The first sentence of the Zueignung in the beginning of Goethe's Faust, Eine Tragödie reads thus:

Ihr naht euch wieder, schwankende Gestalten!

I am interpreting this as something along the lines of "Again you come, shifting forms!" I'm operating under the notion that euch is here being used as some manner of second-person plural pronoun, possibly the Dative.

That leaves me with two questions: 1. What is the specific grammatical classification of this use of euch 2. If I am right about what it is, why is a second pronoun being employed for the same entities for an intransitive behavior?

1 Answer 1


The verb nahen takes an optional dative object which is the "receiver" of the subject.

Ein Zug naht.

Ein Zug naht der Gruppe.

Suppose you and your friends are up to cross rails. Someone shouts:

Vorsicht! Ein Zug naht euch!

Though, in modern German, nahen is replaced by sich nähern almost always.

Vorsicht! Ein Zug nähert sich euch!

In those examples euch is a personal pronoun.

In your example

Ihr naht euch wieder.

that euch is a reflexive pronoun. It just doubles ihr as the dative object of nahen is optional.

We can only guess it's used for effect. It's not a train which may hit them, but ihr, they themselves. Or each other.

(Remember you cannot tell personal pronouns from reflexive pronouns in German apart from the 3rd person sich.)

  • Thank you for the thorough explanation! It must be for effect as you've said; it certainly fits the context well, and isn't that different from the English phenomenon of doubling pronouns for emphasis.
    – user242007
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 23:49
  • 2
    This is quite wrong. "Sich nahen" is not a device for emphasis. It is only possible here because "nahen" is an (optionally) reflexive verb to begin with. You could not write e.g. "sich radfahren" in place of "radfahren" just for emphasis - not even Goethe could. Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 8:16
  • I do not assume that it was categorically an emphatic, just that it made sense in this context given the details Janka provided about nahen already. However, if you have an alternate interpretation of the use of "euch" in this particular sentence, I would be interested to hear it.
    – user242007
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 10:31
  • Do you have a reference for this? Without knowing any other examples I would just have assumed that nahen is used in exactly the same way as modern nähern.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 19:38
  • Das Ende naht (uns). aber nicht Das Ende nähert (uns)., sondern Das Ende nähert sich (uns).
    – Janka
    Commented Aug 15, 2019 at 19:53

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