This question is something of a follow-on to my earlier question about personal pronouns and body parts. I think that I have seen sentences along the lines of both,

Der Arm tut mir weh.


Mein Arm tut weh.

I have developed the impression that the dative object is typically used when a definite article precedes the name of the body part, and less likely to be used when a possessive pronoun precedes the body part, as in the two example sentences above. However, www.duden.de gives the example

Mein/der Kopf, Bauch tut mir weh.

which somewhat contradicts my impression. Nonetheless ... is my impression correct? Is the Duden example slightly abberant in suggesting both mein and mir in the same sentence? Do the initial two example sentences convey the same meaning, or is there a difference of emphasis between them?


1 Answer 1


I can't see a difference in meaning between the two sentences.

Using a dativus incommodi instead of putting the hurting thing as subject into the sentence doesn't change the meaning to me. It's just expressing the same thing with two different grammatical vehicles.

Obviously, the dative is inevitable when the acting body part is not hurting yourself, but rather someone else:

Rocky: "Diese Faust wird jemandem sehr weh tun. Aber nicht mir".

I can also not confirm your observation(?) that the dative object is preferred when a definite article ("der") preceeds the object compared to when there's a pronoun instead ("mein").

  • And what about the question of whether the use of "der" vs "mein" would then affect whether one included the dative object, as the Duden sentence does? Oct 24, 2020 at 10:47
  • 1
    See expanded answer
    – tofro
    Oct 24, 2020 at 14:29
  • Re the correlation between "der" and dative, in my inexpert opinion there may be a trend there but it's probably not a good way of thinking about it because there will likely be confusing exceptions. For example Sie hat die Beine einer Ballerina. Case is determined by the verb or by the preposition, with some variations allowing for the same word having different meanings. The verb wehtun always takes dative (if anything) and the verb haben always takes accusative (if anything), it doesn't really matter if it there's a possessive pronoun or not.
    – RDBury
    Oct 24, 2020 at 15:43
  • @RDBury Case is determined by the verb or preposition well, maybe, on the surface, and maybe easier to grasp for a learner. But indeed, case also carries semantics, especially for "free cases" (not ruled by the two above). Your example is a good one - because there's no preposition and "haben" does in no way ask for a genitive anywhere - But still the Ballerina must be genitive to bring across the point.
    – tofro
    Oct 24, 2020 at 17:05
  • Yes I forgot about genitive, which was silly because it's used in the example I made up. There are certain time expressions as well, now that I think about it: Wir treffen uns nächsten Montag. I'm hoping the point was still valid though, that case is pretty well determined by by the circumstances but there's often a choice whether to use the definite article with a body part. So connecting the two is not a good idea.
    – RDBury
    Oct 25, 2020 at 0:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.