In the English language, the object pronouns me, you, him, her, it, us, and them can function as the indirect objects of sentence. The German dative case pronouns similarly function as the indirect objects of sentences. However, as with the accusative case German pronouns speakers new to the German language must learn some significant differences between the object pronouns of English and the indirect object pronouns of German. In English, the object pronouns function as indirect objects as well as direct objects and objects of prepositions. The dative case pronoun in German, however, functions only as the indirect object as well as the object of certain prepositions. Like the nominative and accusative case German pronouns, the dative case German pronouns also show grammatical gender.
Indirect Object Pronouns
The dative case in German expresses the grammatical function of indirect object. For example, the noun der/dem Hund “the dog” in the sentence mein Bruder gibt dem Hund den Apfel “my brother gives the dog the apple” functions as the indirect object of the sentence. The German pronouns in the dative case are:
- mir “I” (first person singular)
- dir “you” (second person singular familiar)
- Ihnen “you” (second person singular formal)
- ihm “he, it” (third person singular masculine)
- ihr “she, it” (third person singular feminine)
- ihm “it” (third person singular neuter)
- uns “we” (first person plural)
- euch “you” (second person plural familiar)
- Ihnen “you” (second person plural formal)
- ihnen “they” (third person plural)
For the pragmatics (uses specific to a language) of the dative case German pronouns, please see the Useful Tips section of the article on the nominative case German pronouns (German Pronouns: Nominative Case).
Examples of the Dative Case German Pronouns
- Mein Vater gibt mir das Buch. "My father gives me the book."
- Der Lehrer stellt dir die Frage. "The teacher asks you the question."
- Der Lehrer stellt Ihnen die Frage. "The teacher asks you the question."
- Ich bringe meinem Bruder das Frühstück. "I bring my brother breakfast."
- Ich bringe ihm das Frühstück. "I bring him breakfast."
The noun meinem Bruder "the brother" (meinem is a dative form of my) is a third person singular masculine noun. The pronoun that replaces the third person singular masculine der Bruder "the brother" is, therefore, the third person singular masculine ihm.
- Der Mann gibt der Frau das Geld. "The man gives the woman the money."
- Der Mann gibt ihr das Geld. "The man gives her the money."
- Die Mutter gibt dem Kind ein Spielzeug. "The mother gives the child a toy."
- Die Mutter gibt ihm ein Spielzeug. "The mother gives it (him or her) a toy.
- Der Ober gibt uns die Rechnung. "The waiter gives us the bill."
- Der Professor gibt euch die Prüfung. "The professor gives you all the test."
- Der Professor gibt Ihnen die Prüfung. "The professor gives you all the test."
- Der Musiker spielt ihnen das Lied. "The musician plays them the song."
Prepositions and the Dative Case
Unlike with English prepositions, which take the object pronouns as objects regardless of the specific preposition, German prepositions govern the case of the following pronoun. Just as certain prepositions in German require the use of the accusative case for pronouns functioning as the object of the preposition, other German prepositions require the use of the dative case. The following frequently-used prepositions require the use of the dative case pronoun:
- aus (out of, from a place)
- außer (besides, except for)
- bei (at, for, near, by, at the home of, with)
- mit (with, together with)
- nach (after a time, to a place, to)
- seit (since, for a time)
- von (of, from, by)
- zu (to, in the direction of, at, for a purpose)
- Die Frau kommt aus Deutschland. "The woman is from Germany."
- Die Frau kommt aus ihm. "The woman is from it."
- Der Junge isst die Frucht außer dem Apfel. "The boy eats the fruit except for the apple."
- Der Junge isst die Frucht außer ihm. "The boy eats the fruit except for it."
- Meine Eltern sind bei der Bäckerei. "My parents are by the bakery."
- Meine Eltern sind bei ihr. "My parents are by it."
- Mein Mann kommt mit mir. "My husband comes with me."
- Ich komme mit ihm. "I come with him."
- Die Leute fahren nach Österreich. "The people drive to Austria."
- Die Leute fahren nach ihm. "The people drive to it."
- Das Gegenteil von der Frau ist der Mann. "The opposite of woman is man."
- Das Gegenteil von ihr ist der Mann. "The opposite of it (her) is man."
- Die Kinder haben Brot zum Frühstück. "The children have bread for breakfast."
- Die Kinder haben Brot zu ihm. "The children have bread for it."
As discussed in the section about accusative pronouns, other prepositions can take pronouns in both the accusative and dative cases with the meaning of the preposition changing depending on the case of the pronoun. Such prepositions are called two-way prepositions or Wechselpräpositionen. Two-way prepositions that take the dative case indicate location in space or time:
- an “at a vertical surface”
- auf “on a horizontal surface”
- hinter ” behind”
- in “in”
- neben “next to”
- über “above”
- unter ” underneath”
- vor “in front of, ago”
- zwischen ” in between”
The accompanying printable vocabulary sheet the personal pronouns in German is available for download at German Personal Pronouns Reference Sheet.
This post is part of the series: German Pronouns
- German Pronouns: Part 1: Nominative Case
- German Pronouns: Part 2: Identifying the Accusative Case
- German Pronouns: Part 3: Dative Case
- German Pronouns, Part 4: Genitive Case