German Dative Verbs with Examples
In this lesson I will explain pretty much every dative verb you will ever come across. These are German verbs that for some reason or other require a dative object. Similar to dative phrases, these verbs ignore normal logic for choosing the case of the object and instead of the accusative case, they use the dative case. I’ll start with a brief overview of why most of these verbs use the dative case with their objects instead of the accusative case and then show you examples of each of the dative verbs. If you want to skip the explanation, which I don’t recommend, you can do so via the links in the table of contents below.
Table of Contents
- Why Dative Verbs Require Dative Objects
- What’s up with the verb “gefallen”?
- ähneln – to resemble
- begegnen – to meet (by chance)
- antworten – to answer
- The Most Used German Dative Verbs
- German Dative Verbs with Normal Word Order
- German Dative Verbs with Weird Word Order
- auffallen – to stand out, make an impression
- ausweichen – to evade
- befehlen – to order, command
- beistehen – to stand by, support
- danken – to thank
- dienen – to serve
- drohen – to threaten
- einfallen – to come to mind, think of something
- entgegnen – to reply, retort, counter
- erlauben – to allow, permit
- erscheinen – to appear
- fehlen – to be missing
- folgen – to follow
- gehorchen – to obey
- gehören – to belong to
- gelingen – to succeed
- genügen – to suffice, be enough
- geschehen – to happen, occur
- glauben – to believe
- gleichen – to closely resemble
- glücken – to succeed, work out
- gratulieren – to congratulate
- helfen – to help
- lauschen – to eavesdrop, listen in
- munden – to taste good
- passen – to fit
- passieren – to happen
- raten – to advise
- schaden – to damage, do harm
- schmecken – to taste good
- schmeicheln – to flatter
- sich nähern – to approach, draw near to
- trauen – to trust
- vertrauen – to trust, confide in, rely on
- weichen – to yield to, make way for
- widersprechen – to contradict, gainsay
- winken – to wave
- But wait, there’s more!
Why do dative verbs require dative objects?
Normally, when a verb has a direct object, that object is used with the accusative case. When the direct object is directed towards another object, that second object is called the indirect object and uses the dative case. Most of the time, the indirect object will be a person. This leads us to the dative verbs. A lot of the time, these verbs sort of imply a direct object. This is often done, because the dative verb takes the place of the direct object. It shows the thing given is the noun version of the verb. For example: This happens with verbs like “antworten” (to answer). When you answer someone, you are giving them an answer. This makes them the indirect object of the sentence and therefore dative.
Er gibt mir die Antwort.
He gives me the answer.
Er antwortet mir.
He answers me.
With the verb “helfen” (to help) you are giving someone help. Again, the person is then used in the dative case.
Ich gebe meinem Vater Hilfe.
I am giving my father help.
Ich helfe meinem Vater.
I am helping my father.
Keep in mind that the versions of the sentences I just gave using “geben” are not considered the standard way to express what we are saying. I am simply showing you those versions, so you see how the direct object was dissolved into the verb. It is grammatically correct to use either version, but the versions with the verbs “helfen” or “antworten” are definitely more popular.
What’s up with the verb “gefallen”?
This logic helps explain some of the most annoying dative verbs for English speakers such as “gefallen” (to like). Take a look at this example.
Diese Schuhe gefallen mir.
I like these shoes.
The number one complaint about this verb is that the subject and object are opposites between the two languages. If you use the thought process I have outlined so far, however, you can see that the verb “gefallen” actually means that the subject gives the indirect object pleasure.
Diese Schuhe geben mir Freude.
These shoes give me joy.
Diese Schuhe gefallen mir.
These shoes are pleasing to me.
(I like these shoes.)
While this kind of logic works for quite a few dative verbs, you will have a problem stretching this kind of logic to work with other dative verbs. ähneln – to resemble, for example, doesn’t follow this logic. You can’t give someone a resemblance and even if you could, it would be the opposite of what the German verb means. You might be better off rewording things to say “he casts a resemblance to someone”. This logic makes sense for verbs like “ähneln”.
Herr Antrim ähnelt seinem Vater sehr.
Mr. Antrim really resembles his father.
to meet someone (by chance)
There are a few other odd ones that don’t really fit any of the logical categories I have explained so far. This would include verbs like “begegnen” (to meet someone by chance). This verb is confusing on a few levels. First of all, it uses “sein” in the Perfekt tense, which shows you that this verb is more closely related to the English phrase “to bump into someone”. Secondly, if you watched my video about the Perfekt, you would know that I said verbs with direct objects don’t use “sein” in the Perfekt. This actually explains why the dative case is needed here. It isn’t that you are meeting them. That would be “treffen”. You are going somewhere and you happen upon them. You meet to them. Therefore, dative.
Der Dieb ist dem Polizist schon einmal begegnet.
The thief met the police officer before.
The Most Popular German Dative Verbs
In the 3 Minuten Deutsch lesson above, I explained how to use dative verbs, but due to time constraints, I couldn’t fit in any real substantive information about the weirdness that occurs with certain verbs. For that reason, I am going to be focusing on that in the next few paragraphs. You should watch the video above first, as it will give you a general overview of the topic before diving into the word order problem.
This lesson is a part of the 3 Minuten Deutsch series. While this lesson is not included in the FREE materials bundle to go with the 3 Minuten Deutsch series, you can get a ton of other free materials by clicking here.
Dative Verbs in German without Weird Word Order
Certain dative verbs are completely normal. They take a direct object and that direct object happens to be used in the dative case. Those verbs are relatively simple to translate. Ask yourself, “Whom are you answering/thanking/following/helping/believing/forgiving?” The answer to those questions will tell you what noun or pronoun should be in the dative case when writing a sentence. Here are a few examples of those so you know what I mean by the easy ones.
Der Schuler antwortet der Lehrerin.
The student is answering the teacher.
Ich danke meiner Mutter jeden Morgen.
I thank my mother every morning.
Ich werde der Eisenbahn folgen.
I will follow the railway.
Er hilft dem Obdachlosen.
He is helping the homeless man.
Das Kind glaubt den Eltern.
The child believes the parents.
Ich verzeihe dem Verbrecher nicht.
I am not forgiving the criminal.
As you can see, the translations for each of those sentences is pretty simple. You have a subject and a direct object, but the direct object is in the dative case, because we used a dative verb. It is simply a matter of remembering to use the dative case in German.
Dative Verbs in German with Weird Word Order
There are, however, certain verbs on this list that are a little more difficult to translate due to the fact that we wouldn’t say it that way in English. It is best to show a few examples and go through each one literally in order to highlight the changes.
to be lacking
Die Nase fehlt dem Schneemann noch.
The nose fails the snow man still (literal translation).
Normally, in English we wouldn’t say something like I just translated above. You might, however, hear someone say something similar in German. In English we would say something along the lines of “The snowman still needs a nose.” or “The snowman is still missing a nose.” In both of those versions, the snow man is the subject of the English sentence. In German, however, you would use the snowman as the dative object and the nose would be the subject. It is counterintuitive to native English speakers. It takes a lot of practice and seeing examples of how others use the verb “fehlen” to really understand how to use it on your own.
Das T-Shirt gefällt dem Mann.
The t-shirt likes the man. (literal translation)
Again, this verb is counterintuitive to native English speakers. Normally, we would say something along the lines of “The man likes the t-shirt.” This verb is the exact opposite of what we would think in English. The easy work around for this verb is to translate the sentence as “The t-shirt is pleasing to the man.” It is still a grammatically awkward sentence, but at least you get which thing is nominative and which one is dative. You just have to remember that the “to” is implied in the German version.
Etwas passiert dem Mann.
Something is happening to the man.
This verb really isn’t that bad to translate. It is just a bit tricky to use. Usually you use either “das” or “es” as the subject, which means that you won’t really encounter any other form other than the “er, sie, es” form of this verb. It also makes the translation relatively simple, because the subject is always either “it” or “that”. The trouble comes from the object being in the dative case. In English we would say “to him” or “to the man”, but in German you simply use the dative form of that noun or pronoun.
Der Hut steht der Königin gut.
The hat suits the queen well.
The problem with this verb isn’t the fact that it uses the dative case, but that it is the same verb that means “to stand”. If it is used with a direct object, that object is used in the dative case and the verb means “to suit”. If there is no direct object, the verb means “to stand”.
Now that we have the general idea out of the way, we can get to some examples. This video does not include all of the dative verbs in the German language, but it does include a very large number of them. Some would say the largest number of them. It is a “yuge”, tremendous, bigly number of verbs…you have never seen before. So big. Believe me. It’s true.
Seine Frau antwortet ihm nicht.
His wife doesn’t answer him.
to stand out, make an impression
Der Hundedreck auf seinem Fuß ist ihm nicht aufgefallen.
He didn’t notice the dog poo on his shoe.
Der Präsident ist allen Fragen ausgewichen.
The president evaded all of the questions.
to order, command
Der Lehrer befiehlt dem Schüler seine Aufgabe zu machen.
The teacher commanded the student to do his work.
to stand by, support
Seine Mutter steht ihm in schwierigen Zeiten bei.
His mother stands by him in difficult times.
Der Kunde dankt dem Kellner.
The customer thanks the waiter.
Dieser Brief dient Ihnen als letzte Warnung.
This letter serves as your last warning.
Der Räuber droht dem Bankkassierer mit einem Messer.
The robber threatens the bank teller with a knife.
to come to mind, think of something
Mir fällt gerade ein, dass wir einkaufen müssen.
It just came to me that we have to go shopping.
to reply, retort, counter
Ich möchte Ihnen entgegnen, dass Sie eigentlich nicht Recht haben.
I would like to counter that you are actually not correct.
to allow, permit
Wir erlauben unseren Kindern die ganze Nacht aufzubleiben.
We allow our children to stay up the entire night.
Deine Mutter erscheint mir ganz nett.
Your mother appears to be very nice to me.
to be missing
Mir fehlen die Worte um meine Liebe für meine Frau zu beschreiben.
Words fail me to describe my love for my wife.
Der Hund folgt der Katze.
The dog follows the cat.
Das Kind gehorcht seinen Eltern.
The child obeys his parents.
to belong to
Dieser Hut gehört mir.
This hat belongs to me.
Es gelang meinem Bruder, eine neue Arbeitsstelle zu bekommen.
My brother was successful in finding a new job position.
to suffice, be enough
Nur eine Kugel Eis genügt mir nicht.
Only one scoop of ice cream is not enough for me.
to happen, occur
Was ist dem Mann geschehen, nachdem er den Kuchen gegessen hat?
What happened to the man after he ate the cake?
Du musst mir glauben. Bitte, glaub mir!
You have to believe me. Please believe me.
to closely resemble
Seine neue Freundin gleicht seiner Alten.
His new girlfriend closely resembles his old one.
to succeed, work out
Der Plan ist ihm geglückt.
The plan succeeded (for him).
Ihre Mutter gratuliert ihr zum Geburtstag.
Her mother congratulates her for her birthday.
Wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?
How can I help you?
to eavesdrop, listen in
Das Kind lauscht seinen Eltern, während sie streiten.
The child eavesdrops on his parents as they argue/fight.
to taste good
Ich hoffe, dass diese Suppe Ihnen mundet.
I hope this soup tastes good (to you).
Mein neuer Hut passt mir nicht.
My new hat doesn’t fit me.
Was ist denn dir passiert?
What happened to you?
Der Lehrer hat seinen Schülern dazu geraten, ihre Arbeit fristgerecht zu erledigen.
The teacher advised his students to do their work on time.
to damage, do harm
Fleißige Arbeit schadet niemandem.
Hard work doesn’t hurt anyone.
to taste good
Du hast den Fisch nicht gegessen. Schmeckt er dir nicht?
You didn’t eat the fish. Doesn’t it taste good (to you)?
Dieses Kleid schmeichelt deiner Mutter nicht.
This dress does not flatter your mother.
to approach, draw near to
Der Räuber nähert sich der Bank.
The robber approaches the bank.
Side Note about sich nähern
This one may not seem like a traditional dative verb, as it also includes a reflexive pronoun. Some would say that the reflexive pronoun is simply taking the accusative spot and the other object is taking the dative case. That logic doesn’t quite fit, however. When a reflexive pronoun is used with another object, the object is accusative and the reflexive pronoun is dative. You can’t simply switch this, because you feel like it. This is not being switched here. The reflexive pronoun and the dative object are working together, but separate.
When you use “nähern” with a reflexive, it means that the person or thing that is moving towards another person or thing is doing so of their own accord. The robber in that sentence is moving himself forward. As I mentioned at the beginning of this video, dative verbs often show that the verb is being directed at a person or thing. That is what is going on here and it is the reason this verb is considered a dative verb, even though it has an accusative object.
Doktor House traut seinem Patienten nicht.
Dr. House doesn’t trust his patient.
to trust, confide in, rely on
Ich vertraue ihm nicht.
I don’t trust him.
to yield to, make way for
Die Autos weichen dem Rettungswagen.
The cars make way for the ambulance.
to contradict, gainsay
Dem Chef wird niemand widersprechen.
No one will contradict the boss.
Herr Antrim winkt euch zum Abschied.
Herr Antrim waves goodbye to you.
But wait, there’s more!
I know you are looking for a way to practice all of these verbs. I have just the thing. From this link here I have a downloadable worksheet and answer key to go with this lesson. If you want to learn more about the dative case, you can find several more articles about the dative case linked below.
Indirect Objects with the Dative Case
Personal Pronouns of the Dative Case
Prepositions Used with the Dative Case
Dative Prepositions and Their Common Verb Partners
Wechselpräpositionen and Their Common Verb Partners with the Dative Case
Accusative Case Master Class
Dative Case Master Class