I do not understand the structure of this sentence from the book Harry Potter:

Tante Petunia wäre er nicht ins Haus gekommen.

Could you translate this sentence and explain these things?

  • Are both Tante Petunia and er in the nominative case?
  • What is the tense of this sentence?
  • 1
    Please state why checking a grammar book didn’t help you in this situation. (There is an underlying idiom, but that is almost self-explanatory having identified verb, tense and mood.)
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 21:26
  • 3
    Do you know that Harry Potter is originally written in English? Instead of back-translating sentences from the German translation, you could just look up the original text. (In this case, it’s “Aunt Petunia wouldn’t have let it in the house”, by the way.)
    – chirlu
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 21:31
  • Jan, thanks for fixing the post. It is the structure of this German sentence that bothers me. If you could give me a link to an article on this topic, I'd appreciate that. Could you at least confirm that both Tante Petunia and er are both in the nominative case? Then er is not a subject? Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 21:48
  • 3
    @daniel.neumann: I don’t think the sentence is strange. It’s from the first volume, when Harry first sees the Sorting Hat. – Vytenis Bivainis: Of course this sentence does not have two nominatives. Tante Petunia is dative.
    – chirlu
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 22:10
  • 1
    It would have helped a lot to identify finite and non-finite parts of the verb and the tense that they are in. I still feel that this should be closed for lacking general reference lookup. It’s not like there are any overly complex infinitives that cloud the verb identification …
    – Jan
    Commented Apr 30, 2016 at 22:40

1 Answer 1


This is a mix of two constructs that might be a bit hard to get for learners of the language - A construct using dative to express "I accept" (maybe close to the English "Fits/suits me"), and the whole thing in subjunctive.

Aunt Petunia said "It won't ever enter the house"

Tante Petunia sagte, "Das kommt mir nicht ins Haus"

(So basically an expression of "I will not accept it", or "I can't have that happening", which can be expressed by a dative in german like "mir...nicht"). A good example is the (colloquial) saying

Das kommt mir nicht in die Tüte

which roughly translates to

I don't accept that

Now put the whole sentence into subjunctive:

Aunt Petunia wouldn't have accepted it entering the house

Or in German, simpler:

Mir kommt es nicht ins Haus

And, then re-formed to

Tante Petunia wäre es nicht ins Haus gekommen

That special dative construct is seldom used other than in first person, i.e without "mir", so it is even uncommon in German.

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