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I recently came across a German sentence: -

"Gefallen Ihnen die Rosen nicht?"

I know that Gefallen is a Dativ verb, but shouldn't the sentence be : -

"Gefallen Sie die Rosen nicht?"

The rough translation of the above sentence (according to me) is: -

"They did not like the roses?"

Since the subject in the sentence "They did not like the roses?" should be "They", It means that "They" should be in Nominativ Form and hence we should be using Nominativ Form of "They" i.e. "Sie" instead of "Ihnen".

But that is certainly not the case. What am I getting wrong?

Another sentence which I came across is: -

"Ich helfe dir"

That is: -

"I help you"

Now in this sentence, I is the subject (hence the Nominativ form) and helfe is the Dativ verb and dir is the object (Hence the Dativ Form).

So according to me, a personal pronoun should only take Dativ Form whenever it is an "object".

Or have I got it all wrong? Maybe that is not how any of this works? Please do tell, when and where and how to convert a Personal pronoun in its Dativ form.

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    Also note that the third person plural is used as a polite address here and should be translated as you, not they. – Carsten S Jul 15 at 14:55
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    As addendum to Carsten S.' comment: you can tell that Ihnen means to you [polite address form] because it's capitalized. Normally, pronouns are written in lowercase. – amadeusamadeus Jul 15 at 17:18
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    @CarstenS OP is translating Ihnen as they because they expect nominative case, not because they do not understand what Sie means or what the relationship between Sie and Ihnen is. – David Vogt Jul 15 at 17:36
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    @πάνταῥεῖ The mistranslation is incidental. OP does not understand that die Rosen is the subject and [iI]hnen the dative object. Hence the desire to substitute a nominative for [iI]hnen. – David Vogt Jul 15 at 17:57
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    @πάνταῥεῖ The mistake is exactly parallel, substituting nominative du for dative dir because the subject der Film is not recognised as such. And these are way too many comments for such a simple question that should have just been closed. – David Vogt Jul 15 at 18:05
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For an English speaker (like me) perhaps it's easiest to think of different translations for these verbs. For example think of helfen as meaning 'to give help' rather than 'to help'. Then Ich helfe dir, translates as "I give help to you," and the dative dir makes much more sense. Similarly, think of gefallen as meaning 'to please', or better 'to be pleasing (to someone)'. So Die Rosen gefallen mir, translates as 'The roses are pleasing to me' and again the dative seems more natural. (Unfortunately when you say it this way in English it sounds like you're a Bond villain; I didn't say it was a perfect system.)

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In your example, "ich helfe dir" you are being helped by "I", so to speak.

Similarly, consider the sentence "Die Rosen gefallen dir." Here, the roses are pleasing "to you."

For your question, the word order is arranged to form a question. However, "Ihnen" (the dative form of formal you) still translates to "to you."

Thus, the translation of "Gefallen Ihnen die Rosen" is "Are the roses pleasing to you." "The Roses" is the subject.

"Gefallen Ihnen die Rosen nicht?" is the negation of this question.

"Gefallen Ihnen die Rosen nicht?" = "Aren't the roses pleasing to you?" (here "you" is formal)

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  • Welcome to German.SE. Please consider reformatting your answer. It is difficult to distingiush between your explanation and your english translation of the german parts. And it is you are being helped by me. From the content I'm not that sure how to describe which parts I miss in your answer. – Shegit Brahm Jul 15 at 15:57
  • @ Shegit Brahm Feel free to reformat it as you please. – RJM Jul 15 at 16:00
  • Thanks for pointing out the thing with the I. So I did it a bit different - and am not fully sure about my minor corrections of comma and stuff. Most part I missed here to understand your intention. Please take a look at it, my English is far from fluent. – Shegit Brahm Jul 15 at 16:49
  • thanks, again what learned. I hope I keep it in mind. So this is the reason why you edited the quotation mark out? For me without the "?" it reads like it is incomplete with no reason. The content question I raised is that I have no real clue how to answer the question thus I just feel and cannot describe that it reads incomplete, that is all. – Shegit Brahm Jul 15 at 16:54
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I recently came across a German sentence: -

"Gefallen Ihnen die Rosen nicht?"

I know that Gefallen is a Dativ verb, but shouldn't the sentence be :

"Gefallen Sie die Rosen nicht?"

No, in this case Ihnen is the dative form of the polite address Sie (singular).

The rough translation of the above sentence (according to me) is: -

"They did not like the roses?"

That's also misunderstood. The correct translation should be

"The roses didn't please them?"

Note the english passive form please vs. the active form like as translation of gefallen. This is explained in more depth here: Hat dir der Film gefallen? oder Hat du der Film gefallen?.


Since the subject in the sentence "They did not like the roses?" should be "They", It means that "They" should be in Nominativ Form and hence we should be using Nominativ Form of "They" i.e. "Sie" instead of "Ihnen".

Sie and Ihnen with the capital letter in the beginning is reserved for the polite address (always singular).
The 3rd person plural form is sie (nominative plural) and ihnen (dative plural).


Or have I got it all wrong? Maybe that is not how any of this works?

The only thing you got wrong about these dative rules is, that German has a polite form of you, which is always singular. There's no equivalent in (modern?) English for that.

Also see: How can a native English speaker know when it is appropriate to use the polite (Sie) or the familiar (Du)?.

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    This answer should have been given to the original question, now that you know that the current question is a duplicate. – Björn Friedrich Jul 15 at 16:01
  • @BjörnFriedrich The proposed dupe question has nothing to do with the difference of Du and Sie. Neither has this. – πάντα ῥεῖ Jul 15 at 16:06

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