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Everyone knows der See is "lake" and die See is "ocean", but can you say die Seen for "oceans" or does it only mean "lakes"? Duden and en.Wiktionary say die See has no plural, but DWDS and de.Wiktionary say the plural is Seen. It would kind of make sense if die See is an abstract noun since abstract nouns are often feminine, so concrete masculine, abstract feminine.

I've checked the wonderful DWDS usage database and the most likely candidate I saw for Seen meaning anything other than "lakes" was from the German subtitles to "Vikings": Die Seen brodelten um ihnen herum, aber dann löste sich der Haken... und die Schlange kam frei... und versank so schnell wieder unter die Wellen.

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    Dwds clearly states, that in the meaning ocean there is no plural. The given plural of the feminine form is for the other meaning of large wave. – guidot Mar 5 at 7:47
  • @guidot: Yes, I missed that. It also helps the sea serpent quote make more sense. – RDBury Mar 5 at 9:45
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die See (f) has actually two meanings, one of them has a plural, the other doesn't:

  1. Meer (as an abstract concept, singular only) like in zur See fahren, in See stechen,...
  2. Woge (swell) as a concrete thing and limited to nautical language, can have plural, like in schwere Seen brachen auf das Deck, der Kutter konnte sich kaum über Wasser halten

Your example seems to be the second meaning.

Obviously, der See (m) (lake) is a different word yet again.

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  • Thanks; as I mentioned in other comments, the "swell" meaning is mentioned in both DWDS and de.Wiktionary but it's easy to miss. – RDBury Mar 5 at 10:02
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Die See denominates the abstract concept sea instead of a specific sea (except, of course, proper names like Nord- and Ostsee). The concept is basically the entirety of the seas. You have a lot of idioms like raue See, auf hoher See, in See stechen and so on, but you can not really say Ich bade gerne in der See or Ich gehe auf der See segeln (note: der See = dative here). That's already too concrete and requires the noun Meer.

As you say, as a abstract noun denominating an unique concept (there's only one entirety of seas), die See does not have a plural.

The example you give could be a wrong translation. It features at least another error (um ihnen herum instead of um sie herum). But most decisively, it doesn't make sense here because there aren't literally multiple seas around them.

Especially, there is no traditional usage of die Seen (f. pl.). As DWDS states, the differentiation happened quite late in literature, so you wouldn't find a medieval source about the vikings, for instance, talking about die Seen:

See ist ursprünglich Maskulinum. Schwankungen zwischen maskulinem und femininem Gebrauch bestehen im Aengl., Mhd., Mnd. und Mnl. Der im Dt. an das Genus gebundene Bedeutungsunterschied wird erstmals bei dem Pommern Kantzow (16. Jh.) deutlich, aber in der Literatursprache erst im 19. Jh. voll ausgebildet.

Die See really doesn't have a plural and since it is denominating one unique concept, it isn't clear what the plural would be.


Edit: There is another meaning of die See which @tofro points out.

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    I agree with almost everything, but "Ich bade gerne in der See" is actually an exact thing my parents from Schleswig-Holstein would say. ostseebad-ahrenshoop.de/aktivitaeten – HalvarF Mar 4 at 22:17
  • See also: de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seebad , seebadeanstalt.de – HalvarF Mar 4 at 22:28
  • I can make up an example sentence, where plural would be required even though the concept is abstract: Egal ob bei rauer See oder bei ruhiger See - auf unserem Schiff macht Reisen bei allen Seen [?] Freude. I don't say, this is good or even correct, but the plural would not be utterly non-sense. – jonathan.scholbach Mar 5 at 3:54
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    @jonathan.scholbach You could use "... macht Reisen bei jeder See Freude". – harper Mar 5 at 6:29
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    Thanks. I missed the other meaning of die See, meaning "wave" or "swell" which is concrete and therefore has a plural. To be fair, it's apparently nautical jargon so probably not universally known. It's a bit confusing because both DWDS and de.Wiktionary list the plural for both meanings and then say later that the first meaning has no plural. – RDBury Mar 5 at 9:59

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