German Dative Verbs
Dative Verbs in German are very confusing to German learners. In this lesson, Herr Antrim attempts to demystify these verbs and the weirdness that occurs around them.
In this week’s video of 3 Minuten Deutsch, 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 during this blog post. If you want to see the video about the dative verbs, I would encourage you to watch that 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.
antworten – to answer
Der Schuler antwortet der Lehrerin. – The student is answering the teacher.
danken – to thank
Ich danke meiner Mutter jeden Morgen. – I thank my mother every morning.
folgen – to follow
Ich werde der Eisenbahn folgen. – I will follow the railway.
helfen – to help
Er hilft dem Obdachlosen. – He is helping the homeless man.
glauben – to believe
Das Kind glaubt den Eltern. – The child believes the parents.
verzeihen – to forgive
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. It is simply a matter of remembering to use the dative case in German. 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.
Dative Verbs in German with Weird Word Order
fehlen – 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.
gefallen – to like
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.
passieren – to happen
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.
stehen – to suit
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”.
Overall, the dative verbs aren’t that difficult to use, it is only a matter of seeing them in use enough and trying them for yourself.
Next week in 3 Minuten Deutsch I will cover the dative prepositions and how to use them.