I know that there are several dative prepositional phrases, such as:

seit dem Krieg
nach dem Konzert
mit Ihnen

Why is it possible, given the fact that the dative cause answers the questions to or for whom? Are there exceptions to the general rule?

  • I assume, it should read dative case in the sentence after the examples. It would be helpful to know, where you took the "rule" from, and which context suggested it is a rule (strict?) as opposed to a simple example.
    – guidot
    Aug 28, 2020 at 8:14

3 Answers 3


Basically, there are two major rules regarding the use of the dative case:

1. Dative objects

The question wem? ('to/for whom') only applies to dative objects of verbs that allow or require them. Your examples, however, aren't dative objects since they are governed by a preposition.

2. Prepositions

After a preposition, the dative does not answer the question wem, but is mainly a grammatical feature to mark togetherness while enabling free word order. There are, however, prepositions that can be used with different cases, where the case differentiates the meaning as well (e.g., auf dem und auf den). I'll try to illustrate the difference between prepositional phrases requiring the dative and dative objects with the help of your examples:

Seit dem Krieg and nach dem Konzert are adverbial phrases. The dative case is only conditioned by the preposition. The corresponding questions are:

Seit dem Krieg -> Seit wann?

Nach dem Konzert -> Wonach?

Mit [i]hnen could be either an adverbial phrase or a prepositional object:

Ich spiele mit ihnen in einer Mannschaft -> Mit wem/womit? (adverbial phrase to the verb spielen)

Ich spiele mit ihnen ('I trifle/palter with them') -> Mit wem/womit? (prepositional object of the verb mit jmdm./etw. spielen)

Compare that with:

Ich spiele ihnen übel mit -> Wem spiele ich übel mit? (dative object)


If a (group of) noun(s) in dative is part of a prepositional phrase, the control question includes always the preposition which frames the meaning. The prepositional phrase can either be an adverbial or a prepositional object.

If a (group of) noun(s) in dative stands on its own as prepositional object, it indeed answers the question wem? ('to/for whom').

  • 1
    In general, identifying German cases with English subject/(in)direct object/possesive may be helpful when you start learning, but eventually it becomes confusing. There are too many exceptions (gefallen being my favorite) even ignoring prepositions.Better to think of the cases as playing the roles of subject etc. much of the time, but also having many other uses that you just have to memorize.
    – RDBury
    Aug 15, 2020 at 22:31

These pictures basically say it all

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Taken from here

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Taken from here

  • 1
    A note that the table you posted is not complete, merely some examples.
    – BruceWayne
    Aug 16, 2020 at 3:26
  • What is missing? Aug 16, 2020 at 4:09
  • 1
    außer under Dativ for one. A more complete list is in the link, just didn't want someone printing this out thinking it's 100% complete. (Though perhaps außer is implied by having aus?)
    – BruceWayne
    Aug 16, 2020 at 4:11
  • I added a second picture @BruceWayne Aug 16, 2020 at 9:43
  • 1
    all you write is "These pictures basically say it all". There is no further explanation. That is why I tried to interprete your "explanation". And there are only two tables - without any description. Without any reference to the specific question. One table says "that way", the other says "other way" - so which is correct? Aug 18, 2020 at 8:57

I'd like to focus on one part of your question that has not been discussed in the other answers, yet:

Why is it possible, given the fact that ... ? Are there exceptions to the general rule?

This part of your question is based on the misconception that there are two words or expressions in two different languages that have exactly the same meaning.

In this case the expressions "to or from whom" in English and "wem oder was" in German.

However, this is not the case:

When you look up some word in any two-language dictionary, you'll find out that this word has multiple meanings in the other language. (It does not matter if you take a English-German dictionary or a French-Greek one.)

Just one extreme example: If you look up an English-German dictionary, you'll find out that the word "to keep" has more than 10 completely different meanings and about 25 different German words that translate to "to keep". And when you look up the word "unterhalten" in a German-English dictionary, you'll find out that this word may not only mean "to keep", but also "to entertain" or "to maintain".

It is true that the dative is used whenever you can ask: "Wem oder was?" (Although in some cases that would be very bad style: "Seit wem oder was?").

However, saying that "wem oder was" in German has 1:1 the same meaning as "to or from whom" in English is wrong - just like it is wrong to say that the words "unterhalten" and "to keep" have the same meaning.

For this reason it is very hard to word a "general rule" in English language about when to use which case.

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