I'm reading a small text, and I find this passage:

Sie hat nicht aufgepasst und hat die Tür gegen den Kopf bekommen. Ihr war ganz schwindlig.

The translation of the 1st sentence is more or less, "She hadn't paid attention and got hit by the door on the head."

Now comes my doubt.

I think the point of the 2nd sentence is to say that she was dizzy.

However, we have "Ihr". Is this the dativ pronomen for sie? if so, why?

  • 1
    Yes, this is dative. She is the object of this sentence. The subject is usually omitted but could be included: "Es war ihr ganz schwindlig." Your translation is correct.
    – user6495
    Sep 24, 2020 at 12:01
  • 1
    @No, "es" is not the subject. Read my answer for details. Sep 24, 2020 at 14:35
  • Examples of this phenomenon from Wiktionary: Ist dir kalt? ― "Are you cold?" Mir ist schlecht. ― "I'm sick." Dem Mann ist schwindelig. ― "The man feels dizzy." Den Kindern ist langweilig. ― "The children are bored."
    – RDBury
    Sep 24, 2020 at 18:48
  • Because German. german.stackexchange.com/questions/4701/…
    – Carsten S
    Sep 24, 2020 at 20:39
  • 1
    See also german.stackexchange.com/questions/3817/…
    – RHa
    Sep 24, 2020 at 21:02

1 Answer 1


This is the correct translation:

Ihr war schwindlig.
She felt dizzy.

Almost all German statements have (and need to have) a subject. But there are some exceptions:

Sentences in passive voice:

Aktiv: Er hilft ihr.
Passiv: Ihr wird von ihm geholfen. Ihr wird geholfen.

In both passive sentences there is no subject in nominative case.

There are two kinds of passive voice:

  • Vorgangspassiv
    describes a procedure or event. Something will be changed.

    Ihr wird geholfen.
    Ihr wird schwindlig.

  • Zustandspassiv
    describes a state where nothing is changing.

    Ihr ist schwindlig.

But passive voice can have a subject, and this even is the standard case:

  • Vorgangspassiv

    Sie wird beatmet.
    Das Auto wird verkauft.

  • Zustandspassiv

    Das Auto ist verkauft.

It depends on the verb if you have to use dative or nominative case. Standard is nominative case. But helfen and some verbs that express a sensation can force the »subject« to turn into a dative object.

Ihr wird geholfen.
Ihr wird/ist übel.
Ihr wird/ist kalt.

Some people say, that in such cases the subject would be the word »es« that just has been omitted, but this is not correct. You can add an »es«, but even if it is in nominative case, it still is not the subject. It is a syntactic expletive.

  1. Ihr war ganz schwindlig.
  2. Es war ihr ganz schwindlig.

Sentence 2 is correct and has the same meaning as sentence 1, but you always can ask for the subject with »wer oder was?«. Let's give it a try:

Wer oder was war ganz schwindlig?
Wer oder was war ihr ganz schwindlig?

These questions makes no sense. It is the same kind of »es« that you can find in other sentences, even in such that have a subject:

Es fährt ein Zug nach nirgendwo.

Wer oder was fährt nach nirgendwo?

Here the answer is »ein Zug«, because it is the subject. You can not ask for this »es«.

Wer oder was fährt ein Zug nach nirgendwo?

This question is grammatically wrong, because it already contains what you are asking for.

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer ;) Sep 24, 2020 at 20:31
  • 1
    "Schwindlig" ist keine Verbform, kein Partizip, sondern einfach nur ein Adjektiv -- also kann das m.W. auch kein Passiv sein. Nur Verben können ins Passiv gesetzt werden. Ich glaube nicht, dass diese Erklärung richtig ist.
    – HalvarF
    Sep 25, 2020 at 15:09
  • 2
    Da ist weit und breit kein Passiv in "ihr war schwindlig". Das ist ein "dativus possesivus"
    – tofro
    Sep 25, 2020 at 20:51

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