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7.11 Verbs taking the dative case

We have already looked at which verbs which take the accusative case in Chapter 3. Some German verbs however take the dative case. They often equate to the English "to (you etc.)" or "from (you etc.)", but this is not always the case. Some verbs which take an indirect object in German - such as "danken" ("to thank") and "helfen" ("to help") are ones which take a direct object in English.

(N.B. A noun or pronoun in the accusative case is called a direct object. A verb which takes a direct object is called a transitive verb. A noun or pronoun in the dative case is called an indirect object.)

We have met several examples of verbs taking the dative case in this chapter, and they can be split into four types. Firstly verbs which simply take a dative object:

  • Können Sie mir helfen?
    ("Can you help me?")
  • Ich danke Ihnen.
    ("(I) thank you.")

Verbs that take both the dative and the accusative case
Secondly, a number of verbs take both a direct and an indirect object. As a general rule, the person to whom to you are giving something (or from whom you are taking something) will be in the dative case, whereas the thing that you are giving to them (or taking from them) will be in the accusative case:

  • Ich sage dir alles...
    ("I'll tell you everything...")
  • Geben Sie mir bitte ein Stück Gouda Käse.
    ("Please give me a piece of Gouda cheese.")
  • Was können Sie mir empfehlen?
    ("What can you recommend to me?")

Thus in the above examples the personal pronouns "dir" and "mir" are in the dative case. What is being told / given / recommended to them is in the accusative case. In the first two examples this would be "alles" and "ein Stück Gouda Käse". In the third example it would be the interrogative pronoun "was".

Verbs where the dative object equates to the English subject
The final groups of verbs are ones which can take a lot of getting used to for an English speaker, as the indirect object of the German construction corresponds to the subject of the English equivalent. The most common examples of such verbs are those which express the English "to like": "gefallen" (= the general verb for liking something) and "schmecken" (= to like food):

  • Saure Birnen schmecken mir nicht.
    ("I don't like sour pears.")
  • Das Kleid gefällt ihr nicht.
    ("She doesn't like the dress.")

In both of these cases the noun or pronoun which is in the dative case in the German sentence - "mir" and "ihr" would be the subject in the English construction. Likewise, the subject of the German verb (i.e. the noun that is in the nominative case) would either be the object of the English verb - "saure Birnen" or "das Kleid".

It logically follows that the subject of the German sentence will determine the endings on the verb. If (as here) this is an inanimate object, the verb will be in the third person. The verb will have singular endings if the subject is singular ("das Kleid"), plural endings if the subject is a plural one ("saure Birnen").

Impersonal verbs
Another type of construction in which what would be the subject of an English sentence is in the dative case in a German sentence are the so-called impersonal verbs. These are verbs in which the grammatical subject of the sentence is "es", a non-specific "it". We have met two of the most common impersonal verbs already:

  • Es tut mir Leid.
    ("I'm sorry.")
  • Wie geht es Ihnen?
    ("How are you?")
  • Mir geht es gut.
    ("I'm very well.")

Weiter!Chapter 7.12: Irregular verbs taking the dative

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