2

Du gefällst mir.

Please why does this mean

I like you.

Not

You like me.

?

7

If you look up "gefallen" in a German-English dictionary, you'll find (among other words) "to please".

So "Du gefällst mir" = "You please me" = "I like you".

If you're looking for a direct equivalent of "to like", you'll find "mögen".

"I like you" = "Ich mag dich".

4

As was already pointed out, it's a dative construction - while it can be translated literally, the best thing to do is to just memorize that certain verbs are used in this way which may confuse native speakers of English, but it is worth pointing out that this sort of construction is not exclusive to German.


Let's look at the translations of "I like this song" in various languages:

Spanish "me gusta esta canción":

where me is the dative of yo ("I"), and esta canción ("this song") is in the nominative case and the verb gustar takes a 3rd person singular ending

Russian "мне нравится эта песня":

where, again, мне is the dative of я ("I"), эта песня ("this song") is in the nominative case and the verb нравиться takes a 3rd person singular ending

Japanese (私は)この歌が好きです ([watashi wa] kono uta ga suki desu):

the nominative particle ga relates to kono uta ("this song"), while the topic particle wa relates to watashi ("I") (although it would usually be omitted unless there is need for special emphasis) and suki (which together with the copula desu is the verb of the sentence) is actually a "nominal adjective" corresponding roughly to the odd-sounding English passive "[is] liked"

This is not exactly a dative construction, but it still illustrates that other languages might use subject and object in an opposite fashion.


What I intend to say is: when learning a foreign ĺanguage, one of the most important things to understand is that most things can (or should) not be translated in a word-by-word fashion but that it is much more important to understand the grammatical features and constructions of the foreign language.

  • Right! You never should try to translate words, you always have to translate meanings. – Hubert Schölnast May 28 '17 at 8:56
  • @HubertSchölnast: I somewhat disagree with that conclusion, because the entire issue is that the OP had not (correctly) translated words. Based upon the meaning of the entire phrase, the OP had assumed gefallen means to like, which is incorrect to start with. Arguably, RHa's compact, but accurate answer clears up the misunderstanding precisely by translating words rather than the meaning (of the entire phrase). – O. R. Mapper May 28 '17 at 16:43
  • 1
    @O.R.Mapper: I disagree with your assumtion »gefallen ≠ to like«. I think that »Es gefällt mir« is a very good translation of »I like it«. Those verbs just need a different grammatical environment. – Hubert Schölnast May 28 '17 at 17:04
  • @HubertSchölnast: "Those verbs just need a different grammatical environment." - and that's precisely why I say they are not the same. As opposed to other verbs that do not need a "different grammatical environment". But maybe, we just have different preferences as to how we memorize vocabulary and expressions. – O. R. Mapper May 28 '17 at 17:18
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    @O.R.Mapper not every verb has a literal translation in other languages. Trying to translate "gefallen" as "to be pleasant" just to make it match the same subject-verb-object scheme seems extremely forced. And that's coming from a native speaker of German. – Sora. May 28 '17 at 17:43
3

The old (and long forgotten) meaning was (in modern German):

Du gefällst mir. = Du bist mir (durch das Glück, durch ein Los) zugefallen.

This means:

I won you by luck, by fortune.

or shorter:

You are mine.

But over the centuries that possessive meaning turned into:

I wish, you were mine.

or shorter:

I like you.

But said in the beginning: That possessive meaning of »Du gefällst mir.« has been forgotten centuries ago.

1

"Gefallen" uses the dative case. It is a verb that "reverses."

The usual construction would be something like "Du gefälllst mich" (accusative). That would mean, "You like me." Except that this construction doesn't exist.

But the construction for this verb is more like, "you are pleasing to me." The "to me," uses the dative construction "Du gefällst mir."

This reverses or "turns around" to mean, "I like you."

  • This is wrong. It is not passive. And it wouldn't be gefällst mich. – c.p. May 27 '17 at 16:34
  • @c.p.: I was citing "Du gefälllst mich" (accusative). as a hypothetical construction that doesn't actually exist. – Tom Au May 27 '17 at 22:53
  • 2
    Native speaker here, "Vermisst du ihn?" definitely means "Do you miss him?" and not vice versa. However, there is a dative construction which roughly means the same: "Fehlt er dir?", literally "is he missing to you?" – Sora. May 27 '17 at 23:31
  • @Sora.: OK, removed the last example. Thank you for your help. – Tom Au May 28 '17 at 16:19

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