Wherever You Go, the Dative is Waiting for You

A street name tells you more about grammar than you want to know (II)


This Berlin avenue connects the Brandenburger Tor with the Alexanderplatz, a great street to stroll and – at least in the past – to show off your Sunday street style, but never without the dative which jumps at you from every street sign along your way. It involves the tree with its heart-shaped leaves that line this avenue and gives it its name: die Linde, the linden tree. Plural: die Linden. So, when the sun is up where do we seek cover from the heat? Unter … den! Linden. This little step from the blistering sun to the refreshing shade turns the plural die Lindeninto den Linden. While Unter die Linden tells us where we are going, Unter den Linden tells us where we are.

Wohin gehen wir? Unter die Linden. (We are not there yet.)

Wo sind wir jetzt? Unter den Linden. (Now, we are there.)

Like a character in an opera, every noun plays a certain role in a sentence. Whatever we do, either stehen, liegen, sein (to be), spazieren (to stroll), schlafen, tanzen, essen, trinken or singen, the nouns representing the location will change their article and accordingly their pronouns.

der > dem
die > der
das > dem
die (plural) > den

Of course, we need to know the gender of the nouns and the prepositions, too. We have auf  (on/horizontal), an (on/vertical), in, vor (in front of), hinter (behind), über (above), unter( under), zwischen (between).

This picture shows the Staatsoper in Berlin on Unter den Linden. Fill in the blanks below.


1. die Statuen (pl), das Dach
Wo stehen die Statuen?
Auf ______ Dach.

2. das weiße Auto, das blaue Auto.
Wo ist das weiße Auto?
Vor ______ blauen Auto

3. das weiße Auto, das blaue Auto, die Oper
Wo ist das blaue Auto?
Zwischen ______ weißen Auto und ______ Oper.

4. das Banner, die Säulen (pl)
Wo hängt das Banner?
Zwischen ______ Säulen.

Read next week part III of the dative saga: With what are you going to the opera?




Published by


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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