I am confused about the translation of this sentence from Deutsch in English:

Deutsch: Du fehlst mir so sehr
English: I miss you so much

Fehlen is a Dative verb but still the subject (Nominativ) keeps the first place in the sentence. So according to what I learned the translation should be:

You miss me so much

Isn't it?

  • 5
    A semantically exact rendering of your sentence into English would be: You are amiss to me so much. Oct 2 '18 at 7:52
  • Since the me in "You miss me so much." is accusative, it could also be literally translated to "Du (ver)fehlst mich so sehr." which sounds very, very strange. It could mean that you misinterpreted, misjudged someboday very much
    – arminb
    Oct 2 '18 at 14:46
  • 2
    "Du fehlst mir" could probably best be translated as "You are absent/missing to me". Oct 2 '18 at 20:56

It is just English that is complicated here.

You are absent:

You are missing.

You are absent, and I feel that:

I am missing you.

In one case the absent person is the subject, in the other the person feeling the absence. The verb to miss has two different functions here.

The German verb fehlen does not behave that way.

You are absent:

Du fehlst.

You are absent, and I feel that absence:

Du fehlst mir.

In both cases the absent person (du) is the subject.


I don't know who told you that stuff about subjects in first position mean something special but consider

Rule #2 of German word order:

  • German grammar in general doesn't care about the position of items in declarative clauses.

Of course, you remember Rule #1 of German word order:

  • The core of the predicate verb is always the second item in a declarative clause.

So, what's this word order thing about then?

The order of items in a clause is used for emphasis. The first item has most emphasis (it's the topic) and the last one has second most emphasis. For your example, there are six possible permutations:

Du fehlst mir so sehr.

Du fehlst so sehr mir. (not wrong but sounds odd)

Mir fehlst du so sehr.

Mir fehlst so sehr du. (not wrong but sounds odd)

So sehr fehlst du mir.

So sehr fehlst mir nur du. (mir du sounds odd, hence the nur)

Those sentences all mean the same thing, with different emphasis.

You are missed by me so much.

A good German-English dictionary will in fact translate fehlen as to be missing, and not as to miss. The latter is vermissen in German.

Du vermisst mich so sehr.

You miss me so much.

As you can see from that, fehlen is a bit special. The "action" of fehlen is "done" by the missing person or thing (the subject), but in reality, the person/thing does nothing. It's just not present. That whole action is about a perception of "der Fehler" (deficit) someone receives. And that's why this person is the dative object rather than the subject.

  • 3
    Is "Du fehlst so sehr mir." and "Mir fehlst so sehr du." really not incorrect?
    – Iris
    Oct 2 '18 at 7:01
  • 2
    Vielleicht könntest du (der Klarheit wegen) noch die Übersetzung des Englischen Satzes mit dem deutschen Wort „vermissen“ (Ich vermisse dich so sehr) einbauen.
    – Philipp
    Oct 2 '18 at 12:04
  • @Iris: I find them odd but at the same time I cannot nail it down to a rule which explicitly forbids it. Mir fehlt so sehr mein Teddybär. for example is correct and not odd sounding at all.
    – Janka
    Oct 2 '18 at 19:53
  • 1
    @Philipp: Bitteschön.
    – Janka
    Oct 2 '18 at 19:57

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