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The basic story of the four grammatical cases might say that nominative is used in subjects and in predicate nominatives, accusative is used for objects of most verbs, some verbs take only dative objects, some take both dative and accusative objects, and there are four sorts of prepositions, some having accusative objects when motion toward something is indicated.

Then there are things like "Ich denke an ihn." versus "Was findest du an ihm gut?". With these, particular locutions must be learned, but maybe they're not just isolated cases but part of some pattern.

And then I came across the following: A sentence in a novel in English says "I'm not used to it." and a translation into German says "Ich bin es nicht gewohnt." I might have guessed that the dative case would be used here. Is this altogether isolated, or is it part of some pattern that would have enabled one to predict that the accusative would be used? If it's an isolated thing that must be learned separately from everything else, which other isolated instances exist?

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    Could you elaborate on why you expected the dative to be used in es gewohnt sein? – David Vogt Dec 13 '18 at 23:19
  • Re the an thing: it’s just Wechselpräpositionen all over again. What are you finding good? something on or near him. In German an, a Wechselpräposition. Is the thing you find good moving towards him or resting at him? The second, so dative. – Jan Dec 14 '18 at 1:17
  • @Jan : But "Ich denke an ihn." does not involve motion toward him. – Michael Hardy Dec 14 '18 at 1:18
  • @DavidVogt : Accusative is used for direct objects of verbs. This doesn't seem at all like one of those. – Michael Hardy Dec 14 '18 at 1:19
  • @MichaelHardy Your thoughts are moving towards him because they are not originally on or near him. – Jan Dec 14 '18 at 1:20
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You mentioned the valency of verbs and prepositions in your question. Your question is about the valency of adjectives.

In the following examples, I have marked the adjectives in bold and their arguments in italics.

  1. Adjectives with dative only:

    Ihm ist kalt/schlecht/langweilig.

  2. Adjectives with subject and genitive:

    Mit 15 war ich der Schule überdrüssig.
    Sie staunten, als sie des Bildes ansichtig wurden.
    die des Lateinischen mächtigen Schüler

  3. Adjectives with subject and dative:

    Überheblichkeit schien ihr fremd.
    Diese Tatsache ist mir bekannt.
    das ihnen dabei behilfliche Computerprogramm

  4. Adjectives with subject and a prepositional object:

    Sie dürfen stolz auf ihre Leistung sein.
    eine an Höhepunkten arme Partie

  5. Adjectives with subject and accusative:

    Sie ist den Ärger gewohnt.
    Ich habe den Streit satt.

Group 2 seems like the biggest one. So for adjectives, the genitive might play the same role as the accusative for verbs as the default or at least most frequent oblique case.

In groups 3 and 4, the adjectives can sometimes be paired with a closely corresponding verb.

Sie ähnelt ihrer Mutter. – Sie ist ihrer Mutter ähnlich.
Wir freuen uns über jeden Tipp. – Wir sind froh über jeden Tipp.

Note that froh used to take the genitive: des Lebens nicht mehr froh werden.

It it also worth mentioning that es used to be a genitive form that was later replaced by sîn. A standard Middle High German grammar* posits that in phrases such as es leid sein, es used to be a genitive that was later reinterpreted as an accusative. So group 5 is the youngest group and might still be growing, whereas group 2 might be getting smaller.

* Paul, Hermann: Mittelhochdeutsche Grammatik. 23. Aufl. von P. Wiehl und S. Grosse. Tübingen 1989.

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Ich bin den Ärger mit den Fällen gewohnt. (Akkusativ)

Der Ärger mit den Fällen bleibt mir treu. (Dativ)

Ich werde des Ärgers mit den Fällen müde. (Genitiv)

Gewohnt sein/bleiben, treu sein/bleiben, müde sein/bleiben/werden and numerous other verb phrases are highly idiomatic and the cases used defy any logic. (Okay, the receiver→dative "rule" still applies for the Treue, but it's hard to wrap your mind around why it shouldn't apply to Gewohnheit. Answer: Because it's Ich who acts in the first example, not der Ärger as in the second. No clue about the third one. It must be genitive. No special reason.)

  • To avoid confusion we should say somewhere that Fälle is dative case, or use an example in singular where the case is more obvious. – Takkat Dec 14 '18 at 7:27
  • These are actually not verb phrases that drive the case here, instead there are a number of adjectives that rule a certain case (most often genitive), a fact which is often overlooked in German grammar. – tofro Dec 14 '18 at 12:01

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