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In the below sentence, why is the dative "dem" is used instead of the nominative "der"?

Gespräche zwischen dem Meister und dem Schüler sind ernst.

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Because zwischen is a preposition which takes a dative:

[2] mit Dativ: Teil der genannten Gruppe oder Menge seiend

(source: Wiktionary)

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  • Maybe this helps: If you you can ask "wem oder was?", it's Dativ. This is how native speaker children learn it at elementary school (at least I did about 25 years ago). – Constantin Groß May 12 '19 at 10:54
  • @Glorfindel Oh, I didn't notice so far that you're also such well versed in German. Tausendsassa :) – πάντα ῥεῖ May 12 '19 at 11:09
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    @Connum I'm afraid, that doesn't help at all. If you don't know what case to ask for, you don't know the right interrogative. It works only for native speakers. – Olafant May 12 '19 at 12:01
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    @Connum The question in dative is only Wem? In accusative it is Wen oder was? Nevertheless, this does usually not help, as Olafant already objected. – Björn Friedrich May 12 '19 at 12:04
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    Zwischen can also take the accusative. But not in that meaning. – Janka May 12 '19 at 12:22
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I'm not sure why you think that nominative should be used here.

But I think that your problem is that "Gespräche zwischen dem Meister und dem Schüler" is the subject of the sentence and subjects of sentences are in nominative.

This is correct; the entire expression "Gespräche zwischen dem Meister und dem Schüler" must be in nominative case.

However, a complete expression containing a preposition is not put into nominative case by putting all substantives into nominative case!

Instead, the substantives that are used together with a preposition do not change their case when changing the case of the entire expression. Their cases are depending on the preposition.

Another example:

Just like the preposition "zwischen" the preposition "auf" requires dative case.

Now we change the case of the dative expression "Dem Turm auf dem Berg" to the three other cases:

Nominative: Der Turm auf dem Berg (and not: Der Turm auf der Berg)
Genitive: Des Turmes auf dem Berg (and not: Des Turmes auf des Berges)
Accusative: Den Turm auf dem Berg (and not: Den Turm auf den Berg)

As you can see, the case of the substantive "Turm" changes when we change the case of the entire expression; however, the case of the substantive "Berg" remains dative because the preposition "auf" requires dative.

(Note that there are also prepositions requiring accusative. Using such a preposition the word "Berg" would always be in accusative.)


Indeed, I doubt that cases are a property of whole expressions; cases seem to be a property of single words only.

If this should be true, the expression "der Turm auf dem Berg" does not even have a case, but only the two words "der Turm" and "dem Berg" have cases.

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