I am having trouble understanding why is Wen used in this question instead of Wer.

Wen nannte man den eisernen Kanzler?

Wen is used to ask for a direct object (accusative), but it looks to me in this example that the question is referred to the subject of the sentence, that is who is the person doing the action of calling himself the Iron Chancellor. Then why is it not

Wer nannte man den eisernen Kanzler?

In this other sentence:

Wen hast du gesehen? Ich haben meinen Bruder gesehen, clearly Wen is asking about the object, since the subject is "Ich".

In the previous sentence, how would I formulate a long answer, to help me see why it is accusative?

My try:

Man nannte Otto den eisernen Kanzler

Note: I suspect the impersonal "man" here may be confusing me.


5 Answers 5


Regarding the sentence

Wen nannte man den eisernen Kanzler?

OP states

Wen is used to ask for a direct object (accusative), but it looks to me in this example that the question is referred to the subject of the sentence, that is who is the person doing the action of calling himself the Iron Chancellor.

Which is incorrect. The question is not about who is calling someone the Iron Chancellor (man), but about who is being called that (Bismarck).

Ich nannte ihn einen Lügner.
Wer nannte ihn einen Lügner? – Ich.
Wen nannte ich einen Lügner? - Ihn.

As with any other verb, subject and object can refer to the same person.

Ich nannte mich einen Lügner.

Despite the fact that einen Lügner is accusative, it is not an accusative object. It is questioned by wie, not wen; it can be pronominalised by so; its case is linked to that of the accusative object and not governed by the verb.

Wie nannte man ihn? – Den Eisernen Kanzler.
Warum nannte man ihn so? (so = den Eisernen Kanzler)
Er wurde (von den Leuten) der eiserne Kanzler genannt.

  • If it is not an accusative object, why is it using the accusative case?, what is the grammar rule behind it? Jan 5, 2020 at 15:28
  • @juancarlosvegaoliver This phenomenon is called "Gleichsetzungsakkusativ". Likewise the "Gleichsetzungsnominativ" exist, which, for example, appears in sentences like "Ich bin ein Maler." "Ich" and "ein Maler" are nominativ.
    – idmean
    Jan 5, 2020 at 15:39
  • @juancarlosvegaoliver I'd say it's a pretty unique thing, basically limited to nennen and some similarly used verbs (schimpfen, schelten; heißen in old-fashioned use). One could liken it to a predicative, as idmean did.
    – David Vogt
    Jan 5, 2020 at 15:42
  • @juancarlosvegaoliver: A more general term for Gleichsetzungsakkusativ is Objektprädikativ. An Objektprädikativ refers to the accusative object and can be an adjective (ich finde den Film gut) or an als-phrase (man kennt ihn als hilfsbereiten Kollegen) or a prepositional object (alle halten das für einen sehr schwierigen Job) or structures like: Der Brief versetzte ihn in Hochstimmung. Ich halte das für (zu) schwer. Halte mir bitte mal die Tür auf. Bring das wieder in Ordnung. Die Anwaltskosten machten ihn zum Bettler. Jemand fand das Handy unversehrt da liegen... Jan 5, 2020 at 17:16

The problem is unrelated to the impersonal man, it is simply the phrase, because jemanden etwas nennen see DWDS in the meaning jmdn als etwas bezeichnen requires two accusative objects, the person/thing to be labeled and the label itself.

Ich nenne dich einen Betrüger.

  • Man nannte Otto den eisernen Kanszler?....is the answer "Man nannte Otto den eisernen Kanszler" correct? or should it be "Otto nannte man den eisernen Kansler", but I feel it should be sich instead of man for it to make sense Jan 4, 2020 at 22:31
  • Yes in principle, but the noun correctly spells Kanzler, and one would definitely use Bismarck instead of his first name. (Names of kings are an exception here.)
    – guidot
    Jan 4, 2020 at 22:40

I'd argue your misunderstanding is indeed centered around your confusion about "man": In

Wen nannte man den eisernen Kanzler?

"man" is actually the subject. Your attempt to write a long answer instinctively came out right:

Man nannte Otto den eisernen Kanzler.

Here, it becomes clearer how "man" actually has the role of the subject in the sentence.

Thus, it is actually the very same structure as in your other example

Wen hast du gesehen?


Check out the following simple Phrase:

"Peter liebt den Hund."

If you wanted to know, who loves the dog, you would simply ask:

  • WER liebt den Hund? (Peter liebt den Hund. (wer -> nominative))

But if you wanted to know, whom Peter loves, you would ask:

Peter liebt WEN? (Peter liebt den Hund. (Here reflects the accusative in the question.))

If you wanted to figure out, in German, who loves whom, you would ask:

  • WER liebt WEN?

If you ask for the subject of the sentence, you use : WER, if you ask for the accusative object, you use WEN, if you ask for the dative object, you use WEM, like when someone tells you, in German:

Ich habe jemandem geholfen, (I helped someone) and you wanted to discover, whom did I help, you would ask:

  • WEM hast du geholfen? (Because "helfen" is a verb you use with dative.)

And from your initial question: "Man nannte Otto den eisernen Kanzler", you would ask for the accusative object of the sentence, keeping the declination:

  • WEN nannte man (Otto,) den eisernen Kanzler?

der -> WER (nominative)
dessen -> WESSEN (genitive)
dem -> WEM (dative)
den -> WEN (accusative)

  • does the following sentence makes sense: "Wer nannte sich den eisernen Kanzler? " , trying to say: "Who called himself xxx?", assuming the action of calling someone xxx was made by Otto himself and not by the people. In this case, it would be correct to use wer, I guess Jan 5, 2020 at 14:44
  • The question would make sense, yes. The answer would be: Otto nannte sich den einsernen Kanzler ...
    – rainer
    Jan 5, 2020 at 14:47
  • Ich denke, 'der eiserne Kanzler' ist eine feste Wendung, sodass Frage und Antwort lauten müssten: "Wer nannte sich der eiserne Kanzler?" "Otto nannte sich der eiserne Kanzler"
    – Holger
    Jan 6, 2020 at 11:43
  • @Holger Ich denke, beide Formulierungen sind akzeptabel. Mit Kasuskongruenz klingt es etwas solider, schwergewichtiger, ohne Kasuskongruenz klingt es mehr wie Alltagsdeutsch. Apropos solide: Wer nannte sich ein stabiles Genie? Jan 7, 2020 at 13:34

It's a double accusative.

Man has nothing to do with it. Rather, it can be used with certain verbs. Among them is

jemanden etwas nennen.

It's actually similar in English, altough you don't notice cases. Consider this:

Peter nannte den Akrobaten einen Schlangenmenschen.


Peter called the acrobat a contortionist.

Maybe rephrasing it in the passive voice helps you:

Der Akrobat wurde von Peter einen Schlangenmenschen genannt.

edit: David Vogt pointed out that einen Schlangenmenschen is wrong. It's ein Schlagenmensch, in the Gleichsetzungsnominativ case.

  • so would it be.."Otto von Bismark wurde von sie eisernen Kanzler genannt", where I am trying to put the impersonal man in the "sie"=they Jan 4, 2020 at 22:35
  • Good for the most part. I think you've understood the function of man. But because it's impersonal and you can construct passive sentences without an agent, you can just disregard it in the active voice. It is usually not substituted by sie (what's more: it would be von ihnen (dative), not *von sie).
    – Cacambo
    Jan 4, 2020 at 22:46
  • Our result would be: *Otto von Bismarck wurde den eisernen Kanzler genannt. BUT this is wrong. I would write: Otto von Bismarck wurde der "Eiserne Kanzler" genannt or Otto von Bismarck wurde "Eiserner Kanzler" genannt. Firstly, I see Eiserner Kanzler as a proper noun (like Iron Curtain) and therefore capitalize it. Secondly, what's the second accusative in the active voice becomes assimilated to the first accusative – rendering both nominative; i.e. der Eiserne Kanzler, not den Eisernen Kanzler. Or, respectively, Eiserner Kanzler, not Eisernen Kanzler.
    – Cacambo
    Jan 4, 2020 at 22:52
  • 1
    Oh, I see now what you mean. "Wen" asks for the first accusative object – Otto or den Akrobaten. "Wie" asks for the second accusative object – den Eisernen Kanzler or einen Schlangenmenschen.
    – Cacambo
    Jan 4, 2020 at 23:19
  • 1
    Der Akkusativ im letzten Beispiel ist falsch.
    – David Vogt
    Jan 5, 2020 at 14:58

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