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In Goethe's verse

[...]
Mein Dichten, Trachten, Hoffen und Verlangen
Allein nach dir und deinem Wesen drängt,
[...]

(Full poem)

why is it that the verb drängen is conjugated in the 3rd person singular, while the subject is (apparently) a plural subject Mein Dichten, Trachten, Hoffen und Verlangen ?

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2 Answers 2

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Note that this answer only applies to combinations of singular words (i.e. not to "Meine Träume und Hoffnungen").

HalvarF pointed out that this question has been asked in German already.

The accepted answer to that question makes clear that both "drängt" and "drängen" would be acceptable. It also points out some reasons for using one over the other. In particular:

Bei formelhaften Wortpaaren ohne Artikel(!) steht das finite Verb vor allem dann im Singular, wenn das Wortpaar inhaltlich eine Einheit ausdrückt.

For formulaic word pairs without an article(!), the finite verb is in the singular mainly if the word pair expresses a unit in terms of content.

and

Je abstrakter die Bedeutung der Subjektteile ist, desto eher neigt man dazu, das finite Verb in den Singular zu setzen.

The more abstract the meaning of the subject parts, the more one tends to put the finite verb in the singular.

In this case, both apply.

Additionally, by using the singular, Goethe draws additional attention to the unity between "Dichten, Trachten, Hoffen und Verlangen", which might have been intentional. It implies (among other things) that him writing poems is the same as him desiring the addressee.

As Tilman Schmidt pointed out, there is also the fact that this is a poem. This offers additional freedom in terms of grammar but introduces limitations when it comes to rhymes and meter. "Drängt" fits into the meter and rhymes with "hängt" from the next line.

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  • Wobei wir nicht wissen, welche Zeile Göthe zuerst im Kopf hatte. Jul 7, 2022 at 17:56
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The plural "drängen" has two syllables which would disturb the meter of the verse.

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  • @vectory Ich habe deinen Kommentar gelöscht, weil er unfreundlich ist. Bitte bemühe dich in Zukunft, freundlicher zu sein. Freiwillige und unbezahlte anderer hier als "ignoranten Unfug" zu bezeichnen, überschreitet eine Grenze.
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Jul 8, 2022 at 7:05
  • Das ist ein non sequitor, da daraus nicht folgt, dass das Verb im Singular stehen darf. Göthe hätte unzählige andere Optionen gehabt, den Gedanken auszudrücken. Nov 17, 2023 at 3:55

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