Dedicate Yourself dem Dativ

Guess the verb – whatever happens it happen to dem deutschen Volke – Dativ (I)


The Reichstag, home of the German parliament, was built 125 years ago. Even before it was finished, a debate raged through the political circles of Berlin what inscription it should carry. The Kaiser ruled, appointed and fired chancellors and ministers, decreed laws or declared wars or – not very often – peace. The parliament itself was elected according to a three-class-system of voting, leaving the representatives of the lower classes much less seats than the representatives of the aristocracy. It should inspire without hurting the monarch’s feelings. The idea was to put up a short inscription with not more than three or four words which would not be a problem. One case in the German language, the dative, helps us to keep our statements consice.

In part I of the series about the dative we look at nouns that have turned into an indirect object.

A normal sentence consists of a thing, an animal or a person that is doing something and a verb, the action word:

Wir singen. Wir essen. Wir schlafen. (That’s all opera singers need to do.)

If we say, “Wir besuchen” we realize that this is not enough. We have to add an object, a thing, an animal or a person that is receiving the action.

Wir besuchen das Parlament.

To involve a third party in our actions, we might schenken, geben or nehmenkaufenschreiben etc.

Wir schenken eine Blume.

We like the Sopranistin and want to give the flower to her. Now, the dative pops up, ready to complete the sentence. Wir schenken der Sopranistin eine Blume. The Sopranistin is an indirect object, as well as der Bariton for whom we have a Blume as well:

Wir schenken dem Bariton eine Blume.

In dative der turns into dem, die into der, the plural die into denWir präsentieren den Zuschauern eine Oper.

The article das turns into dem: das Volk(the people) becomes dem Volk or in the old way of declining nouns: dem Volke.

In 1916, it was decided to put up the phrase, “Dem deutschen Volke”. It is not a sentence but it is sufficient to understand its meaning. The Volk in dative cannot be active. As a matter of fact, it must be an indirect object receiving the Reichstag. The Reichstag is ______ to the people. We assume geben or – most likely – widmen (to dedicate). We still do not know who has gegebenorgewidmet: the Kaiser who hated the parliament? The people itself? Some heavenly power?

Refering to the oppression by the monarchy, some suggested the inscription:

Dem deutschen Volk ist der Zutritt verboten. (Access is forbidden to the German people.)

Some newspapers suffering the Kaiser’s censorship, quipped “Der deutschen Presse” (to the German press). Note: Presseis feminine, die Presse.

In 2000, the parliament invited the artist Hans Haacke to decorate the floor of the Reichstag’s court. With the inscription “Der Bevölkerung” he suggested to dedicate the parliament and therefore the democratic system to anyone who lives in Germany, no matter what passport they are carrying. It provoked a debate about who should have the right to vote.

The noun Bevölkerungends with –ung making it feminine. Die Bevölkerung. Dative: Der Bevölkerung.

Read next week: gefallen, gehören, zusehen, zuhören – important verbs that work only with dative.




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Bernd Hendricks. Born in Duisburg, Germany. Based in Berlin. Writer, German Language Educator. I was six years old when I went to the opera for the first time. My Grandma took me to Hänsel und Gretel at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Duisburg. The first time I met an opera singer personally was during my time as foreign correspondent in New York when at a Christmas party a baritone pelted me with questions about the language of Zauberflöte. He was preparing for his role as Papageno. After my return to Berlin in September 2010, I have been giving German lessons to singers on their audition tours. My workshops in Berlin, Vienna, and London are based on my widely read book Ach, ich fühl’s—German for Opera Singers in Three Acts: Studying, Speaking, Singing. My latest book, Die Frist ist um—Navigate the Language of 10 German Operas, takes you on a journey through the language of the most popular and often performed operas in the German-speaking countries. I am also the author of several non-fiction books and two novels.

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