How does the German organization of direct and indirect objects differ from English? For example, in English you would say:

I gave the girl green eggs and ham.

It goes: subject, I.O., D.O.

How would it differ in German, if at all?

  • English can sometimes use prepositions to alleviate its strict word order: I gave green eggs and ham to the girl. German can do so, too, but object case may change since it’s determined by the preposition: Ich habe Eier und Schinken an das Mädchen gegeben. (Meaning may also differ slightly.)
    – Crissov
    Oct 10, 2014 at 11:50

2 Answers 2


We use cases, so order is less important. You use dative to indicate the person something is given to (dem Mädchen). The most common way of putting it would be:

Ich habe dem Mädchen Eier und Schinken gegeben.

Other versions are possible, though, if you want to highlight other parts of the phrase:

Ich habe die Eier und den Schinken dem Mädchen gegeben (und nicht mein Bruder)

Dem Mädchen habe ich Eier und Schinken gegeben (und nicht dem Mann)

Eier und Schinken habe ich dem Mädchen gegeben (und nicht Äpfel und Weintrauben)

  • Is it always that permissive? Ich gab Äpfel allen for example, or Ich verkaufte Eier und Schinken dem Mädchen. (pronouns, indefinite articles)
    – user6191
    Oct 7, 2014 at 4:09
  • It does sound a bit contrived, but from a purely grammatical point of view there's nothing wrong with your examples.
    – Ingmar
    Oct 7, 2014 at 4:26

You do not differ in German. As ingmar wrote, we use the appropriate case on the subject and list the objects afterward.

In your example:

case = Dativ feminin, subject = Mädchen -> Dem Mädchen

If you want to point the importance of different elements of your list, you choose the order exactly like that. There are no grammatical rules for that so the order depends on your audience. It's a question of elocution to set the order, depending on the attention of your audience.

For example:

If the list is very long and you're sure the listener/s can not handle it, you could put the most important objects on the start. (Or the end, depending on what you think your listeners will pay the most attention.

Wir haben folgende Farben im Sortiment: Azur, Orange, Apfelgrün, Limette, Meeresblau, Königsblau, Mandarine, Flieder, [...], Schokobraun, Schwarz, Granit, Antrazit.

In that order I was thinking, the listener would only pay attention to the first objects, so I put those to the beginning which are in vogue.

Sie hat einen neuen Schminktisch, einen iPod und, von ihren Eltern, ein Auto zum 18. Geburtstag bekommen.

The car, as last element here, surely will receive the most attention. If I put it to the start of the list, the listeners wont pay attention to the other elements, due the car is a big deal and forces the focus.

And by the way, your example can be translated like:

Focus on the objects:

Ich gab dem Mädchen grüne Eier und Schinken.

Focus on the subject:

Dem Mädchen gab ich grüne Eier und Schinken.

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