9

So, this is a scene from a German series.

Two women are fighting and it is broken up by the third one saying:

"Es reicht, ihr kleinen Monster!"

The question is, why is there an "n" at the end of "kleinen"?

My only reasonable guess is that the pronoun "ihr", being in the dative means the adjective after it must be subject to weak declension. Is that right?

  • 2
    "ihr" is not actually in the dative, it's the second person plural pronoun in the nominative. (As in "Ihr redet" - "You are talking") – sgf May 1 at 19:34
  • Very interesting question. This is one of those things you never come across as a native speaker. – jonathan.scholbach May 2 at 8:37
  • 1
    Latin had a vocative for exactly this and similar cases. One would ask wen meinst du?, euch kleinen Monster, that would be dativ. ihr kleinen, du kleiner is just nominativ. – vectory May 2 at 9:31
14

This is an area where German grammar shows some instability.

First, note that ihr is a second person plural pronoun in the nominative (accusative and dative would be euch). The appositive noun phrase that follows the pronoun does not have an article, so any adjectives should carry strong inflection. And they do when the pronoun is singular:

ich armes Schwein
du Glücklicher

However, in the nominative plural, both strong and weak forms are possible, my impression being that the totally unexpected weak forms are actually preferred.

wir Deutsche(n)
ihr arme(n) Sünder
ihr beide(n)

The preference for the weak form is very strong in the example you quoted because ihr kleinen Monster is not a subject, but used as form of address (a vocative expression).

In the accusative, strong inflection seems the only option.

für uns Deutsche
für euch arme Sünder
für euch beide

The Duden grammar covers these constructions under § 1529.

0

David Vogt's answer is erudite and explains it to full satisfaction.

Still, for practical users of German one might be inclined to offer simpler advice, namely:

"That's the correct form. Just use it!"

For training, build other sentences or phrases following this example:

Ihr blöde(n) Rechthaber!

Ihr holde(n) Musen!

Ihr scheinheilige(n) Republikaner!

Ihr kräftige(n) Matrosen!

Ihr holde(n) Jungfrauen!

Ihr schlitzohrige(n) Gauner!"

Where I would give preference to the version with "n". Leaving the "n" out feels a bit strange to me (native speaker, writing a part of my profession). But I believe D. Vogt that in nominative plural both forms are correct.

Putting sentences in context is a good idea:

Oh Ihr holden Jungfrauen, versteckt eure sanften Augen doch nicht hinter solch hässlichen Sonnenbrillen!

Ihr schlitzohrigen Gauner! Gebt mir meinen Rasenmäher zurück!

Hey, Ihr kräftigen Matrosen, zieht mal an dem Tau hier! Wir müssen den Wal aus dem Wasser holen.

But note that without "Ihr" the n has to be left away:

Hey, kräftige Matrosen, stoßt mit mir auf die Seefahrt an, und darauf, dass die Seejungfrauen nicht ewig welche bleiben!

Ihr scheinheiligen Republikaner, möge euch euer Trump in der evangelikalen Gurgel steckenbleiben!

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    What information is this adding, which is not already in David Vogt's answer? – jonathan.scholbach May 2 at 14:47
  • @jonathan.scholbach 1) Practial examples 2) Advice to not try to learn this through abstract, analytic rules but rather through a holistic gestalt approach. – Christian Geiselmann May 2 at 14:49
  • Sorry, but I think this "gestalt approach" is just a fancy word for something which could better be called "lack of a rule". And this is not a feature of the grammar, but a feature of our (your) knowledge of the grammar. By the way, you are actually giving a rule. So I don't get your point... – jonathan.scholbach May 2 at 14:53
  • @jonathan.scholbach The gestalt approach is not the same as lack of a rule. It is a different way of seeing things. In natural languages "rules" (as found in grammar books) are always only auxiliary tools to approximate (or model) reality. Proof: most languages have for certain phenomena 1) a rule 2) a list of exceptions (secondary rules) 3) a set of exceptions from these exceptions, etc. - It is fine to search for helpful rules in languages, but they are not the final factor. Their power ends at some point. Unlike in artificial languages, of course. – Christian Geiselmann May 2 at 15:00
  • PS: When children learn their first language, they don't memorize rules. They follow a gestalt approach. - I admit that I may be mis-using the term here; in everday words I would say: you can learn by taking in a number of good examples, and then generate your sentences based on that collection of examples and their similarities. You do not need to know rules necessarily. - Of course you may argue that a brain learning that way still distills "rules" out of the set of examples. But that's unconscious. Whereas rules are typically on the conscious level. – Christian Geiselmann May 2 at 15:03

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