To express we feel nauseous we may say

Mir ist übel. Mir ist schlecht. Mir ist schwindlig.

What are the grammatical rules behind this? Why don't we say "Ich bin übel" when we say

Ich bin benommen. Ich bin müde. Ich bin froh. Ich bin dumm.

and "mir ist..." is not used in the latter cases?

  • schwindlig? Wer sagt sowas in dem Kontext? Die Schwaben?
    – Em1
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 11:33
  • 1
    @Em1: meine Oma sagte das immer.
    – Takkat
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 11:34
  • Du kannst aber doch sagen: Ich bin übel(wollend)
    – Em1
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 11:40
  • in Österreich ist "mir ist schwindlig" üblich Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 15:14
  • @Em1 wenn es denn so ist sage ich sowas auch^^
    – rekire
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 22:41

2 Answers 2


Feelings/emotions are expressed here with the Dativ (mir ist), not with Nominativ (ich bin).

You could argue, that this is done for differentiation purposes, because (as Matthias mentioned) "Mir ist übel" and "Ich bin übel" mean different things. But that does not explain other uses like:

Mir ist, als hätte es geklopft. (I think someone knocked at the door.)

You are expressing a feeling, you are uncertain if really someone knocked. An "Ich bin" construction does not exist here.

For further readings (and if you want to lobotomize yourself) I recommend "Die Kodierung von Emotionen in Texten".

One possible explanation how this evolved is the shortening of sentences. Let us take as example:

Es ist mir kalt. (It's cold here for me.)

Now we have a typical sentence with a dative object. It could be that the object was transferred to the subject to shorten the sentence, because people are lazy (sprechfaul). Then we get:

Mir ist kalt. (I am cold.)

But this is guesswork. I have no reference to back this up.

  • 2
    Your explanation is correct. "Mir" is not a word that can do the action. Some textbooks call this construct an "understood" or implied subject. The "es" is implied or understood to be there.
    – Kevin
    Commented Feb 7, 2012 at 3:04

The word "mir" is in this case a reflexive pronoun.

Em1 already stated that "übel" can have different meanings.

  • Without a reflexive pronoun ("Ich bin übel") you would say that you are vicious (not very common).
  • With a reflexive pronoun ("Mir ist übel") you say that you are feeling sick.

I am not sure why a reflexive pronoun is used. Possibly to

  • clarify the meaning
  • describe a feeling instead of a person's condition
  • 2
    Ist der Unterschied nicht, dass das eine einen Zustand beschreibt, während das andere ein Gefühl oder Empfinden. Es gibt gute Beispiele: Ich bin langweilig - Mir ist langweilig. // Ich bin kalt - Mir ist kalt (Achtung, regional auch Ich hab kalt)
    – Em1
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 12:52
  • @Em1 Das klingt einleuchtend. Ich finde leider keine Belege dafür. Aber meine Antwort werde ich ergänzen. Danke!
    – Matthias
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 13:45
  • Ist nur Bauchgefühl, ob es stimmt, weiß ich nicht. Vllt gibt es auch Beispiele, die meine Vermutung widerlegen...
    – Em1
    Commented Feb 6, 2012 at 13:50
  • This is a very old answer, but it's not too late to point out that "mir" is not a reflexive pronoun here. It's just a dative object. A reflexive pronoun "reflects" the subject of the sentence, like in "ich langweile mich".
    – HalvarF
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 16:05

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