Why does it have to be “Wie geht es dir”? Why can it not be “Wie geht es dich”?
Also, is the you in “How are you” in English an indirect object or is it a direct object?
German Language Stack Exchange is a bilingual question and answer site for speakers of all levels who want to share and increase their knowledge of the German language. It's 100% free, no registration required.Sign up to join this community
I'm not an etymology expert and would also agree that this is just "how grammar works", but I guess the dative case originates from the fact that the expression basically translates to "How are things going for you?". Just like in English, the word es (it) is often referring to the situation and circumstances you are currently living in or dealing with. If, for example, you are good, those circumstances are given in a manner that enables you to feel comfortable; they play into your hands in a positive way.
As you probably know, the dative case indicates a change in ownership or a similar movement to or from the vicinity of the dative object. You could say that the outer circumstances give you a benefit or a disadvantage which you can embrace or ignore - the choice is up to you. On the contrary, the accusative case would indicate that those circumstances are directly modifying or involving you in some way, which is not true if you are simply asking "How are things going for you?".
Firstly, you have to free yourself form terms like ›(in)direktes Objekt, Präpositionalobjekt, Genitivobjekt‹ (= indirect/direct object, prepositional object, genitive object).
In classical grammar verbs can be transitive or intransitive. Some verbs can be used both ways. That's what you have to know about a new verb first.
– transitive: needs an object
– intransitive: doesn't need an object but may need an adverbial phrase
Let's define the terms object and adverbiale phrase:
– object: phrase that is in the accusative case (however, not every sole accusative is an object)
--› Er schreibt einen Brief.
– adverbial phrase: phrase that's not in the accusative case but dependent on the sentence's verb
--› Er sitzt im Zimmer. / Er schreibt im Zimmer.
An object is always the victim of the subject's actions. You can identify an object not only through the accusative case but also by turning an active sentence into a passive one. The object will now become the subject and will therefore be a nominative. That's for example never possible with a dative:
– Der Vater tötet den Jungen (accusative). --› Der Junge (nominative) wird vom Vater getötet.
– But: Er hilft dem Jungen (dative). --› Dem Jungen (still dative) wird von ihm geholfen.
Interestingly, the former subject can be turned into an adverbial phrase (vom Vater).
So, ›gehen‹ is an intransitive verb because it does no actions on some kind of object. We can use any adverbial phrase possible:
– Johann ging seines Weges. (adverbial genitive)
– Johanna geht in den Park. (prepositional phrase)
– Und? Geht dein neues Spielzeug? Es geht gut ! (adverb –– guess where the name adverbial phrase came from!)
– Jo ging den Weg | bis zum bitteren Ende. (1. adverbial accusative; 2. prepositional phrase)
As we already know, there's the object which can only contain an accusative case, and there's the adverbial phrase. So theoretically speaking, every kind of adverbial phrase (for example the genitive or prepositional phrase) can be used for our case: Wie geht es dir?
Then why to use dative case?
Since its origin the dative has one great purpose:
The dative shows to whose advantage (or disadvantage) something happens.
Here's some prominent so-called indirect objects which are in fact natural datives filling the adverbial phrase:
– Ich gebe meiner Mutter den Brief. (to the advantage of my mother)
– Ich helfe dir. (to your advantage)
So let's analyse the declarative sentence of ›Wie geht es dir?‹:
– Es geht [ adv.phr.1: gut, schlecht, bergauf, … ].
If we for example want to state tho whose advantage this well-feeling (Es geht gut) is, one uses the dative:
– Es geht [ adv.phr.2: mir, dem Mann, meiner Frau, … ] [ adv.phr.1: gut ].
--› Es geht mir gut.
--› Wie geht es dir ?
German Wikipedia already states, that indirect objects are in dative case in German and direct ones in accusative.
If you prefer an accusative construct you could use
Wie fühlst du dich?