On the Bundestag building, the inscription reads "dem deutschen Volke", the German people. It is in the dative case. Why is the nominative case "das deutsches Volk" not used?

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    Nominativ would be das deutsche Volk
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 7:38
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    "Why the downvotes?" I didn't downvote, but I guess that in all questions of type "Why is XXX not used?" one should motivate why XXX should be used. The nominative case would mean "The German people", which would not make much sense in German nor in English. It would have even been better just to ask why there is the dative there. Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 11:15
  • Here's an example for a nominative goo.gl/maps/vBb8xaYzSs92: "Otto-Hahn-Bau der Freien Universität": nominative name of the building "Otto-Hahn-Bau" with a genitive "der Freien Universität" (building belongs to free university) (could be a dative as well - dative and genitive are indistinguishable - but I read it as denoting ownership by genitive rather than a dedication by dative). (I'd have thought there's a sign at the Bundeskanzleramt saying so - but didn't find an image) Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 11:56
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    @cbeleites: "Dem deutschen Volke" is not a building name (its name would be Reichstag here) but a dedication. Such a dedication could be anywhere, not only at buildings (typically at monuments).
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 12:19
  • 1
    @cbeleites: OK, didn't see this comment. Just wanted to prevent this thread from getting side-tracked.
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 12:28

4 Answers 4


For the same reason you use to in an English dedication:

To my father

You wouldn't just put 'My father', since you're telling us who you are dedicating the book to, not what it is.

  • 1
    Very good. This is the exact equivalent one would expect on a building in America or GB: "To the American/British People", short for [[This building is] dedicated] to the American/British people." Similar to a toast: "To our health." Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 14:23

It's an ellipsis of

„Dieses Parlament ist dem deutschen Volk gewidmet“ (This parliament is dedicated to the German people).

Widmen requires a dativ object in German.

See here for a detailed article about this inscription (unfortunately in German only).

Similar typical inscriptions are "Dem Gedenken an ...", "Den Opfern von ..." usw.

  • 1
    I have a hard time memorizing dativ verbs, so I try to rationalize why they are dativ. In this case, to dedicate is dativ it seems because there is an implied subject - someone must have done the dedication. So, This parliament is dedicated to the German people becomes 'We' (subject) dedicate 'this parliament' (direct object) to the German people (indirect object) and therefore, dem is used.
    – Siddhartha
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 0:00

This is what's called a dativus finalis

It tends to denote purpose and thus means "this is for [the benefit of] the German people".

Latin knew the same notion, an example would be "tibi laetitiae", meaning something along the lines of "for your enjoyment".

A simple nominative wouldn't transport this meaning (rather, it wouldn't transport much meaning on a building).

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    "A simple nominative wouldn't [...] transport much meaning on a building" The nominative would transport the meaning "this is the name of the building". So in this case, it would be "Reichstag". Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 11:51
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    @cbeleites Well obviously "Das deutsche Volk" would be the nominative inscription, which doesn't make a lot of sense to write onto a building.
    – tofro
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 15:56
  • -1. Only the Latin case is a dativus finalis, consisting of two datives tibi "to you" and laetitiae "to/for health". Try recasting the Latin in your own paraphrase of purpose: "This for the benefit of you for the benefit of health"?! Note that tibi is the dative of "you", not the dative of the possessive pronoun (which would be tuae).
    – sgf
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 17:12
  • @sgf I'm not getting your point. Are you assuming laetitiae is a dative? And, no, laetitia does not translate to "health".
    – tofro
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 18:32
  • @tofro ah woops, of course laetitia is "enjoyment". But yes, I'm assuming laetitiae is a dative. Genitive would make no sense, and two datives are required for a dativus finalis.
    – sgf
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 18:46

it's the same dative case as:

to whom it may concern ...

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    No, it's not. The dative in to whom it may concern is caused by the preposition "to". That is something entirely different than a free-standing dative. Note it's not "zu dem deutschen Volke" on the Reichstag.
    – tofro
    Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 17:47
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    I disagree. I have chosen this term to show that "dem deutschen Volke (gewidmet)" is an abbreviation like "to whom it may concern ..." . Whom is the pronoun for Volk, Vater and others ...The verb in this case might be "addressed" and could even be: the next song is "dedicated" to whom it may concern. The difference is only that in German you had to use the accusative (an wen, für wen). Commented Jan 28, 2019 at 21:52

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