Ihm schlug das Herz bis zum Hals.

What is the grammatical function of "ihm" in this context? I know that literally "ihm" here means for him.

  • 1
    You might be interested in learning that German hearts can do also other things using dative: Das Herz sank ihm in die Hose. Das Herz hüpfte ihm im Leibe. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 11:29
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    siehe auch: german.stackexchange.com/questions/30944/…
    – Iris
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 13:15
  • @ChristianGeiselmann and in all the person is dative :-)
    – Millen
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:12
  • @Iris thanks very useful ... did n't find that before
    – Millen
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 15:13
  • In this case, "ihm" means something like "to him". I.e. it happened to him, that his heart "pounded up to his throat", i.e. very heavily. Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 18:49

4 Answers 4


This construct is a dative form which is also present in Latin, and not directly translatable into languages like English where the dative has almost vanished.

In languages that still have a living dative, this case can express

  • ownership - My heart is beating to the neck - Mir schlägt das Herz bis zum Hals
  • beneficiary or aggrieved party - Mir wurde das Auto gestohlen (The car was stolen from me)

Those are the two most important usages of dative (apart from receivership of something, which is the same as in English), beyond that there are some more you might want to look up in a German grammar, like dativus ethicus, iudicantis and finalis, .


Das Herz (Subjekt) schlug ihm (Objekt) bis zum Hals.

So the grammatical function is simply "Objekt". The meaning would translate to something like

His heart was beating that hard so that he can feel it in his throat.

  • His heart is beating ... Sein Herz schlug .... ?
    – Millen
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:08
  • Sorry, of course it is past tense.
    – RoyPJ
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:14
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    The point is, that in the German sentence there is no statement about who is the owner of the heart. It is not »sein Herz«. It is »das Herz«. So in the English translation it should not be »his heart«. It must be »the heard«. Then it is clear, that the German »ihm« turns to »so that he can feel«, whereas there is not a single word about feeling in the German sentence. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:22
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    I was only talking about the meaning, not the literal translation, because the question was only about the grammatical function of ihm. Nevertheless you are right. I did not think about this form hardly existing in English, although a construction like "it is pleasing to me" comes close.
    – RoyPJ
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:30
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    @HubertSchölnast I guess it is debatable which form of the dative this really is. There are several possible translations of mir here: my heart - dativus possesivus, I felt my heart beating - dativus iudicantis, I suffered from my heart beating - dativus incommodi. The real thing is probably a mix of all.
    – tofro
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 9:34

You often find personal pronouns in dative case in German sentences, that are hard to translate into English, because there is a grammatical feature in German, that doesn't exist in English. Here are some other examples:

Das Buch gefällt mir.
The book likes me? What?
I like this book. (Ich mag dieses Buch.)

Der Hut flog ihm vom Kopfe.
The hat flew him? from the head?
The wind blew the hat from his head. (Der Wind blies den Hut von seinem Kopf.)

Das Herz schlug ihm bis zum Hals.
The heard beat him to the neck???
His heart was thumping. (Sein Herz pochte.)

This personal pronoun in dative case marks the receiver (beneficiary, victim) of the action.

The book is the subject, it does something. It pleases/suits. (There is no one-to-one translation of gefallen in English, that can be used the same way.) The dative object tells us, who is the person, that receives what the book is emitting.

In the second example the pronoun doesn't mark the owner of the hat. The man could also have worn a strangers hat. But the man was the victim of whatever made the hat to fly away (it was probably the wind).

In the last example, it is obviously his heart that was beating, but this is not what this pronouns says. The sentence does not say "his heart is beating". Is literally says

A heart is beating, and he can feel this heartbeat in his neck.

So, here again the pronoun doesn't talk about ownership. It tells us who is the victim (i.e. the person that recognizes the heartbeat)

Also the sentence from your other question:

Ihm blieb vor Schreck der Atem weg.

The pronoun ihm tells us who was suffering from being breathless. (Who was the victim of this action?)

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    In the first example, "gefallen" should not be translated by "like", but by "please", and then the verbatim translation "the book pleases me" is in fact possible. "To like" means "mögen", not "gefallen".
    – Uwe
    Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 11:47
  • Another example: "Ihm steht das Wasser bis zum Hals".
    – Hulk
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 6:52
  • @Uwe: Erklär das mal Facebook (like → gefällt mir) Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 8:21
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    Endlich Whataboutism auf german.SE
    – npst
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 10:27

The whole phrase means, "For him, the heart was beating into the throat.

In English, we would say, "His heart was beating into the throat."

But German doesn't use this construction for this, and similar, phrases. So they would use "ihm" where we would use "his"

  • I would rather use "throat" than "neck". That is where you feel it, when the heart is pounding (for excitement, or fear). Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:01
  • @RudyVelthuis: Changed per your suggestion. Thanks for your help
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 19:32

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