The answer to an earlier question explained that both sentences below are grammatically correct, although they differ slightly in meaning:

  • Was hat er zu Ihnen gesagt?
  • Was hat er Ihnen gesagt?

This led me to wonder whether there is any rule governing when to precede the dative by "zu"? For example, are both of the following also grammatical (even if not exactly synonymous)?:

  • Sie hat zu mir das Geld gegeben.
  • Sie hat mir das Geld gegeben.
  • 2
    Actually you only say "Sie hat mir das Geld gegeben." If you'd use a preposition you would use "an" + accusative in that case. "Das Geld müsst ihr an mich geben."
    – Em1
    Dec 22, 2012 at 18:52

2 Answers 2


Perhaps I should have been clearer in my Answer to part 1 of your Question.

Not only are the two sentences

Was hat er Ihnen gesagt?


Was hat er zu Ihnen gesagt?

both grammatically correct, they also do not differ in meaning. I had to strain really hard to find a situation where the zu might carry extra information content, but other than such an exception, these two alternatives are functionally equivalent in every respect.

You are being led astray by the desire to extract, via inductive reasoning, some kind of general rule for "zu + dative personal pronoun + transitive verb". However,

Sie hat zu mir das Geld gegeben.

is just wrong. The reason is that as I tried to explain in my Answer to part 1, the zu was not functioning as a preposition there, it was there for decoration. In sum, file "_zu__ + personal pronoun (dative) + sagen" under "Special Cases" and forget about using it to build a general rule.

  • You're right, this follow-up question here was largely the result of my incomplete understanding of your previous answer. Thanks for the clarification.
    – kjo
    Dec 23, 2012 at 2:35

Looking at the numerous meanings and usages of the preposition "zu" we can only give an incomplete answer here to cover some special cases where we have a loose rule indeed.

Whenever we use "zu" we also indicate some spacial correlation, a direction, or other defined relations.

Der Kellner beugte sich zu dem Gast herab.
Alle Besucher sind zu dem Fest gekommen.

When we consider this then a meaning of a sentence may change:

Er hat mir ein Muster gebracht. - He gave me a sample.
Er hat ein Muster zu mir gebracht. - He brought the sample to me.
Er gehört zu mir. He became a part of me.
Er gehört mir. "He is mine."

Now let's look at both of your examples:

Er hat etwas zu mir gesagt und nicht zu jemand anderem.
Er hat [zu] mir etwas gesagt, was andere nicht hören sollten.

Both have nearly the same meaning, but in the first case it is important that the speech was directed to you. Hence you can not leave out the "zu". This is different in the second case. The direction is not important, you leave out the "zu". When you inserting it there it is not wrong but it became a rather superfluous filler.

Sie hat das Geld zu mir gebracht und nicht zu Paul.
Sie hat mir das Geld gebracht und nicht Paul.

Again, direction is emphasized in the first sentence whereas it is the person whom she gave the money to who plays the important role in the second sentence. This would in theory not only work with "bringen" but also with "geben" but here it is simply not used this way. Therefore it sounds awkward and wrong to a native's ear.

It may be confusing, but in another context "geben" indeed is used with "zu":

Meine Urgroßeltern mussten ihren Sohn zu Pflegeeltern geben.

In this case it is not a direction but a change in relation being responsible for using "zu" (like in "Er gehört zu mir." above).


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