Who likes whom in that sentence, elaboration would be appreciated for the verb gefallen.

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    What is your understanding? – infinitezero Jan 19 '20 at 19:51
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    From this sentence you can't know who is subject or object. – Harald Lichtenstein Jan 19 '20 at 19:55
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    @Rana: please include your understanding into the question. And a bit more of the text around this sentence. – Shegit Brahm Jan 20 '20 at 7:53
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    The question was clear enough, as the many answer show. It doesn't have to be stated in grammar terms, sometimes it is precisely that what is asked: "please explain me which is the dative and the nominiative"! With user as intolerant as the close-voters, no wonder this site won't ever graduate :D – c.p. Jan 20 '20 at 14:06

The problem in analysing the sentence is that in modern German proper names are not inflected and we therefore cannot tell the cases by looking at them in isolation. Let us replace the names by personal pronouns to make the cases clear.

This can be either

Sie hat ihm gefallen.

in which case he liked her (see also this question), or

Ihr hat er gefallen.

in which case she liked him. Since it is more common to have the subject of the sentence in the beginning, the first is a bit more likely.

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    Not explicitly mentioned: In prinicple one could recognize it from the cases, for gefallen nominative is the person who gets liked and dative the person which likes. But with uninflected names (and no articles at the names, which would be a viable solution in some regions) and no adjectives ambiguity remains in the given example. – guidot Jan 20 '20 at 9:46
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    I think you got a bit confused with the subject/object thing. There is a difference between grammatical object and logical object here. In both examples the grammatical subject (sie, er) is the logical object (Example 1: he likes her, that means, she is the object of his liking. Example 2: she likes him, that means, he is the object of her liking). – Christian Geiselmann Jan 20 '20 at 11:04
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    Perhaps things get clearer when you bear in mind that instead of to like, gefallen is best translated by to be pleasing to. By translating sie gefällt ihm with she is pleasing to him you keep the same subject-object-relation. – Volker Landgraf Jan 20 '20 at 13:15
  • @guidot, good point, my answer was a bit lazy in that respect. The others: that's why I linked another question, this has been sufficiently discussed here. – Carsten S Jan 20 '20 at 13:32
  • @VolkerLandgraf, thanks for the edit. That must have been autocorrect. – Carsten S Jan 20 '20 at 13:32

This can only be answered in context, as -- see Carsten's answer -- the names are not marked for case.

If the previous sentence was something along the lines of "Peter traf seine alten Schulfreunde nach langer Zeit wieder", then Peter would normally be interpreted as the theme, or topic. In this sentence some information (rheme or comment) is given about him, namely that he meets his old school friends. The OP's sentence as continuation would then probably be interpreted as keeping the same topic, and adding more comment, in this case that he liked Natascha. However, if the text continues "Daher umarmte sie ihn herzlich", then this would indicate a topic shift and now I would assume that the topic of the OP's sentence was Natascha.

The other alternative (that Natascha is the subject) would be suggested by a previous sentence where Natascha is the topic, as in "Natascha blätterte durch ihr Jahrgangsbuch und sah sich die Fotos ihrer Klassenkameraden an." But even then I would think it to be more natural to continue with "Peter hat ihr früher sehr gut gefallen"; putting the subject in the initial position doesn't seem quite right to me in this particular sentence. But this is my personal preference, other people's views might differ.

The reason for moving the comment to the front of the sentence is one of emphasis: it would show that Peter especially liked Natascha, but not any of the other people who might be around. This is why it is important to know who the most likely candidate for the topic-role is, as this is the key to correctly interpreting the meaning of the sentence.

PS: In spoken language this can be disambiguated through putting the stress on the object, but in a written text that does of course not help you very much.

So, to summarise: I would say that it is Peter, who used to like Natascha, unless the context strongly suggests otherwise. But ultimately this is a subjective call.

Note: when talking of 'subject', I mean the actor, not the grammatical subject which is in the Nominative case


In einem nicht weiter spezifizierten Kontext wäre das normale ("by default") Verständnis des Satzes Natascha hat Peter früher gut gefallen nach meinem Sprachempfinden:

(Wer:) Natascha hat (wem:) Peter früher gut gefallen.

wobei der aktive Part (das logische Subjekt) Peter ist. Man kann den Sachverhalt aktivisch auch ausdrücken als

(Wer:) Peter hat (wen:) Natascha früher toll gefunden.
(Wer:) Peter mochte (wen:) Natascha.
(Wer:) Peter wollte was von (wem:) Natascha.

Nun ist natürlich auch die andere Lesung

(Wem:) Natascha hat (wer:) Peter früher gut gefallen.

mit Natascha als Akteur (und damit logischem Subjekt) möglich. Das wäre aktivisch ausgedrückt:

(Wer:) Natascha wollte was von (wem:) Peter.
(Wer:) Natascha mochte (wen:) Peter.
(Wer:) Natascha war scharf auf (wen:) Peter.

Aber der Satzbau ist in dieser Lesung etwas unnatürlicher, und um diese "sekundäre" (wie ich sie mal nennen will) Lesung zu evozieren, bräuchte man eine entsprechende kontextuelle Einbettung, also etwa

Also gehen wir mal die ganze Geschichte durch. Natascha hat (wer:) Peter [Betonung!] gut gefallen, aber (wer:) Olaf [Betonung!] hat ihr auch gut gefallen, und sie konnte sich nicht entscheiden, und jetzt ist sie mit Jens zusammen.

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    In einer deutschen Antwort auf eine englische Frage evozieren und kontextuelle Einbettung einzubauen, finde ich nicht hilfreich. – guidot Jan 20 '20 at 13:23
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    @guidot Man könnte aber auch argumentieren, dass gerade Englischsprachler mit Wörtern wie evozieren und kontextuell überhaupt keine Probleme haben werden. Bei Einbettung... na gut, aber mit etwas Phantasie kommt man auch da ohne Wörterbuch drauf. Simply because all these words are well-embedded in the English vocabulary. – Christian Geiselmann Jan 20 '20 at 13:57
  • Meine Interpretation des ersten Satzes ist genauso.Was ist in diesem Satz betont? Der Punkt ist wohl, dass das früher galt (woraus zu schließen wäre, dass das heute nicht mehr der Fall ist). Deswegen würde ich die Aktiv-Transformationen anders stellen: Früher fand Peter (die) Natascha ganz toll. (Nebenton auf 'toll') / Früher mochte Peter seine/die Natascha. 'Etw. von jm. wollen' hat für mich eine andere Bedeutung, aber zur Demonstration des Bäumchen-verwechsel-dich-Spiels mit den Aktanten im Satz taugt es natürlich. (Ich musste mir die Sätze in Umgangssprache übersetzen.) – Ralf Joerres Jan 20 '20 at 15:54

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