I'm trying to systematize the german language by understanding its patterns, but so far it's been quite hard. For example: Wie geht es dir? x Wie heißt du? In the first phrase the pronoun is in the dative while the second is in the nominative. So my questions are:

  • Why are these phrases using different cases if the subject is the same?
  • Why not using the accusative in both sentences, since the main idea is getting info from someone?

Am I doing the right thing trying to systematize and rationalize about the language's logic by analyzing its grammar or am I just supposed to memorize as it is and don't ask questions?

p.s.: I know that these are basic questions, but it's a little confusing for someone that just begun to learn this language.

  • Your question has two parts: One is about case, which is fine, the other about what the best way to learn is, which is primarily opinion-based and therefore not a good fit. Have you checked out the tour and the help center?
    – David Vogt
    Dec 20, 2018 at 12:51

2 Answers 2


In languages with a case system, it is the predicate that dictates which case any given semantic role might take. In German specifically, we have a bunch of words where the experiencer of a feeling or a sensory perception is expressed in the dative. This particular use of gehen is one of them:

Wie geht es dir? Mir geht es gut.

How are you? I am fine.

The es is just a dummy subject that serves no other purpose than making the sentence grammatical. You might have seen this before in phrases like Es regnet or Es ist kalt. Here are some other expressions where the experiencer takes the dative case and is thus not the grammatical subject of the phrase, while it would be the subject in the English expression:

Mir ist kalt. I am cold.

Uns wird schlecht. We are starting to feel nautious.

Concerning your last question: if you like thinking about grammar, I'd say go for it. Getting your head around the grammatical concepts of a language can be very enjoyable by itself, and it should definitely help you understand the 'mindset' of that language better :)


GrottenOlm's answer is right, but I think you are also mistaken about the subject of the two sentences. What do you think the subject is in those sentences? The word wie?


German does not follow a fixed SVO word order in declarative sentences. In those majority of sentences, word order is a matter of emphasis. The only fixed item is the core of the predicate verb, it goes always second position in such sentences. In general, the first item in the sentence gets the most emphasis. You could call it the topic.

I have marked the subjects for you.

Wie geht es dir? ←→ Es geht dir wie?

Wie heißt du? ←→ Du heißt wie?

The subject in the first phrase is es, in the second phrase, it is du. In both sentences, the word wie is a predicative, a supplement to the verb. Let me illustrate with a dialogue. The predicatives are marked.

Wie geht es dir? — Gut. — Ah, gut geht es dir also? — Ja. Es geht mir gut.

Wie heißt du? — Janka. — Ah, Janka heißt du also? — Ja. Ich heiße Janka.

These predicatives may be adjectives without endings (adverb/predicative form), nouns in nominative case or whole verb phrases. Because they are in nominative, you may accidentally think they are the subject. Be careful!

Verbs which typically take predicatives are sein, bleiben and werden, but heißen, nennen, gehen and some more can also take them if their meaning in the sentence is similar to sein.

  • 1
    Correction of my deleted comment: OP seems to think, in both sentences, the subject is the person talked about, and is wondering why different cases are used. I think he is mixing up the grammatical subject of the sentence and “what should be the subject because the sentence is making a statement about it”.
    – Philipp
    Dec 20, 2018 at 15:35
  • 1
    Yeah, that's another interpretation. But the grammatical subject can never be the person talked about, but always the person or thing who/which acts. If that was the misunderstanding, not only German grammar but grammar as a whole is the problem.
    – Janka
    Dec 20, 2018 at 16:16
  • So sehe ich es auch
    – Philipp
    Dec 20, 2018 at 16:24

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