Slow German podcast sentence:

Zunächst einmal war Deutschland kein eigenes Land, sondern es war unterteilt in viele Fürstentümer.

Although the statement appears to describe a static state in which the land was in subdivisions, the "in" preposition has been declined in the accusative. I would expect it in dative:

Zunächst einmal war Deutschland kein eigenes Land, sondern es war unterteilt in vielen Fürstentümer.

If the sentence had been written like this then accusative would make sense to me:

Zunächst einmal war Deutschland kein eigenes Land, sondern es war in viele Fürstentümer untergeteilt.

Why does the original sentence use accusative case?

  • 1
    Btw, your second sentences is wrong on one more level. If you want it dativ, you write "In vielen Fürstentümern gab es Fürste". The noun must also take the -n ending in Plural.
    – Dan
    Oct 6, 2019 at 3:18
  • quizlet.com/236106619/… some prepositions used with participles.
    – Dan
    Oct 6, 2019 at 3:21

3 Answers 3


unterteilt is a past participle from the verb "unterteilen", which is used with "in etwas (Akkusativ)". Many past participles* retain the original prepositions and cases of their respective verbs. An example, where a verb with something of a movement to it has a past(or passive) participle used with the same preposition and case would be sich verlieben:

Sich in jemanden (Akkusativ) verlieben - verliebt sein in jemanden (Akkusativ):

Ich bin verliebt in sie, aber sie antwortet nicht.

Furthermore, you shouldn't think that always where there is a movement in a direction you should use Akkusativ, or, conversely, that if there is no movement, that you should always use Dativ. This is nothing but a heuristic rule of thumb that comes from the real language usage. You have probable seen it yourself at the example of the preposition "zu", that means movement but is exclusively used with Dativ. Language as a usage based statistical phenomenon doesn't care too much about any of these rules, which are nothing but approximations and/or mor or less successfull attempts to standardize the usage.

On a side note, from the semantical standpoint there is no sense of locality in statements such as "Germany is divided in three parts", and in this regard it doesn't speak for the usage of Dativ. Here is a similar example:

Ein Stück Marmor, zerbrochen in drei Splitter(Akkusativ, because not "Splittern), lag auf dem Boden On the floor there was a marble block broken in 3 pieces.

Here we have the Verb "zerbrechen" being used the very same way as "unterteilen" in your example.

PS: "untergeteilt" is wrong and only occurs in all of the DWDS corpus some 14 times. Unterteilt is correct, as the verb is stressed on its stem and not on its prefix, also see dictionary

  • one such example is the verb "sich für etwas (Akk) interessieren, which has the participle interessiert, which is used with the preposition "an + Dativ", i.e. "interessiert sein an etwas (Dativ)".
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user9551
    Oct 6, 2019 at 16:39

To answer a side aspect of your question
"untergeteilt" does not exist, it is "unterteilt".

The original sentence

Zunächst einmal war Deutschland kein eigenes Land, sondern es war unterteilt in viele Fürstentümer.

and your final suggestion (corrected as above)

Zunächst einmal war Deutschland kein eigenes Land, sondern es war in viele Fürstentümer unterteilt.

have the same meaning, the only difference caused by the change of word order is a slight shift in emphasis. The first one puts the emphasis on the fact, that it was divided (unterteilt), while the second one puts the emphasis on the pricipalities (Fürstentümer). There is no change in grammatical case associated with this shift in emphasis.

For the main part of your question see Dan's answer.


As a bilingual I find this is best answered comparatively.

English uses the distinct prepositions in and into to distinguish between position (implied permanent) and direction or motion, respectively. 'I'm now in the room' contrasts with 'I'm now going into the room', etc.

Noun-inflecting languages like German express this distinction by the case of the following object and not by preposition. The dative case marks position, the accusative case, direction. Compare im (= in dem) Zimmer (dat.) with ins (= in das) Zimmer (acc.). The preposition in stays unchanged except for the contracted, case-inflected articles dem (dat.) and das (acc.). Thus the difference in meaning stems from declension alone.

Declension is stable across variations in word order; war unterteilt in viele Fürstentümer versus war in viele Fürstentümer unterteilt has absolutely no effect on the logic of case usage. German is like Yoda-speak in this regard - unlike English which relies on rigid word order to identify the direct object of a sentence.

The exact same principle applies to your exemplary sentence, across both languages:

Germany did not initially exist as a country but was subdivided into many principalities.

The statement has an interesting historical subtext because the implication is that a 'whole' has always existed but was split into constituent parts as result of a deliberate political or administrative act. The use of into principalities (EN) or in (acc.) Fürstentümer (DE) connotes motion or direction from a presumed original intact status toward one of active disintegration. You see, innocent grammar can introduce bias!

Irrespective of such observations, in both English and German division is viewed as something with directionality. That's why in English you divide some whole thing into lesser constituent parts. Correspondingly in German, ein Ganzes ist in (acc.) Bestandteile unterteilt.

The difficulty in German comes from the fact that declension markings have eroded over time and are therefore nowadays barely obvious to the unsuspecting learner. The contrast between in vielen Fürstentümern (dat., expressing location) and in viele Fürstentümer (acc., expressing direction or motion) is subtle at the best of times. Alas this is extremely hard to internalise. Ich wünsche viel Erfolg!

  • Compare Latin: "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres" (Julius Caesar: De bello Galiico). In Latin, in is a two-way preposition as in German, the possible cases being accusative and ablative. The ablative is used where German uses dative. Like German, Latin uses accusative here.
    – RHa
    Oct 9, 2019 at 22:07
  • Yes, very much so. Russian uses the uniform presentation 'v'. Direction is marked with the accusative case as in German or Latin: 'v Moskvu' (RU) = 'nach Moskau' (DE, compare with Latin 'in Romam'), whereas 'v Moskve' (RU) = 'in Moskau' (DE) uses the prepositive case - a sort of extended former locative - unique to Slavic languages. In the Russian language case endings are much less ambiguous than in German: Even in the case of a toponym, feminine singular in the case of Moscow, inflects just like any other noun would. Oct 9, 2019 at 22:25

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