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In the sentence "Die Polizei folgt dem Täter," it seems like Täter should be in the accusative case since it seems to be receiving the action of the verb "folgt." Why is it instead in the dative case? This sentence is taken directly from Lingvist.

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    Because in German, as in Latin, as in most other languages that have declensions, the case is usually not specified by the logical meaning of the text but by what the previous verb requires as a case. "Receiving the action" doesn't really mean anything: after all, everything in a sentence, by definition, receives the action of the verb (otherwise it wouldn't be part of that sentence in the first place). – gented Dec 17 '19 at 10:11
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Identifying the "direct object" that seems to receive the action of the verb is not a 100% reliable criterion (in German) to evaluate whether your object has to be in accusative.

You can try to use that rule in conversation (then somebody will correct you if the case is wrong), but if you write, the best you can do is to learn it by heart. Go to a dictionary, and you will find the case to the verb, usually in the form verb + jemanden/etwas+Akk for accusative, verb + jemandem/etwas+Dative.

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  • It's not that bad a rule, though. It's very helpful, actually, as it holds true most of the time. While you are right that the receiving actant does not necessarily have to be in accusative case, that pretty much is the default (since the most common valence patterns with case complements include an acc complement (Kakk) and Kakk almost always encodes the least active actant). Obviously it is still important to be aware that some verbs have other patterns (see grammis.ids-mannheim.de/progr@mm/6011), but it seems advantageous for learners to start from the common case. – johnl Dec 16 '19 at 22:09
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The verbs verfolgen (to chase) and folgen (follow) come with different cases:

For „verfolgen“ you ask „wen verfolge ich“ —> akkusativ.

Your example would be:

die Polizei verfolgte DEN Täter

For folgen the question is: „wem folge ich“ —> dativ.

die Polizei folgte DEM Täter

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    How do non-native speakers know which question to ask? (Determining the case using a question works only for native speakers who forgot some grammar or children who learn grammar. We on the other hand, don't know whether to ask wen verfolge ich or wem verfolge ich and your answer becomes a truism) – c.p. Dec 16 '19 at 21:29
  • @c.p. You learn it by heart, just like native speakers. The question just gives you a second chance to remember the right case, which is sometimes all that is needed for our brain. – Graipher Dec 17 '19 at 6:55
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    You are of course right. The problem is: There is no rule... every verb comes with specific cases, and as Graipher said: You need to learn them together with the verbs... – Torsten Link Dec 17 '19 at 7:10
  • @Graipher For the question to work the situation should be Knowing German + learn grammar, while what one wants as learner is preciesly Learn German + knowing grammar. It's entirely the opposite situtation. – c.p. Dec 17 '19 at 7:58
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    in many cases we use prepositions much like in english - and those prepositions demand a certain grammatical case (coincidentally - and most unfortunate - a few call for Genitiv, some prepositions call for Dativ, some for Akkusativ - and some depending on situation can be used with both Dativ and Akkusativ ...) so indeed learning by example is the only thing that helps – eagle275 Dec 17 '19 at 9:53
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I want to add that the rule is actually pretty reliable.

Even in this case, it holds that verfolgen is in accusative, since it receives the action of the verb, as you said.

However, the word folgen can have a slightly different meaning: Let's say you're invited, your host shows you the way to the living room and you follow him or her. So that's a thing you kind of do together. In this case you would use folgen. verfolgen implies that the object of the sentence is not supposed to know or doesn't want that you follow it (unless it wants to trick the follower or the like). So here, the subject of the sentence rather enforces sth. on the object.

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  • "Verfolgen" can also be used if the object knows very well that you follow it. – RalfFriedl Dec 24 '19 at 20:49
  • Thanks, you're right. I changed my answer. – philipp2100 Dec 26 '19 at 5:43

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