Consider the two sentences:

1) Kann ich dir helfen?

In this sentence, there is no direct object, but the 'to whom' person is you (dir), therefore you are in the dative case which is dir.

But in the next sentence, which confuses me ...

2) Kannst du mich sehen?

Why is it 'mich' instead of 'mir'? Again, there is no direct object (accusative case), but there is a 'for/to whom' sort of which is me (mich). If that makes sense. So why am I (mich) not in the dative case which is mir?

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    Hi and welcome to German Language Stack Exchange. Feel free to take a tour of the site. Visit the help center to learn more about how it works. – Jan Feb 2 '16 at 21:40
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    Note that direct and indirect object are non-optimal categories to use in German, since both dative and accusative objects are directly added to their respective verbs as in your examples. Therefore, writing dative object/accusative object is preferred. Also, it is merely a case of the verb helfen governing dative and sehen governing accusative. – Jan Feb 2 '16 at 21:41
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    The second question is not "for/to whom?" but "who?" – Breeze Feb 2 '16 at 22:05
  • Possible duplicate of When to use dative or accusative object with "sitzen"? – guidot Feb 3 '16 at 8:10
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    @Arnold Doveman: What do you mean when you say that “there is no direct object” in the second sentence? – chirlu Feb 3 '16 at 9:16

Direct or indirect are no categories for objects in German grammar. German categories for Objects are: Dativobjekte (objects in dative case), Akkusativobjekte (objects in accusative case), Genitivobjekte and others (Nominativobjekte, Präpositionalobjekt, ...).

The verb in the sentences predicate dictates in which case its object(s) have to be. You have to learn for each verb with which types of objects it can be combined, but this is not so hard like learning the articles of nouns, since it is more systematic. Verbs with similar meanings normally come along with the same types of objects.


The verb »helfen« (to help) has this possible objects:

  • Who is receiving help? - Dativ

    Karl hilft dir. - Karl helps you.

  • (rare) Who is helping? (can only be used if this information is not given in the subject, where it normally is) - Akkusativ

    Lass mich helfen! - Let me help!

You can combine both:

Geht zur Seite! Lasst den Arzt(Akk.) der Frau(Dat.) helfen! - Step aside! Let the doctor help the lady!

But you can use the verb also without any object:

Wir helfen gerne. - We're glad to help.

(Note, that in the last example the predicate of the German sentence is »helfen« while in the English sentence it is »to be glad«. So it is not a 1:1-translation. A translation that keeps the German grammar would be »We help gladly«, but I guess it is not the best English translation)


First of all: You obviousely have a wrong translation in mind. The sentence »Kannst du mich sehen?« is not »Are you looking at me?«. It is »Can you see me?« So you don't ask for the object with »for/to whom« but with »who«. But anyway: English questions don't always give the correct hint for German grammar.

This is the possible object for sehen:

  • Who or what do you see? - Akkusative

    Ich sehe den Berg. - I see the mountain.
    Ich sehe dich. - I see you.

    Also if used in figurative meaning:

    Ich sehe das anders. - I see it differently.

And also sehen can be used without Object:

Ich habe eine neue Brille. Ich sehe jetzt besser. - I've got new glasses. I see better now.


This is something you simply need to learn.

While you say „jemandem (Dativ) helfen“ you say „jemanden (Akkusativ) sehen“.

I guess by there is no direct object (accusative case), but there is a 'for/to whom' sort of which is me you are referring to rules like this. And I don't see “for/to whom” in „jemanden sehen“.

Personally I also have doubts whether it's a good idea to study the cases like this.

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