Like it or Not – gefallen Leads to a Dative

Two dozen picky verbs want nothing else but a dative object (IV)


In the last few articles we learned about the dative, one of the four roles a noun can play in a sentence. If a noun, meaning a thing e.g. die Bühne (stage) becomes the location of an activity (singen), it get dressed in the dative. It changes the article (der to dem, die to der, das to dem, plural die to den):

Die Sopranistin singt auf der Bühne.

The dative is also involved every time we give or take something to someone:

Wir geben dem Bariton eine Blume.

In the most recent article, I listed nine prepositions, little words that define a location or a movement, that force the following noun to take a dative.

Wir gehen aus dem Opernhaus. Die Blume ist von einem Fan.

Now, the dative appears at its weirdest job – as an object of certain verbs. There are activities (verbs) that must stand alone without an object: Wir schlafen. We sleep. We cannot add an object, we cannot sleep chocolate. It is different with eating (essen) or singen: Wir essen die Schokolade und wir singen das Lied.

However, there are around two dozen verbs that are feeling too special to be like all the other thousands of verbs and many of them are, believe it or not, the most operatic:

vergeben (to forgive)
Gräfin Rosina vergibt dem Grafen.

drohen (to threat)
Die Königin der Nacht droht dem Reporter.

glauben (to believe)
Das Publikum glaubt der Königin der Nacht.

gehorchen (to obey)
Leporello gehorcht dem Bösewicht (villain).

befehlen (to order)
Don Pizarro befiehlt dem Gefängnisdirektor (prison ward), Florestan zu töten. Aber …

helfen (to help)
… Fidelio hilft dem Mann, Florestan. Er …

danken (to thank)
dankt dem Jungen. (Turns out it’s his wife Leonore in disguise!)

dienen (to serve)
Susanna dient der Gräfin.

gehören (to belong to)
Der Vogel gehört dem lustigen Papageno.

antworten (to answer)
Der Agent antwortet der Sopranistin. (If we answer a question or an email, we use beantworten without the dative: Ich beantworte die Frage.)

glauben (to believe)
Die Sopranistin glaubt dem Tenor. (Too bad.)

gefallen (to please)
Das gefällt mir! (That’s what you say when you click the thumb-up icon on Facebook.)

Next: Ich stelle mich vor or ich stelle mir vor – dative pronouns





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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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