I came across this line:

Teilen der Stadt fielen einem Erdbeben zum Opfer.

which means :

Parts of the city fell victim to an earthquake.

I understand, English and German cannot always be same in terms of preposition usage and order. But, in this example I think zum is more suitable for Erdbeben. What is the logic behind using zum before Opfer? Are there anymore examples, wherein we can understand when to use zum?

(I only know that we should use "zu + dem" as "to" to show some destination place, e.g.: zum Markt, zum Krankenhaus. Otherwise, Infinitiv + zu and um ... zu)

  • 2
    BTW, it should be Teile der Stadt. Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 7:16

2 Answers 2


The German expression works differently from the English one:

to fall victim to [event]

translates to

[Ereignis] zum Opfer fallen

Thus, the occurrences of "to"/"zu" in these phrases are something like "structural false friends", as they denote a different element of the expression.

  • I don't get it. What's the difference? One is the subject and one is the object. The subject is the victim.
    – Olafant
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 18:21
  • @Olafant victim is not the object nor the subject in any of the sentences. Indeed the verb has no object, it is rather a modifier (it explains "how" the falling happens) Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 18:44

"zum" is not limited to a place, but it is similar to "to" as in your example

see also "zum Tode verurteilen", to sentence to death "jemanden den Wölfen zum Fraß vorwerfen", to throw someone to the wolves to eat

an a little bit more idiomatic "dem Rotstift zum Opfer fallen" which means to be canceled due to lack of money

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