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I have the following two sentences I used today:

Kannst du mir helfen?
Kannst du mich fahren?

I know that for I will be the one receiving the action in both situations, but why is it that in the first instance, the pronoun is in the (reflexive) dative case, but in the second situation, the pronoun is accusative?

What is the reason helfen is dative and fahren is accusative?

My idea was that fahren involves movement, so it takes an accusative form and helfen requires no movement, so it is dative. Again, this is an observation, so this pattern I observed may be wrong.

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In German, pronouns, some verbs, and also some adjectives clearly rule a specific case (these are rules you simply need to learn with the word). Beyond that, there is more generic reasoning for dative and accusative (and genitive, obviously, which was not part of the question)

Accusative typically denotes the direct object (the receiver of an action) of a sentence, the

"victim".

Dative initially (and literally, from Latin dabo - to give) means:

The case of the receiver of something that has been handed over.

The "something" doesn't necessarily have to be a physical object, it can also be knowledge or even a statement (like in "jemandem etwas sagen"), or help" (that is why "helfen" requires the dative, same in English, BTW).

This is what it is used for in most languages, German has some more usages for dative beyond that (most of these are heritage from corresponding Latin forms):

  • Dativus (in)commodi - Denotes to whose (dis)advantage something happens: Er wäscht ihr die Haare
  • Dativus ethicus - Denotes some ethic involvement: Mach' mir bloß keinen Ärger
  • Dativus possesivus - Denotes ownership: Mir tut der Kopf weg
  • Dativus judicantis - Denotes origin of judgement: "Mir ist es zu kalt hier drin*
  • Dativus finalis - Denotes purpose. Recent example handled here, the inscription on the Berlin Reichstag building Dem deutschen Volke.

Some of these examples are getting outdated in modern German, standard language tends towards using a pronoun instead of expressing through a grammatical case.

  • 1) rule a specific case should be govern a specific case 2) same in English: seems to suggest English has a dative 3) tends towards using a pronoun: preposition? – David Vogt Feb 13 at 12:47
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This has nothing to do with reflexive pronouns.

Certain verbs always take a dative object.

Examples:

antworten – to answer
danken – to thank
gefallen – to please
helfen – to help
raten – to advise

There's a more complete list here

A lot of other verbs can take both accusative and dative objects e.g. schreiben

Er schrieb seinem Freund einen Brief

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