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.

    If you want to Master the German Dative Case, click here and get my Dative Case Master Class materials.

    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.

    Beginner German with Herr Antrim

    antworten – to answer

    Der Schuler antwortet der Lehrerin. – The student is answering the teacher.

    antworten - to answer Er antwortet dem Lehrer nicht. - He doesn't answer the teacher.
    antworten – to answer

    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.

    danken - to thank Der Kunde dankt dem Verkäufer. - The customer thanks the sales person. fehlen - to be lacking Die Schuhe fehlen dem Kind. The child is missing the shoes.
    danken – to thank fehlen – to be lacking

    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.

    folgen - to follow Ich folge dem Mann durch die Gasse. - I am following the man through the alley.   gefallen - to like Der Ring gefällt dem Kunden. - The customer likes the ring.
    folgen – to follow gefallen – to like

    passieren – to happen

    Beginner German with Herr Antrim

    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.

    What’s next?

    Next week in 3 Minuten Deutsch I will cover the dative prepositions and how to use them.

    German Dative Verbs

    Herr Antrim

    Herr Antrim is a German teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience. In 2011 he started his successful YouTube Channel "Learn German with Herr Antrim". In 2015 he created this website to enhance the German language lessons he was providing on YouTube. He is now the author of his own e-book, "Beginner German with Herr Antrim". He has also been featured on numerous blogs and other sites.