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The question is on why den Rücken der Türe zugewendet as occurring in this quote (from Kafka’s Der Verschollene) is in the accusative case.

Am Fenster saß an einem Schreibtisch, den Rücken der Türe zugewendet, ein kleinerer Herr, der mit großen Folianten hantierte, die auf einem starken Bücherbrett in Kopfhöhe vor ihm aneinandergereiht waren. Neben ihm stand eine offene, wenigstens auf den ersten Blick leere Kassa.

I can think of two reasons:

(a) Such noun phrases are always in the accusative.

(b) It is because of the particular grammatical circumstances, e.g., it being an object of zuwenden.

By “such noun phrases” I mean those free-standing noun phrases which don’t seem to modify or connect with any particular word of the main clause but to add to it as a whole (I wish I knew the grammatical term for them). For example,

Face reddened, arms akimbo, she stood blocking the door.

The crocodile waited, only his nose out for the scent.

They came, all guns blazing, but too late.

Maybe one way to ask my question is to ask how these three sentences would go in German. Will face, arms, nose and guns all be in the accusative, or does a German speaker have to bother his head about what the surrounding words are doing to them (for example, “Well, the face got reddened so it is in the accusative, but the guns are blazing so nominative”)?

I hope the answer will be (a). That would be nicely consistent with things like heute Abend (as in “Heute Abend gehen wir.”) being in the accusative. (Is that right?)

If anybody knows the grammatical term for these noun phrases, please also let me know. Thanks.

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The Kafka cite is not a noun phrase. It is a participle construction with the past participle zugewendet. It can be replaced by a relative clause:

Am Fester saß an einem Schreibtisch ein kleinerer Herr, der der Türe den Rücken zugewendet hat und der mit großen Folianten […]

The grammatical case is directly derived from the ‘original’ relative clause and the verb therein; in this case jemadem etwas zuwendender Türe being dative and den Rücken, of course, accusative.

Expressions like heute Abend do, in fact, require accusative; although one couldn’t discern that from heute Abend alone. It works, if you change it to letzten Abend, though. Check out this related question.

Your three example sentences don’t really translate too well, but in any case they can usually be broken down to a participle construction, too, in which the verb governs case. I’ve attempted to do that, but they all sound a little strange.

Das Gesicht (N) rot vor Wut, die Arme (A) in die Hüften (A) gestemmt, stand sie, die Tür (A) blockierend.

Das Krokodil wartete, nur die Nase (A) nach Gerüchen (D) suchend heraushaltend (hard to translate directly)

Sie kamen, alle Waffen (N) Dauerfeuer (A) gebend, aber es war zu spät.

This might seem like everything requires accusative, but it’s just that the vast majority of verbs that one would use for participles require an accusative object.

  • Isolated time expressions usually are in accusative; there are already some questions about this. Den nächsten Morgen gingen wir nach Hause. Vorigen Mittwoch habe ich sie getroffen. – chirlu Jun 22 '15 at 10:39
  • Links to questions about isolated time expressions: german.stackexchange.com/questions/6915/…, german.stackexchange.com/questions/4891/… – chirlu Jun 22 '15 at 11:41
  • @chirlu Thanks and done². It helps to think about letzten or nächsten, I didn’t get that far for some reason. And I don’t know what happened to my brain when I put A after Gerüchen ^^' – Jan Jun 22 '15 at 12:05

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