"Ich gratuliere dir zum Geburtstag."
"Ich rufe dich an."
In both sentences the other party is "receiving" the action, so why is one dativ and the other akkusativ ? Thank you!

  • In SW Germany and Switzerland you will also hear "Ich rufe dir an" - Maybe shows best that there can be no strict rule. – tofro May 7 '18 at 16:38

Thoughts about giving/receiving (dativ) or accusing (accusative) just give a first hint. The actual case is defined by the verb. Some verbs need their object in dative case, some in accusative case, and some even in other cases.

  • The verb »gratulieren« needs its object in dative case.

    Ich gratuliere dir.

  • The verb »anrufen« needs its object in accusative case.

    Ich rufe dich an.

In fact there is no logic behind. Just stubborn verbs that have individual requirements.

  • That's ... impractical to say the least. Thank you. – user32969 May 7 '18 at 16:20
  • Verbs are as stubborn with the cases of their objects as nouns are with their genders. – Hubert Schölnast May 7 '18 at 16:21
  • Oh and does that mean that the indirekt objekt can be non dative too? Maybe with some "dative direkt objekt" verbs? – user32969 May 7 '18 at 16:32
  • 1
    Ich nenne ihn einen Lügner - Both objects accusative. That is one of the reasons why you shouldn't use the terms direct and indirect objects in German – tofro May 7 '18 at 16:37
  • Better to leave "accusing" out of this discussion. – fdb May 8 '18 at 12:17

Something like "receiving an action" may give you a first hint, but it is not sufficient to decide the case, you have to learn that together with the verb.


Ich gratuliere dir.


Ich beglückwünsche dich.


Ich frage dich.


Ich antworte dir.

  • It's still unclear putting it like that, for all the sentences I can only see the other party as the direkt objekt. – user32969 May 7 '18 at 16:10
  • @archaic, the answer is: Because this is how "gratulieren" works, which a dictionary will tell you. – Carsten S May 7 '18 at 16:12
  • So there's no logic behind it? – user32969 May 7 '18 at 16:13
  • Not the sort of logic you're looking for. You need to learn the ruled case with the verbs. – tofro May 7 '18 at 16:14
  • @archaic, you can come up with rules, but like all good grammar rules they will have exceptions ;) – Carsten S May 7 '18 at 16:17

As Wikipedia says "The dative case (...) is a grammatical case used in some languages to indicate, among other uses, the noun to which something is given." This can be helpful in very many (of course not in all) cases. I think it works for 'gratulieren'.

'As time goes by', learners will understand that there are clusters of verbs having correspondant intern and extern structures:

  • jemanden anrufen like den Fernseher anstellen, jemanden bei der Polizei anzeigen, jemanden ansehen/anschauen, den Drucker anschließen ...


  • jemandem das Salz = etwas angeben like jemandem etwas zu trinken anbieten, jemandem den Drucker anschließen, jemandem etwas ansehen (z.B. seine Enttäuschung) ... [person = dative, non-person = accusative]

In the same way you say _jemandem etwas bescheinigen.

However, contrary to the general dative rule you say

  • jemanden beglückwünschen like jemanden beraten, jemanden beurteilen, jemanden beruhigen, jemanden begrüßen, jemanden bewaffnen ...


  • jemandem bevorstehen like _jemandem in nichts nachstehen, jemandem zur Seite stehen, jemandem gut zu Gesicht stehen, jemandem stehen (Kleidungsstück), jemandem im Weg stehen, einer Sache entgegenstehen ...

It could be very useful to have a catalogue and a hierarchy of those structures and sub-structures, but I don't know if it exists.


For Akkusativ you are asking "wen oder was": wen oder was rufe ich an?

That works, but this one doesn't: wen oder was gratuliere ich zum Geburtstag?

Correct it would be "wem gratuliere ich zum Geburtstag" and thus it is Dativ.

Hope that helps.

  • 1
    And why is it wem not wen? It's still "Who do I congratulate...?" – user32969 May 7 '18 at 16:01
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    This "ask a question" exercise does rarely play well with learners. It only works if you know what to ask. – tofro May 7 '18 at 16:03
  • In terms of direkt objekt and indirekt objekt I simply can't seem to clearly differentiate them in the "Ich gratuliere dir ..." sentence, because literally translated it's "I congratulate him" so he's the direkt objekt ... – user32969 May 7 '18 at 16:07
  • I should look at it more as gratuliere = "to give" congrats ? – user32969 May 7 '18 at 16:08
  • 3
    Diese Antwort hilft niemandem, der aus einer Sprache kommt, in der es weder Dativ noch Akkusativ gibt. Die Wen/Wem-Frage hilft nur Leuten, die bereits ein sicheres Gefühl für diese beiden Fälle haben. Für jemanden, der Probleme mit diesen Fällen hat, sind »wen gratuliere ich« und »wem rufe ich an« genauso plausibel wie die korrekten Fragen. – Hubert Schölnast May 7 '18 at 16:11

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