I've seen both the following forms:

1 - Ich sage dem Mann ...

2 - Ich sage zu dem Mann ...

The second one seems to be less popular and mostly followed by direct discourse (sentences in quotes). Is the second one correct? If so, is it the same as the first one or do they have different use cases?

  • 2
    I've been asking that myself for ages but with the verb gehören.
    – c.p.
    Mar 6, 2014 at 19:49
  • 4
    Well, in that case there's an actual difference in meaning. Without "zu", it means "to belong" in the sense of possession, whereas with "zu" it means "to be part of", as in "Germany is part of europe" (Deutschland gehört zu Europa) or "travelling is part of my job" (Reisen gehört zu meinem Job) and so on. But with "sagen", there seems to be no difference in meaning.
    – persson
    Mar 6, 2014 at 20:01
  • cool, gut zu wissen.
    – c.p.
    Mar 6, 2014 at 20:05
  • My german teacher and Google Translate also prefer to use the "zu" form with direct speech (quoted text). The answers below say there is no rule about it, but I think it could be the most usual form. Oct 14, 2018 at 13:49

3 Answers 3


I would say that the dative version is more direct and more "including".

Ich habe es dir gesagt.

It kind of implies that the other person has heard and understood me. The "zu"-version lacks that. It also tells us who we are talking to but it is really more about the mere direction than about this whole sender-recipient thing. The "zu"-version might also come across a bit clumsy.

Ich sage zu ihm, dass er ein Idiot ist.

Ich sage ihm, dass er ein Idiot ist.

I find the second one to be more offensive in a way because it comes closer. Another verb where the difference is a little more obvious is "schicken".

Ich schicke dir ein Paket.

Ich schicke ein Paket zu dir.

The "zu"-version could mean that I send it to your house, or that I send it your way. The dative version includes that you get it and use it. Things change when I send a person.

Ich schicke dir den Mann.

Ich schicke den Mann zu dir.

A man is a living being and you cannot receive or own him the you could do with a package. Hence, here the "zu"-version is preferable as the dative-version objectifies the man.

Anyway... I checked Google Ngram (here and here). According to that, the dative version is by far the more common one in writing... which doesn't say much about speaking though.


The preposition "zu" has the function of emphasizing talking to the person. Usually this means there is an argument.

Both sentences can be followed by either direct speech in quotes, or indirect speech:

Without "zu" (direct):

Ich sage dem Mann: "Gehen Sie weg!"

or (indirect):

Ich sage dem Mann, dass er weg gehen soll.

with "zu" (direct):

Ich sage zu dem Mann: "Gehen Sie weg!"

or (indirect):

Ich sage zu dem Mann, dass er weg gehen soll.

You might think of it this way:

"I say to the man..." - "Ich sage zu dem Mann..."

"I tell the man..." - "Ich sage dem Mann..."

This is a rule of thumb I'd advise. There's no rule or something involved in this.


I think it's the same, actually like almost every language do, "ich sage dem Mann" it's more short and direct, so I would prefer this one rather than the second one.

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