based diminuitive is only in wider use for some well-established names, I would guess from the Grimm tales era, like Hänschen, Karlchen, Lieschen; I'm not aware of recent new formings according to that pattern).

Diminuitives are always neuter in German, and I can't recognize a difference in use between the name-based diminuitive and an ordinal one as Mädchen. So I would consider die Gretchen as wrong. But: In the next sentence the pronoun sie is far more likely than the grammatically correct es.

  • Thanks! It's helpful to hear that you don't see a difference between the diminutives of common nouns and the diminutives of names. I felt uncertain because the example I found of "Die arme Gretchen" came from Otto Jespersen, who was a well-known linguist (although I'm not sure how extensively he had studied Geman). I wasn't sure whether using a feminine article with "Gretchen" was a commonly recognized option, or just a little-known variant to the neuter usage. – sumelic Apr 3 '19 at 7:24
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Für das Standarddeutsche würde ich davon ausgehen, daß nur der neutrale Artikel, also das arme Gretchen, akzeptabel ist. Bei anaphorischen Pronomen sieht es anders aus; Fälle wie der folgende sind im Standarddeutschen absolut üblich.

»Es war ein sehr hübsches Mädchen, was selbst unsere Offiziere […] auch immer fanden […] und wenn sie nicht so vorstehende große Augen gehabt hätte… ach, die hätten Sie sehen sollen, Johanna, wenigstens so groß« (und Effi zog unter Lachen an ihrem rechten Augenlid), »so wäre sie geradezu eine Schönheit gewesen.« (Fontane, Effi Briest)

In Dialekten mag es anders aussehen. Wir hatten erst vor kurzem eine Antwort, in der darauf hingewiesen wurde, daß regional Frauennamen mit neutralem Artikel stehen (dat Anna und s Eva). Jespersens Quelle ist Tobler; dort wird auch noch der Fall erwähnt, daß in manchen Dialekten diminuierte männliche Namen das maskuline Genus behalten (der Kasperle).

Mädchen und Gretchen unterscheiden sich potentiell dadurch, daß ersteres ein Appellativum und letzteres ein Personenname ist. Wobei Grete teilweise appellativen Charakter angenommen hat, wie z.B. auch engl. john.

  • Vielen Dank. Ich frage mich nur, ob es einen Unterschied zwischen Gattungsnamen wie "Mädchen" und Eigennamen wie "Gretchen" gibt. – sumelic Apr 3 '19 at 0:53
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    Im Standarddeutschen nicht. In Dialekten möglicherweise (wenn z.B. dort, wo man der Kasperle sagt, Diminutive von Appellativen neutral sind). – David Vogt Apr 3 '19 at 7:30

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