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?

  • 2
    My German instructor would always say Das tut mir leid. when we did not know an answer. That's too bad
    – user11040
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 6:41
  • I am not sure how to research this, but I think the expression may have evolved out of jemandem ein Leid antun (literal meaning inflict a woe to someone). As Tom Au explained, since the position of a direct object is already taken by woe, the inflictee has to become the indirect object. The German order of objects is the same as in English phrases that omit to for an indirect object, e.g. give me [indirect obj.] the butter [direct obj.], which means the same as give the butter to me.
    – user2183
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 9:34
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    Just wait until you learn that it is warm/cold to you. But don't ever say "mir ist hungrig" ;-)
    – Mawg
    Commented Apr 17, 2015 at 8:46

5 Answers 5


"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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    Aber in "Es geht mich nichts an" benutzt man "mich", nicht "mir".
    – Robert
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 23:01
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    I would say “it does (i.e.: causes) sorrow to me” Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 11:16
  • @WalterTross: I said," it does sorrow TO me," as opposed to "it does sorrow ME."
    – Tom Au
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 1:53

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?

  • or danken, "ich danke dir" ;)
    – Em1
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 22:14

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.")


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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    Yes, this is an answer, but it missed the question by a mile.
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 9:13

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.

  • Just for fun consider also: "Es schmerzt mich." Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 18:14
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    And the reformed orthography recapitalised leid intermittently, before deciding to turn it into a connected verb leidtun … Ich glaube, es war der Zwiebelfisch, der dann gesagt hat »die armen Schüler können einem nur leid … Leid … also, die kann man nur bedauern«
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 9:15

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 this isn't always the case or more pessimistically stated it is rarely the case.

  • Closely related languages such as German and English actually share a lot of constructions. Where constructions differ, this can often be explained by divergent development that fits into a general scheme such as the faster loss of case distinctions in English.
    – user2183
    Commented Apr 13, 2015 at 9:24

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