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Laut Duden soll bei dieser Redewendung der Akkusativ genommen werden:

er brach den Stab über ihn (nicht ihm);

Bei Google finden sich aber beide Varianten. Warum wird nun Akkusativ empfohlen?

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Akkusativ wird nicht empfohlen, er ist hier obligatorisch ;)

Der Stab wurde zwar über dem Delinquenten gebrochen (über seinem Haupt), aber das Urteil wurde über den Übeltäter gesprochen.

Es geht hier nicht über den Ort (über dem Kopf) des Brechens, sondern um das Sinnbild des Urteilsspruch.

Zur Klarstellung: Der Richter zerbrach den Richterstab über dem zu Tode Verurteilten. Siehe hier, auch wenn dort der Dativ fälschlicherweise verwendet wird :)

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I have carefully read your analysis and also the reference provided, and I cannot for the life of me see how either justifies the accusative. The reference is titled "Über jemandem den Stab brechen" and although I am only a student of German, the "m" in jemandem tells me it is the dative case. The only possible argument I can make for the accusative would be that "uberbrechen den Stab" is a separable verb phrase with the meaning "to pass judgement on", in which case it would arguably take the accusative. But I do not find this argument being made. –  Marty Green Nov 24 '11 at 15:34
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Sorry that I wasn't clear enough, @Marty. Let me try it again. First, there is an accusative, because Duden says so ;) Second, there is the accusative, because it is used figuratively. It is used the same way like "Urteil über jemanden sprechen" where also the accusative is used. My reference uses it wrong! I told that in my last sentence: "Look here, even if there was the dative (incorrectly) used." Maybe I should have been more precise here. I'll add the "incorrect". I put the reference in for the historical background only. –  John Smithers Nov 24 '11 at 17:13
    
As an English speaker, we don't have very good intuition over the case taken by prepositions: but it wasn't clear to me that your "urteil sprechen uber jemanden" was strictly analogous to "brechen den Stab uber jemanden". In the first case you are pronouncing judgement concerning someone, in the second you are breaking the staff over someone. The two prepositions are different enough that I don't find it convincing that they must take the same case. But if you say that the staff-breaking case evolved out of analogy from the judgement case, I suppose that would explain it. –  Marty Green Nov 24 '11 at 17:30
    
@Marty: To be clear: If you take a staff and break it above the head of somebody, then it is dative (über ihm). Only the switch to a synonym/analogy of a judgement makes the difference here. –  John Smithers Nov 24 '11 at 18:02
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Es kommt natürlich darauf an, was Du sagen willst. Keiner der Ausdrücke ist generell richtiger als der andere.

Falls Du mit dem Ausdruck den realen Sachverhalt (Stab über einer Person zerbrechen) beschreiben willst, musst Du den Dativ verwenden.

Andernfalls -bei Gebrauch des Ausdrucks als Redewendung- ist der Akkusativ sinnvoller (aber m.E. nicht unbedingt erforderlich), um den Ausdruck grammatikalisch von der Sachverhaltsbeschreibung abzugrenzen.

Hier wird der Akkusativ verwendet, um den Ausdruck in die Nähe von "über jemanden reden", "jemanden verurteilen" zu rücken.

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