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I believe that in the sentence

Ich danke 'du/dir/dich'

that:

  • ich = subject
  • danke = verb
  • du = direct object.

Wouldn't that mean that it would be "Ich danke dich"? I hear people say "Ich danke dir" frequently and it's a little confusing.

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You can't say "Ich danke du / dich", it's just "Ich danke dir", can't tell you exactly why, but I'm a native speaker ;) –  23tux Jan 11 '13 at 19:59
    
It's tough for native speakers from languages without noun declension to get used to Dativ. English has only the vestigial "objective" case (who / whom) and the natural inclination of English speakers when learning German is to use Akkusativ. You'll get used to it, Darkenor :) ... btw I'd be surprised if this question hasn't been asked and answered already. –  Eugene Seidel Jan 11 '13 at 20:05
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Basically, direct object and akkusative object are two different things. Just like reflexive verbs and reflexive structures are two different things. We just force our English concepts on German. Learning a language-agnostic grammar and applying it for each is a better way of learning, IMO. –  Anurag Kalia Jan 12 '13 at 14:56
    
@Anurag: I totally agree. Unfortunately there is not really awareness of the fact that grammatical definitions for Latin based terms vary a great deal from language to language. Even the definition of "transitive" is not the same in English, German and French... so one ought to be really careful with the jargon :) –  Emanuel Jan 12 '13 at 17:25
    
The etymology of “danken” may also shed some light on why the dative is used instead of the accusative. –  k.stm Jan 17 '13 at 21:46
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Ich danke dir.

is the only correct version. Danken takes the dative case. You will never hear otherwise.

I would recommend to forget about the concept of direct and indirect object; or better, you should realize that the definitions of direct and indirect object in German and English are not identical. Neither is the use. So just because some verb takes a direct object in English doesn't mean that that is the case in German.

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Memory hook: "Ich danke dir für XYZ" = "I thank you for XYZ". Here, XYZ is the direct object, as you can maybe "feel", so "dir" must be the indirect object. –  Turion Feb 13 at 10:30
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Emanuel already mentioned that Ich danke dir is the correct way of saying I thank you.

I just want to tell you how you can simply answer such a question with help of some online tools. Unfortunately, only a few sources mention the necessary information explicitly and, if they do, this information is sometimes a little hidden.

Starting with Duden, you'll find the following example to the entry to danken:

auch ohne Dativobjekt: er dankte kurz und ging

In this sentence no object is given and since the hint tells you that the dative object is missing, you can guess that the usual object following danken is dative.

On Wiktionary (and Duden, too) you'll find this information:

1 (jemandem für etwas) seinen Dank aussprechen

With a little knowledge of German, you know that the ending -m in jemandem hints that the object is dative. Accusative would be jemanden as in jemanden verfolgen.

Having a look on the entries to dir in Duden or du in Wiktionary, you'll find out that dir is dative:

du, Genitiv: dei·ner, veraltet: dein, Dativ: dir, Akkusativ: dich, Plural: ihr, Genitiv: eu·er, Dativ: euch, Akkusativ: euch

Finally, I need to mention that danken can be followed by dative, accusative and even genitive objects.
This information is provided on the danken entry on DWDS.de. Since coloring is not enabled on this site I used the sup and sub tags to distinguish dative from accusative (i.e. mit Dat./mit Akk.).

mit Dativ und Akkusativ:

niemand dankt dir deine Mühe
kein Mensch dankte ihr ihre Arbeit

mit Genitiv:

danke der Nachfrage (umgangssprachlich)

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+1 for the example of genitive object. –  Deve Jan 21 '13 at 22:20
    
+1 dafür, zu erwähnen, dass „danken“ auch ein Akkusativobjekt haben kann. –  Carsten Schultz Sep 7 '13 at 11:04
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"Ich danke dir" = "I give thanks to you", not "I thank you". Maybe danke is acting like the accusative and the verb and dir is the dative.

"Helfen Sie mir" = "You give help to me", not "You help me". Likewise, maybe helfen is acting like the accusative and the verb and mir is the dative.

Ich = nominative
danke = verb action and the sense of "giving a thanks" so that would imply a accusative action too
dir = dative case, "to you", indirect object

More information about German Dative Verbs on about.com.

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