I came across this exercise and I don't understand why is it not "hat dir den Film gefallen?" since it should be accusative asking the question "what did you like". Am I wrong and why?

  • 5
    Whoever is downvoting and voting to close every second question, could you please stop? This seems in no way constructive. What makes it worse is that the close reason is usually not appropriate. In this case, it's very easy to understand what OP is asking. With a few seconds of searching, this question could have been found: german.stackexchange.com/questions/36957/…
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 19:53
  • 4
    Does this answer your question? How should I understand constructions using this verb: »gefallen?«
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 19:53
  • Hi thanks, but that's is not what I asked...I didn't asked for "dir" I know how to use that. I asked why is it "der Film" and not "den Film". I've searched and I couldn't find an explication for that. I've edited my question to make it more clear.
    – Karen
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 20:46
  • german.stackexchange.com/questions/52562/… is a similar question about a different verb (so I don't think the question is a duplicate).
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 20:55
  • 3
    It should NOT be Akkusativ! It should be Nominativ bc it's the do-er: The film pleases you. It's not that you like the film! Commented Jan 22, 2020 at 1:44

3 Answers 3


Der Film hat dir gefallen.

Der Film is subject. (nominative)

Now make it a question:

Hat dir der Film gefallen?

English questions don't work in regard of finding the right case in German. The question

(Wer oder) was hat dir gefallen?

would indicate nominative and its equivalent in English would be something like

What was to your liking.

The questions

  • wer oder was (nom.)
  • wessen (gen.)
  • wem (dat.)
  • wen (acc.)

work only for native speakers to find the right case and only in German.

  • 3
    The questions only work if you already know what case to use, so it's kind of useless. Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 23:38

The problem is that the Englich verb "to like" and the German verb "gefallen" work in different ways:

I like you.
Du gefällst mir.

There is one item that is attracting. I call it the attractor. The other item is attracted by the attractor, I call it the fan.

In the English version you find the fan in the active position of the subject. The fan is doing something (he likes) and the attractor is in the passive position of an object.

In German it's the other way round: The attractor is actively doing something: er gefällt, and the fan is just the passive object that receives the attractors charisma. So in German the attractor has to be the subject in the sentence (and therefore must be used in nominative case) while the fan is the verb's object (which has to be in dative case, because gefallen wants to have it's object in dative case).

It is rare, but gefällt also can be used without it's object:

Sie gefällt.
She is liked.

In German this is a sentence in active mode, in English you can't build this sentence in active mode, you have to use passive mode.

More often you find this usage together with a negation:

Wenn die Geschenke nicht gefallen - When the presents are not liked
Hochzeitsfotos gefallen nicht. Was tun? What to do when wedding pictures are not liked?

On the other hand in English you can have a button on a website that just says "like" and you click it to show the world, that you like a certain posting. This doesn't work in German. Because you want to signal that you like this posting, and because in German the fan is not the active subject but the passive receiver of the attractors attractiveness, you have to add the first person's personal pronoun in dative case, and then you get: gefällt mir:

👍 Like
👍 Gefällt mir


While in abstract level we have a subject, i. e. a person with an opinion concerning some object, in German the respective cases depend only on the specific verb used, overshadowing this generic situation:

  • Wie hat Dir (dative) der Film (nominative) gefallen?
  • Was hältst Du (nominative) von dem Film (dative)?
  • Magst Du (nominative) den Film (accusative)?
  • Wie findest Du (nominative) den Film (accusative)?

So gefallen is somewhat non-standard by requiring dative for the subject.

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