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Der Mann hilft der Frau.

Why is the same definite article used for male nouns in nominative and female nouns in dative? Is there a deep connection, or just a coincidence? Have they always been the same historically?

m n f
nom der das die
akk den das die
dat dem dem der
4
  • 6
    You should think of them as two entirely different words that happen to be homophones. I'm not proficient enough in the matter to write this up as a complete answer though… ^_^;;
    – deceze
    Commented May 26, 2011 at 23:57
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    Why not? Also in English »the« is used for both male nominative (The boy is young) and female dative (I gave it to the girl). It's even worse in English: You use »the« in all genders, all cases and all numbers (singular as well as plural). Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 13:36
  • Just going by the German Wikipedia page on Old High German, female dative was dero/deru and later lost the vowel at the end, merging with "der". But I would leave an answer to someone who actually understands this stuff.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 13:00
  • When a specific morpheme serves one particular purpose in a language, it often reappears in another role: -en is use both for infinitives and for certain adjective endings, der/die/das are reused as articles and two different types of pronoun, -er can denote both certain plurals and comparatives (and English -s signifies both verbal 3/singular and nominal plural). This happens far more often than chance would explain, so there must be a general principle at work, but it isn't particularly well understood. Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 15:20

2 Answers 2

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I second deceze's comment on your question. Der (nominative, masc.) and der (dative, fem.) are just homophones that are the result of the declination of the article.

German definite articles grew out of the old demonstrative forms dër, diu, daz and have also been used as relative pronouns.

There are even more cases (no pun intended) of articles that cline to der:

Singular männlich weiblich sächlich Plural m/w/s
Nominativ der die das Nominativ die
Genitiv des der des Genitiv der
Dativ dem der dem Dativ den
Akkusativ den die das Akkusativ die
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As I've searched about 2 hours, there is no overlap in history - for nominative and Dative.

From the nominative case being used, we may fairly assume that it was set up in AD 120, when the Emperor was in Britain.

The Dative Case In English The Old English language, current until approximately the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, had a dative case.

So, there is no deep historical connection and it's just an easy coincidence.

Note: I'll add , if I find more information. Just enough to satisfy your curiosity.

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