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I have been learning German for about a month now, and I am trying to understand the grammatical cases.

I read that we should say "es tut mir leid" to say "I am sorry" which I take to mean "it makes me sorry." This confuses me; I thought that "es" is the subject and "I" (or "Ich") is the object. So, why do we not use the Accusative case for "I", which is "mich"? Why do we use that dative "mir"?

Thanks in advance!

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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

"Es tut mir leid" can be translated as "It does hurt TO me."

Es is the the subject, tut is the verb, and mir is the INDIRECT object, while "hurt" is the direct object.

German uses quite of few of these indirect object constructions. "Mich," of course, is the direct object form but the German construction is NOT "It hurts me," (Subject verb direct object), but rather subject, verb, indirect object, direct object.

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German language does not always follow the "subject - verb - object" rule. To change the emphasis of a sentence, it can be rearranged:

Es tut mir leid.

Meaning: "I am sorry for it (whatever I did)." This is the most common form of this expression.

Mir tut es leid.

Meaning: "I am sorry for it." (possible context: "but hey buddy, you should be sorry, too.")

similar:

Ich danke Dir.

Meaning: "I thank you". This is the normal usage.

Dir danke ich.

Meaning: "I thank you. (..., but not anyone else).

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German has verbs that take either the dative or the accusative.

The verb to be sorry "leid tun" is one that takes the dative.

Another dative verb for example is helfen:

Er hat mir geholfen.

Or zeigen:

Kannst du bitte mir den Weg zeigen?

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or danken, "ich danke dir" ;) –  Em1 Feb 1 at 22:14
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This is a fixed expression now, but I would say that leid, or rather Leid, is the accusative (direct) object.

Compare with

Es bereitet mir Schmerzen.

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Es tut mir leid - Without having consulted reference books I would say: "Es" refers to "that which you tell me/that which I hear". And the idea of the formula is: That which I hear does/acts like something that gives me (dative) pain. In German: Das tut mir ein Leid an. A structure as in: Das macht mir Freude.

Often learners of a foreign language expect that the foreign language uses the same verb constructions and cases as the mother tongue. Unfortunately that isn't always the case.

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