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I came across this sentence during my studying:

Unserem Sohn Jan gelingt alles. Ihn regt fast nichts auf.

This makes me confused: why we used unserem not unser, should not that be nominative?

More confusion is with ihn, should not this be er, why the sentence is in accusative here?

  • Btw. it is not the sentence what is in accusative (and it's not the subject either). – c.p. Feb 5 '16 at 7:35
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The verb »gelingen« can be translated into english, but not in the same grammatical context. I show you what I mean:

The standard usage of »gelingen« is:

Etwas(Subjekt) gelingt(Prädikat) jemandem(Dativobjekt).

In english you use the word »succeed« to translate »gelingen«, but it needs a different grammatical environment.

Somebody(subject) succeeds(predicate) in(preposition) something(object).

So in english you say:
(if more than one word builds one grammatical unit, then I put this group of words in brackets.)

(The painter)(subject) succeeds(predicate) in(preposition) (his painting)(object).

But German »gelingen« would need this structure:

(The picture)(subject) gelingt/succeeds(Prädikat/predicate) (the painter)(object).

You see the big difference: Now the picture is the subject, and so the picture is the part that is doing something. It gelingt. And the Object tells us to whom the picture gelingt. It is the lucky painter who receives the pictures gift.

So in German you say:

(Das Bild)(Subjekt) gelingt(Prädikat) (dem Maler)(Dativobjekt).

Or (same pattern):

Alles(Subjekt) gelingt(Prädikat) (unserem Sohn Jan)(Dativobjekt).


And now comes a very valuable feature of German language:

Flexible word order

German word order is much more flexible than English word order. In German we have cases which force nouns to have different endings and other articles. So we know from this grammatical induced variations which syntactic function with part of a sentence has, even if the word order did change. And we often use this feature to put those parts, that we want to emphasize, at the beginning of a sentence.

Changing the order of parts of speech is not completely free (most important: Predicate must stay at position 2), but to swap subject and object is almost always allowed. So you can also write:

(Unserem Sohn Jan)(Dativobjekt) gelingt(Prädikat) alles(Subjekt).

Well, this was it for sentence 1.


Now let's analyze sentence 2:

»Ihn« is a personal pronoun. And as every pronoun it is a placeholder for something else; in this case for our son Jan.

But even if a pronoun refers to something outside its own sentence, it has the follow the grammatical rules of its own sentence. So it does not matter if our son Jan is used in his own sentence as Subjekt, as Dativobjekt, as Genitivobjekt or in what case ever. The case of the pronoun has to follow the rules of its own sentence.

So let's have a look at this sentence:

The predicate of this sentence is:

aufregen (engl: to upset)

It can be used in two ways:

  1. transitiv:
    Jemand/etwas regt jemanden auf.
    Jemand/etwas(Subjekt) regt(Prädikat; erster Teil des trennbaren Verbs) jemanden(Akkusativobjekt, transitiv) auf(Prädikat; zweiter Teil des trennbaren Verbs).

  2. reflexiv:
    Jemand regt sich auf.
    Jemand(Subjekt) regt(Prädikat; erster Teil des trennbaren Verbs) sich(Akkusativobjekt; reflexiv) auf(Prädikat; zweiter Teil des trennbaren Verbs).

Examples:

  1. transitiv
    Das Verbrechen regt die Bürger auf.
    The crime upsets the citizens.

Note, that here the crime is doing something, and the citizens are the target of the crimes doing. The traget is different from that part that is active. This is what transitiv means. The crime transforms the citizens. It makes them excited.

  1. reflexiv
    Die Bürger regen sich auf.
    The citizens get upset.

In the German sentence the citizens are doing something, and what they do influences themselves. This is what reflexiv means.
The english translation follows a different grammatical pattern. Note, that in the English sentence the word upset is not a verb but an adjective. The verb (and predicate) is get.

Using the first pattern (transitiv) you can build this sentence:

Fast nichts regt ihn auf.
Almost nothing upsets him.

With grammatical functions:

(Fast nichts)(Subjekt) regt(Prädikat 1) ihn(Akkusativobjekt) auf(Prädikat 2).

So here you find the word »ihn«. It refers to a male person somewhere outside this sentence, and is stands in accusative case, because the predicate aufregen forces its object to be in that case.


word order, again

But to the speaker obviously it is more important to tell us who gets excited (him) than what is the reason for his excitement (almost nothing). So the speaker puts him at the beginning of the sentence. The first part of the predicate must stay at position 2, and the second part at the end, so the subject can move between the two parts of the predicate, where the object was before:

Ihn(Akkusativobjekt) regt(Prädikat 1) (fast nichts)(Subjekt) auf(Prädikat 2).

  • I like this answer a lot! Something a bit nit picky... shouldn't the jemanden in the first quote be referred to as jemandem? Abgesehen davon war alles perfekt! – Austinh1 Feb 5 '16 at 13:26
  • @Austinh1: Thanx, I corrected it. – Hubert Schölnast Feb 5 '16 at 18:03
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    Substitute "suceed" with "comes easy" to replicate the German sentence structure: "To him everything comes easy". – Peter A. Schneider Feb 5 '16 at 18:13
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No. It seems to be a confusion as how to identify the subject, which in many other languages usually takes the first place but in German doesn’t have to (altough it is very usual to find it there). The subject is alles and fast nichts respectively. Jan is an object in both sentences; in the second it appears as pronoun, though.

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As C.p. already pointed out, both bolded parts in your question are the objects and due to the liberal German word order they can be moved around the sentence. There is no reason for objects to be in the nominative case. (The copula sein does not take objects.)

The sentences mean that their son Jan can do everything and that nothing annoys him.

Both sentences are possible with the corresponding Jan-bit being in nominative case and thus subjects but that would seriously change their meaning:

  • Unser Sohn Jan gelingt allem.

    (Note how allem now acquired dative case, the one Jan had before)

    This means that almost everything can successfully generate/produce/create their son Jan. (A very disturbing thought if you ask me.)

  • Er regt fast nichts auf.

    This means that there is almost nothing that he can annoy.


‡: Disclaimer: It was certainly not my parents speaking there!

  • The point with > Er regt fast nichts auf. is that a thing (or even no-thing) being annoyed by someone is not realistic, just as you already stated for your first sentence. In fact, to really add something here, objects are usually in non-nominative cases at all. – Andreas Feb 8 '16 at 15:37
  • @Andreas Yes, totally with you on the things being annoyed part. I don’t get the bit with the non-nominative cases … Willst du einfach nur sagen, dass Objekte niemals nie im Nominativ (also immer in Nicht-Nominativ-Fällen) sind? – Jan Feb 9 '16 at 10:04
  • Ich meinte nur, dass Objekte meistens eher nicht im Nominativ sind. Liege ich da etwa falsch? – Andreas Feb 9 '16 at 15:43
  • @Andreas Aaaah, nein, ich hab deine Wortwahl nur nicht parsen können, sorry. Denke, du hast recht. – Jan Feb 9 '16 at 16:06
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Unserem Sohn Jan gelingt alles. Ihn regt fast nichts auf.

Unserem Sohn Jan > Dativobjekt (Wem?) gelingt > Prädikat alles. > Subjekt (Wer oder was?)

Ihn > Akkusativobjekt (Wen?) regt > Prädikat 1. Teil fast nichts > Subjekt (Wer oder was?) auf. > Prädikat 2. Teil

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