New to this site – but eagerly trying to learn German formally.

I am on 'the cases' stage of my learning.

From what I understand we use accusative when referring to the direct object.

Now, in the case of "Wie geht es dir?":

Since I am asking "How goes it you?", is it correct to say that es is in the accusative case and is the direct object, while dir is the dative case (or Ihnen if formal)?

Or is es in the nominative case?

I am confused to why we can't just say:

Wie gehst dich?
Wie gehen Sie?

or even

Wie gehst du?
Wie gehen Sie? (Aren't you the subject when I am asking?)


4 Answers 4


The phrase "Wie geht es dir?" consists of

  1. The subject "es" (in nominative)
  2. the predicate "geht"
  3. the object "dir" in the dative case
  4. the interrogative particle "wie" (how), which reorders the sentence so that the predicate preceeds the subject.

So, "wie geht es?" is the proper equivalent for the English "how is it going?", meaning something like "how is the state of (your) affairs?"

The last thing you have to allocate in this context is "dir", the personal pronoun directly referring to the person being addressed, and, being in the dative, it simply means "for you":

How are things going for you?

In the light of this, you can easily see that none of your shortcuts (Wie geht Ihnen, wie gehen Sie, etc.) works for that purpose.

"Wie gehen Sie?", for example, would be the equivalent of "how are you walking", and so on.

  • I would like to further my understanding in this. It just seems strange that I want to know how YOU are, but YOU is not the subject, not even the direct object! Is there a way in German to ask how someone is where 'they' (you) is in the nominative or accusative?
    – sci-guy
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:56
  • 1
    @renegade05 What I can think of right now, only in colloquial German or dialect. E.g. between friends, you may say "Wie bist du drauf", or in some Swiss dialects they say (transliterated into German) "Wie bist du zuwege?" But in standard German, "Wie geht es dir?" is the proper expression and I can think of no "direct" one in the sense of your question. A very formal alternative would be "Wie ist Ihr Befinden?" which also refers to an abstract noun rather than the person themselves. Feb 26, 2015 at 10:06
  • @renegade05: "Bist du gesund?" would be a very direct (and more specific, as it refers explicitly to the state of health) way of asking that; similarly, "Wie fühlst du dich?" could be asked, but it sounds like something you'd ask a recently-recovered (or still slightly sick) person to check whether their state has improved. Feb 26, 2015 at 13:00
  • 1
    @renegade05: With that said, I don't consider it strange at all that YOU is neither the subject nor the direct object. Just think about (colloquial) questions such as "What is wrong with you?"/"What's the matter with you?", which might be seen as asking about YOU, as well. Looking more closely, of course, these questions actually ask about a perceived problem related to the addressee - just as "Wie geht es dir?" actually asks about "what effect the entirety of external and internal current factors" have on the addresse. Feb 26, 2015 at 13:01

In German there are cases where you use an expletive subject. This subject is not the 'real' subject of a semantical point of view. It's merely the grammatical subject when no real subject is present.

Es regnet.
Es geht mir gut.

In both sentences es doesn't refer to anything in particular.
There are a couple of questions on this site about this; thus, I'm not going any further on this topic.

So, your question is about the grammatical case. Es is the subject and in the nominative case.
Dir, as you correctly assumed, is the dative object.

On a side note: It's true that most often the accusative object is considered the direct object and the dative object is regarded as the indirect object. But I suggest to refrain from using the English terms and comparing those. There are exceptions, e.g. "Ich danke dir" vs "I thank you".

Finally, "Wie gehst du" and "Wie gehen Sie" is correct German, but has a totally different meaning. Gehen has the meaning of to go, to walk. You could, for example, ask this question if you someone walks in a strange way (let's say his leg aches and he's limping slightly).

"Wie gehst dich" is just improper in German. You would understand gehen in the sense of to go (Du gehst), again, but the pronoun dich would be just the wrong one.


"es" is the subject (nominative), "dir" is the dative case (to you). So with "wie geht es dir?" you're essentially asking

how [is it going|does it go] to you?

(of course this is terrible, but it's the literal translation).

  • So how would I say: How are you going? For example, "I am going to the store with my car. How are you going there?"
    – sci-guy
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:47
  • 1
    For example, "Wie gehst|fährst du dorthin"? In this case "du" is the subject (nominative).
    – persson
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:55
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    @renegade05 "Wie kommst/gehst/fährst du dahin?"
    – Em1
    Feb 26, 2015 at 9:58

"Wie geht es dir/Ihnen" is an idiomatic formula and you can't change the dative. And you have to learn how such formulas are said in German. It's no use trying to translate things from English into German by translating word for word. You won't get idiomatic German.

If I tried to translate the German formula word for word into English I would get

  • *How goes it to you? - No proper English, is it.

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