For one of my sentences, a native German speaker corrected it to be a “dative + sein” construction.

Original: Wenn es nur wahr wäre.

Suggestion: Wenn dem nur so wäre!

They proposed that the suggested structure was more elegant and gave a second example:

Original: Das war nicht aber so.

Suggestion: Dem war nicht aber so.

Can someone please tell me what the underlying grammar rule is for the “dative + sein” structure and whether it applies to other combinations?

2 Answers 2


Wenn es nur so wäre! — Es war aber nicht so.

Wenn das nur so wäre! — Das war aber nicht so.

These are both perfectly okay. The latter has a pointing finger to the thing in question.

Wenn dem nur so wäre! — Dem war aber nicht so.

This is an idiom, dem ist so, which is in wide use. Sein+Dativ is in Grimms' grammar, so it's not ungrammatical but it doesn't fit any system. I can't think of any other use either.

  • 1
    One might add that Dem ist nicht so sounds a little bit more educated and unobtrusive or polite, whereas Das ist nicht so sounds very plain or even a bit rough. Feb 1, 2018 at 16:16
  • Could you elaborate on the situations where it would be appropriate to use this idiom? Only together with a negation or conjunctive?
    – Beta
    Feb 1, 2018 at 18:37
  • 1
    It's a drop-in replacement for das ist so for all forms of sein. No further restrictions.
    – Janka
    Feb 1, 2018 at 18:50
  • "Ist das wahr? - Ja, dem ist so!" Would this use be correct?
    – Beta
    Feb 1, 2018 at 19:02
  • 1
    @Janka: Ist es Absicht, dass du an 3 Stellen »nicht aber« stehen hast statt »aber nicht«?
    – Pollitzer
    Feb 2, 2018 at 8:55

As Janka says, this construction is correct and widely used.

It should be noted, however, that "dem ist so" can sound formal to the degree of stiltedness in many contexts. I've rarely heard it in normal conversation -- and then usually in an ironic context.

For a non-native, I'd say it is safer to stick to the less elegant but much more common versions:

Das ist so.
Es ist so.
Es ist wahr.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.