A list of the 15 most common German dative verbs you need to know
Published on January 18, 2024 / Updated on January 23, 2024
Distinguishing between dative verbs and accusative verbs is one of the more advanced challenges facing German language learners. Why? Because many languages, like English, don’t use the dative case at all. But dative verbs play an important role in German, as they help determine the word order of a sentence and the cases of individual nouns.
In this article, we’ll answer the most important questions about German verbs that use the dative case — like how to recognize them and how they behave in a German sentence. We’ll also provide a list of the most important dative verbs to memorize.
If you’ve been learning German for a while, you’ve probably come across the four German cases: Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ and Akkusativ. These cases indicate who is doing what in a sentence.
The Nominativ indicates who is performing an action, the Genitiv indicates possession or connection, and the Akkusativ determines the person or object that is receiving or affected by an action (i.e. the direct object).
The Dativ case is used to spot the indirect object in a sentence, which means it shows you to or for whom an action is performed. While it can be difficult at first to distinguish the different German cases from each other, it gets easier when you know how to ask the right questions:
Nominativ: Who/what is performing an action? → Subject
Example: Ich schwimme. (I am swimming)
Genitiv: Who/what is the owner of an object? → Possessive
Example: Das ist Marias Tasche. (This is Maria’s bag.)
Dativ: To/for whom is an action performed? → Indirect object
Example: Er folgt mir. (He’s following me.)
Akkusativ: Who/what receives an action? → Direct object
Example: Ich rufe meine Mutter an. (I call my mom.)
Some German verbs are typically only used in tandem with a direct or indirect object.
While most verbs call for a direct object in the accusative case, there are some exceptions that call for an indirect object in the accusative case. These are called dative verbs and make up a smaller category of German verbs.
As there is no distinction between the accusative and dative cases in English, it can be difficult for English speakers to spot dative verbs in German. Simply learning the German dative verbs by heart is usually the best solution.
The following is an example of a German verb (besuchen) with a direct object in the accusative case:
Sie besucht ihren Freund. (She visits her friend.)
Wen besucht sie? (Who is she visiting?) Ihren Freund. (Her friend.)
Now, let’s look at two examples of a German verb (antworten) with an indirect object in the dative case:
Antworten Sie mir! (Answer me!)
Wem sollen Sie antworten? (Who are you supposed to answer to?) Mir. (Me.)
|Ich antworte ihm. (I answer him.)
|Die Tasche gefällt mir. (I like the bag.)
|Er fehlt mir. (I miss him.)
|Ich folge ihm.(I follow him.)
|to belong to
|Der Hund gehört ihm. (The dog belongs to him.)
|Wir sind ihm gestern begegnet.(We met him yesterday.)
|Ich befehle ihm still zu sein. (I order him to be quiet.)
|to be sorry
|Es tut mir sehr leid.(I am very sorry.)
|Ich helfe meinem Nachbarn.(I’m helping my neighbor.)
|to happen to
|Was ist mit ihm passiert?(What happened to him?)
|Ihm tut sein Arm weh.(His arm hurts.)
|Er droht ihm.(He threatens him.)
|Sie dankt ihren Eltern.(She thanks her parents.)
|Sie ähnelt ihrem Vater.(She resembles her father.)
|Die Schüler gehorchen der Lehrerin.(The students obey the teacher.)
The majority of German verbs follow the normal rules of the accusative case, but dative verbs constitute an important set of exceptions. For German students, the distinction between the two can be confusing.
Even though it can be hard for German learners to remember all the dative verbs, they actually make your life easier. Just remember: the dative relates to indirect objects in a sentence, while the accusative case relates to direct objects. Knowing the difference can help you determine the word order of a sentence — and indicate how to decline your nouns like a German pro!