A sentence from a Spiegel Online article:

Der 60-Jährige steht ... an der Spitze eines neuen Gremiums, dem Rat für nationalen Frieden und die Aufrechterhaltung der Ordnung.

Why is it dem Rat and not des Rates, even when the noun it refers to, Gremiums, is in genitive case?

  • As I see it, there's no switch of cases: the description after the comma is not for "Gremium" but "Spitze" (which is in dative).
    – c.p.
    May 23, 2014 at 9:01
  • 2
    @c.p. but that would mean that der Rat was die Spitze (of what?)
    – Hulk
    May 23, 2014 at 9:03
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    @c.p. Very, very, very, very good observation, yet I still think it's reffering to Gremium. What would be the Gremium otherwise?
    – user6191
    May 23, 2014 at 9:03
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    All in all, the answer is probably "Because the author made a mistake that is common enough among native speakers that it might become a correct option in the future".
    – Hulk
    May 23, 2014 at 9:07
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    In another newspaper it says: "Der 60-Jährige setzte sich zugleich an die Spitze des neuen machthabenden Rates, dem Rat für nationalen Frieden und die Aufrechterhaltung der Ordnung." (Just to clarify the reference)
    – user6191
    May 23, 2014 at 9:22

4 Answers 4


You're right. It should be "des Rates". But as a native speaker, I would choose "dem Rat", too. I guess it's kind of slang; most people would choose "dem Rat", although they know it's not quite correct.

After a little more research I found this: a Dativ at this point is correct, if the noun doesn't carry an article or an attribute. That would be the explanation, but I really think most German speakers doesn't care about this rule and just use it as slang because it's kind of easier.


  • 1
    "although they know it's not quite correct" -- you are very optimistic. Can you give your source, please?
    – Raphael
    May 23, 2014 at 6:55
  • Okay ... I have to correct that; I use it that way although I know it's not correct ;-P I'll edit the source in the answer...
    – gilaras
    May 23, 2014 at 7:11
  • I agree - genitive would be correct but this is a very common mistake among native speakers. I guess it's because we tend to avoid genetive constructions in spoken language, and they are slowly succumbing to the onslaught of the forces of the dative even in written language.
    – Hulk
    May 23, 2014 at 7:23
  • @Hulk Ironically, if that would be true*, you'd say "...an der Spitze von einem neuen Gremium, dem Rat...". So, the actual question here is: why do you use genitive first and then switch to dative. – *Actually, it is true, but it's not the answer for everything.
    – Em1
    May 23, 2014 at 7:33
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    @Hulk I don't think so. The way it is written now, is the most likely one by any German. Perhaps, drop that final part and picture the full sentence would be "...an der Spitze eines neuen Gremiums". Now, what would be your question to get further information about the "Gremium". You would ask "An der Spitze von wem?". You would not ask "An der Spitze wessen?" – Which brings us back to the original question. Why dative here. I think both "answers" do not answer it yet.
    – Em1
    May 23, 2014 at 7:50

The punchline:

  • It's Dative because Genitive is not clear.

The reasoning:

First of, there is real grammatical reason why it would be Dative. It does, however, feel right and maybe even better than the cumbersome double genitive-s.

One reason might be that a double genitive is in fact not clear. It could part of a list or, if we don't see the punctuation, it could express possession.

Er steht an der Spitze der Telekom, eines Fussballvereins und eines Buchclubs.

Er steht an der Spitze eines Gremiums eines Vereins zur Verbesserung der Hundeschönheit.

So... not using Genitive makes it clear that we're looking at an apposition. But why Dative and not Nominative?
That might indeed have something to do with "von dem"-idea that @Vogel612 mentioned. Let's say the sentence end after "gremium"

... an der Spitze eines neuen Gremiums.

If I wanted to know more about this I would probably ask.

Von welchem Gremium?

and not

Welchen Gremiums?

which it would take me a good 2 minutes to think of and construct.


I'd say there are two cases:

  • Case one: A noun is being described closer  =>  The article has to match its case.

Der 60-Jährige steht ... an der Spitze eines neuen Gremiums, des Rates für nationalen Frieden und die Aufrechterhaltung der Ordnung.

  • Case two: The article is part of a relative clause, in which the represented noun would have another case  =>  The article has to match gender and number, but the case must fit the relative clause.*

Dieses Gremium, dem die [...] skeptisch gegenüberstanden, ist heute blabla.

*To be precise, that would be a relative pronoun, which has a different genitive.

  • 1
    In OP's sentence you could even argue for nominative. "... an der Spitze eines neues Gremiums; (das ist) der Rat für..."
    – Em1
    May 23, 2014 at 7:35

The reason for using Dative here is actually a relatively simple one. Compare following sentence:

Der 60-jährige steht [..] an der Spitze eines von einem neuen Gremium, dem Rat für [..]

This construction is grammatically valid. It's part of the phenomenon that the genitive case gets slowly replaced by dative case.
For a humoristic take on this you can check out the Zwiebelfisch-Kolumne of Sebastian Sick.

  • The thing that's confusing here is the mix of both styles, though.
    – Hulk
    May 23, 2014 at 8:38
  • Do we really need this Sick-reference here? I mean, those books are NOT about this after all. It's just one chapter each and just some commonplace phrases that lack any scientific proof (cause there is none).
    – Emanuel
    May 23, 2014 at 11:59

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