Communities

Writing
Writing
Codidact Meta
Codidact Meta
The Great Outdoors
The Great Outdoors
Photography & Video
Photography & Video
Scientific Speculation
Scientific Speculation
Cooking
Cooking
Electrical Engineering
Electrical Engineering
Judaism
Judaism
Languages & Linguistics
Languages & Linguistics
Software Development
Software Development
Mathematics
Mathematics
Christianity
Christianity
Code Golf
Code Golf
Music
Music
Physics
Physics
Linux Systems
Linux Systems
Power Users
Power Users
Tabletop RPGs
Tabletop RPGs
Community Proposals
Community Proposals
tag:snake search within a tag
answers:0 unanswered questions
user:xxxx search by author id
score:0.5 posts with 0.5+ score
"snake oil" exact phrase
votes:4 posts with 4+ votes
created:<1w created < 1 week ago
post_type:xxxx type of post
Search help
Notifications
Mark all as read See all your notifications »
Q&A

What grammatical category does "Weihnachten" fall into?

+5
−0

The German word "Weihnachten" (Christmas) is an odd one. It's a neuter noun (das Weihnachten) even though it's based on a feminine one (die Nacht, night). The traditional Christmas greetings, "Frohe Weihnachten" or "Fröhliche Weihnachten," don't follow the rules for singular neuter nouns, though they'd make sense if it were a plural (think of the 12 days of Christmas). The plural of "Nacht," though, is "Nächte." Some German nouns add "-en" as a plural or for non-nominative singular cases, but that never happens with feminine nouns, and neuter nouns partially follow it only when they have certain endings (e.g., das Museum / die Museen). The dative plural for "Nacht" is "Nächten," but the umlaut is mandatory.

As a further complication, the combining form changes the "en" to "s" (Weihnachtsmarkt, Weihnachtsabend, and many others). The combining form of "Nacht" is just "Nacht-".

Does "Weihnachten" fall into some grammatical category that lets this all make sense, or is it a unique instance, built from dialects and archaic usage?

History
Why does this post require moderator attention?
You might want to add some details to your flag.
Why should this post be closed?

2 comment threads

DAS Weihnachten? (5 comments)
Found this on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/German/comments/3yqlqd/why_is_it_frohe_weihnachten_ins... (1 comment)

1 answer

+5
−0

After getting various inputs, I can offer a partial answer to my own question. I'm not a native speaker, so feel free to offer a better one.

The explanation Duden offers covers most of the bases. Key points:

"Weihnachten" is described as a frozen dative plural (ein erstarrter Dativ Plural) of "die Weihnacht", using a medieval plural form. It's plural because Christmas was conceived as lasting from December 25 to Epiphany (the 12 days of Christmas).

"Die Form Weihnachten ist standardsprachlich im Allgemeinen als ein Neutrum Singular anzusehen: Es war ein schönes Weihnachten." (The form "Weihnachten" is in general standard usage regarded as a neuter singular.) In effect, it's a singular back-construction from the plural of a feminine singular. But in set phrases like "Frohe Weihnachten", it's always treated as a case-invariant plural. "In bestimmten formelhaften Wendungen, vor allem als Wunschformel zum Weihnachtsfest, ist der Plural allgemeinsprachlich und nicht auf den regionalen Sprachgebrauch begrenzt:" (In certain formalized expressions, especially as a Christmas wish formulation, the plural is in general usage and not limited to regional usage.)

"All diese Schwankungen im Gebrauch des Artikels, des Numerus und des Genus bei der Festbezeichnung Weihnachten lassen sich sprachhistorisch erklären." (All these variations in the use of the article, the number, and the gender of the designation "Weihnachten" have to be explained by linguistic history.) So ultimately the expression is a sort of living fossil, preserved by continuous usage through the centuries.

History
Why does this post require moderator attention?
You might want to add some details to your flag.

2 comment threads

Very impressive, well done. (1 comment)
Ostern - a parallel word (1 comment)

Sign up to answer this question »