German/Grammar/Ditransitive verbs

Ditransitive verbs edit

This section will introduce a new verb type which uses two objects instead of one (as for transitive verbs) or zero (as for intransitive verbs). We'll also introduce a new case, the dative, which is required for these verbs to function in German.

Terminology edit

If a verb that requires one object is called transitive, then you might guess that a verb that requires two objects is called ditransitive, and so it is. In English, there is a direct object, the thing or person being acted upon, and the indirect object, something or someone affected by the action. For example, in the sentence "I'm giving the dog a bone," the subject is "I" since I am the doer, the direct object is "a bone" since that's what I'm giving, and the indirect object is "the dog" since he or she is affected by the giving. This is, for the most part, how it works in German except in order to account for the different cases we'll refer to the thing or person being acted upon as the accusative object, refer to what is being affected as the dative object; German does not always agree with English on the nature of these relationships when certain verbs are involved. The accusative object takes the accusative case which we've already covered in the section on transitive verbs, and the dative object takes a new case called, as you might assume, the dative case. This is one of many uses for the dative case, so it's important not to think of dative case as being primarily used for indirect objects.

Forming the dative edit

In English the direct object is distinguished from the indirect object by word order, "I'm giving the dog a bone," or by placing "to" in front of the indirect object, "I'm giving a bone to the dog." In German, because it uses inflections for this kind of information, you can almost always tell which object is which from the endings of the words involved. While the difference in inflections between the nominative and accusative cases are relatively minor, the way the dative case is inflected is very different, so you should be able to tell at a glance which phrase has the dative case.

The dative pronouns edit

The dative case for personal pronouns is summarized in the following table.

Personal Pronouns (Dative)
Person Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
First mir uns
Second (informal) dir euch
Second (formal) Ihnen
Third ihm ihr ihm ihnen

We'll do some examples with geben – "to give". Note this is a stem-changing verb.

  • Gibst du mir das Buch? – "Are you giving me the book?"
  • Mein Vater gibt uns ein Haus. – "My father is giving us a house."
  • Ich gebe dir den Apfel. – "I'm giving you (singular) the apple."
  • Sie geben es euch. – "They are giving it to you (plural)."
    • The word order for two pronoun objects is the reverse of what you might expect as an English speaker, see below.

The dative form for the interrogative pronoun wer is wem:

  • Wem gibst du das Buch? – "Who are you giving the book to?"

The dative articles edit

In the dative case, the definite articles are:

  • dem – "the" (with masculine nouns)
  • der – "the" (with feminine nouns)
  • dem – "the" (with neuter nouns)
  • den – "the" (with plural nouns, of any gender)

and the indefinite articles are:

  • einem – "a(n)" (with masculine nouns)
  • einer – "a(n)" (with feminine nouns)
  • einem – "a(n)" (with neuter nouns)
  • (nothing) – (nothing) (with plural nouns)

There is no point in highlighting these because they are all different from the nominative and accusative cases. But notice that the endings match for definite and indefinite dative articles. Also note that the feminine definite article is the same as the masculine article in the nominative, and the plural definite article is the same as the masculine article in the accusative. Since the choice of article is sometimes needed to determine which part the noun is playing in the sentence, it helps to know the genders of the nouns.

The endings of ein words such as possessive determiners are the same as the endings of the indefinite articles here as well. So, again, it's enough to fill in the plural form:

  • meinen – "my" (with plural nouns)
  • keinen – "no/not any" (with plural nouns)

For example:

  • Ich gebe meinen Kindern Spielzeug. – "I'm giving toys to my children."
    • Words ending in -zeug are often (not always) thought of as "equipment". Hence Spielzeug is left singular here instead of using the plural Spielzeuge.
  • Ich gebe keinen Kindern Bier. – "I don't give beer to any children."

There are no troublesome exceptions for the possessive pronouns endings; they are all the same as the corresponding possessive determiners in dative.

The endings for welcher again follow the same pattern as der. This is the only der word we've seen so far but the same rule holds for all of them.

  • welchem – "(to) which" (with masculine nouns)
  • welcher – "(to) which" (with feminine nouns)
  • welchem – "(to) which" (with neuter nouns)
  • welchen - "(to) which" (with plural nouns, of any gender)

Some examples:

  • Ich gebe dem Hund einen Knochen. – "I'm giving the dog a bone."
  • Ich gebe meinem Hund einen Knochen. – "I'm giving my dog a bone."
  • Sie gibt ihrer Tochter ein Spielzeug. – "She's giving her daughter a toy."
  • Welcher Tochter gibt sie das Spielzeug? – "To which daughter is she giving the toy?"
  • Gibst du dem Kind eine Decke? – "Are you giving the child a blanket?"
  • Der Bauer gibt den Kindern Äpfel. – "The farmer is giving apples to the children."
    • We'll see why Kindern – "children" has an n attached in a bit.

Dative nouns edit

The dative case of nouns is very simple. For singular nouns, the dative is the same as the accusative. For plural nouns the dative is formed by adding (e)n to the accusative plural if it doesn't have one already. It's a comparatively simple rule and (for once) there are no exceptions. So in the previous example, Kinder is plural so it gets an n ending in the dative – Kindern. In the example above, the n dative ending makes it clear that the farmer is giving apples to children and not giving children to apples.

Word order edit

With a new sentence element comes a new question of where it goes in a sentence. Remember that pronouns other than the subject usually go between the verb and other sentence elements. If there are two of them then the preferred order is accusative then dative. This is reflected in English to a degree, for example it seems more natural to say "I'm giving it to you," instead of "I'm giving you it." When both objects are nouns then the preferred order is dative then accusative, as it would be in English without using "to".

Adverbs can be thrown in according to the guidelines given in the section on transitive verbs. Adverbs of time often come before an accusative noun, but rarely before dative nouns.


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