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The 2017 film Coco features a song with the title "Remember me." In the German language version of the movie, the song is titled "Denk stets an mich" and contains the following lyrics:

Denk stets an mich / wenn ich weggehe, sei nicht bang / denk stets an mich / und der Gitarre traurig Klang / sagt, dass ich nur so sein kann bei dir allabendlich

I'm trying to understand the grammar in the line "und der Gitarre traurig Klang." According to Google Translate and ChatGPT, the line translates to "and the sad sound of the guitar," which in regular German might be expressed as "und der traurige Klang der Gitarre." This raises some questions:

  1. What noun is the article "der" referring to? Is it "der Gitarre" (feminine dative) or "der Klang" (masculine nominative)?
  2. Why does the adjective "traurig" not carry an ending? e.g. I would expect something like "der traurige Klang."
  3. What is going on with the word order?

I assume such language would never be used in normal German prose, and the only reason for the strange language here is to fit rhythm and rhyme patterns in the song, but I still would like to understand how one should read this line.

1 Answer 1

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That der belongs to Gitarre and it's genitive singular feminine.


Putting the genitive attribute in front of the noun is a common pattern in German. Consider:

Swantjes trauriger Gesang

As Swantje is a proper name („cute Swan“, by the way), you mark the genitive by adding an s. And you put it in front. What's not that common is applying that word order to regular nouns.

des Schwans trauriger Gesang

It's still allowed though. But

trauriger Gesang des Schwans

is more common.

About skipping the ending on the adjective, that's poetic licence. You won't find it in prose.

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  • Thanks for clarifying. Just to follow up, if we take the phrase "des Schwans trauriger Gesang", is this really equivalent to "trauriger Gesang des Schwans"? I would have thought it was equivalent to "DER traurige Gesang des Schwans". That is, putting a "possessive genetive" in front of a noun carries with it the feel of a definite article. For example, if I say "Annas Auto", what I really mean is "DAS Auto, das zu Anna gehört."
    – Pascal
    Commented Jun 23 at 7:17
  • That is because your example is about a single item. Try it with a list: Ich hörte des Waldes Rauschen, des Regens Trommeln, des Schwans traurigen Gesang.Ich hörte Rauschen des Waldes, Trommeln des Regens, traurigen Gesang des Schwans.
    – Janka
    Commented Jun 23 at 8:08
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    @Pascal That's correct, if you put the possessive in front, you don't need an article for the main noun. "Das Auto von Anna" becomes "Annas Auto", "der Klang des Banjos" becomes "des Banjos Klang", "mit dem Klang der Gitarre" becomes "mit der Gitarre Klang".
    – HalvarF
    Commented Jun 23 at 8:46
  • "Des Schwans Gesang" feels stylistically inconsistent; if you're going to put it in this word order then use the more old fashioned / poetic declension: "Des Schwanes Gesang". Commented Jun 23 at 16:43

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