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Is it just an idiom, or is it a general rule?

I'm wishing a good day to someone, so I guess there is some kind of metaphorical motion involved. Would it be similar if I wanted to say "vielen Spaß"?

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up vote 24 down vote accepted

As you correctly say, you are wishing a good day to someone. German "wünschen" (to wish) demands accusative case for the object of the wish, hence in

Ich wünsche Ihnen einen guten Tag.

said good day is accusative. The same is true for the shorter "Guten Tag", where the rest of the sentence is implied.

"Viel Spaß" is also accusative. The reason there is no case marker is that "viel" (eng. "much") is not an adjective but a quantifier, in this case for a mass noun. As such, it doesn't change its form. (It does in the sense of "many", but that is a different matter.)

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It is a general rule. "Guten Tag" is short for

Ich wünsche Ihnen/Dir einen guten Tag.

which means

I wish you a good day.

Same with "Viel Spaß" or "Gute Besserung".

Ich wünsche dir viel Spaß / eine gute Besserung.

Compare this to

I wish you a Merry Christmas.

You have to ask the question: Who wishes whom what? (Wer wünscht wem was?)

My wish is directed to the other person, so that is dative. But what I wish is the normal accusative, I think in English it's just called direct object.

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The explanation suggested for "viel Spaß" doesn't seem to work for "vielen Dank" (or "besten Dank", "herzlichen Dank", etc.), but I can't see a logical distinction.

I believe there are some idiomatic expressions that simply do not behave consistently; perhaps these are examples.

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The confusion here comes from "viel" being not always inflected. Often "viel" is not inflected (see e.g.Duden). – Takkat Dec 30 '12 at 21:17
@Takkat Or have a look at the answer from Elena ;) – Em1 Dec 31 '12 at 13:51

Greeting another person = Akkusativ as the subject (you) and object (the person) are different. Tag is masculine and so it has the article der. According to the rule, you should end with an 'n' to the adjective/article. So der becomes den and Gute becomes Guten. That's why we say Guten Tag!. Also, we don't say Guten Nacht, rather we say Gute Nacht as Nacht is feminine.

Another example:

Lesen Sie den Text

It's der Text which became den Text.

I hope this helps.

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I agree with the other answers, which basically say the indefinite article "einen" is implied in the common sense of the greeting. But it may also be helpful to consider a dative case:

Ich sah sie an einem guten Tag.

"I saw her on a good day." The indefinite article is different, but the adjective ending is the same, which perhaps led to the confusion. The nominative case is so common and obvious in day to day speech that the indefinite article can be omitted when greeting someone.

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A nice effort, but I'm not sure this answer addresses the actual question about wishing someone a good day. An object receiving action (being wished to someone) must be in the accusative here. – Kevin Nov 14 '12 at 7:01

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