Part of a sentence from a novel:

… zum erstenmal kam sein Ton dem nahe, wie er wohl normalerweise sprach.

Could someone please explain what the grammatical status and purpose of the "dem" is in this sentence?

  • dem, wie er wohl normalerweise sprach Aug 2, 2020 at 15:05

2 Answers 2


The demonstrative pronoun dem is a so-called correlate (Korrelat) here and serves two purposes:

  1. Nahekommen (to approximate/resemble sth.) requires a dative object as complement:

    jmdm./etw. nahekommen.

    Since in this case the complement is a postpositioned subclause, we need to substitute it. It cannot be plainly omitted in the main clause.

  1. Furthermore, we have a subclause with the relative adverb wie that doesn't refer directly to the sentence. Compare these two sentences to see the difference direct vs. indirect reference:

    • Direct: Zum ersten Mal kam sein Ton seinem Sprachstil nahe, wie man sofort bemerkte.
    • Indirect: Zum ersten Mal kam sein Ton dem Sprachstil nahe, wie er wohl normalerweise sprach.

    Thus also the subclause needs an anchor in the main clause.

As Felixus did in his answer, I would replace wie by in dem for stylistical and maybe even grammatical reasons. I consider der Sprachstil, wie er normalerweise sprach a syntactical borderline case.

  • So, this is the basic structure: etw dat nahekommen: to come close to sth. This means the verb needs an object in dative, and the "dem" serves as that object in the main clause. Clear. Thank you for the very helpful and complete explanation.
    – user44591
    Aug 3, 2020 at 5:54

As Bernhard already mentioned, dem refers to the person's tone/speaking style.
The sentence would not make sense without answering the question of which or what the tone is coming close.

zum erstenmal kam sein Ton seinem/dem Sprachstil nahe, in dem er wohl normalerweise sprach.

  • So "dem" is acting as a relative pronoun for "seinem/dem Sprachstil" then? But why is it grammatically necessary, then, to replace "wie" with "in dem" when using the noun explicitly? How are "wie" and the use of "dem" related?
    – user44591
    Aug 2, 2020 at 20:38
  • I am sorry, this was mean. You can use both wie and in dem as they mean the same thing. Wie in the sub-clause is in this case the german equivalent to 'like' which will be translated to 'like he normally speaks' whereas 'in dem' would be translated to 'like the spekaing style he normally speaks in'.
    – Felixus
    Aug 2, 2020 at 21:28
  • @Felixus more explicit: in dem <> which [he normally speaks] in, or simply: in which. Aug 2, 2020 at 22:39
  • Welcome to German.SE. Please include your clarification into your answer to have the answer independent from comments (which might get lost over time). Aug 3, 2020 at 6:34

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