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In the following sentences:

Er hat sich als hervorragender Kenner der Geschichte dargestellt.

&

Er stellte sich dem Lehrer als einen strebsamen Schüler dar.

  1. Why is the nominative case used after "als" in the first sentence, but the accusative case is used after "als" in the second sentence?
  2. What is the exact meaning of the expression "sich darstellen als"?
  3. Does the first sentence mean something like He proved to be an excellent expert on history, or He acted like he knows a lot about history?
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  • You seem to be mislead by your first example - which is wrong. It should actually use accusative like the second.
    – tofro
    Sep 23, 2021 at 17:18
  • @tofro The first example is from Duden.
    – David Vogt
    Sep 23, 2021 at 17:52
  • @tofro: DWDS has a similar example, too.
    – HalvarF
    Sep 23, 2021 at 18:20
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    The author seems to see that as a "Gleichstellungsnominativ" - which I have never seen before with "sich darstellen als" (and also can't find another reference). So, it's at least very uncommon, inf not just plain wrong.
    – tofro
    Sep 23, 2021 at 21:51

1 Answer 1

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It's complicated, and my intuition led me on a wrong path first.

There are two main points to understand:

1) The case after als in comparisons and appositions

The case of the expression after "als" matches the case of what it is compared to.

Nominativ: Er saß als strebsamer Schüler immer in der ersten Reihe.
Dativ: Ihm als strebsamem Schüler machte das keine Schwierigkeiten.
Akkusativ: Ihn als strebsamen Schüler hatte jeder, der regelmäßig Hausaufgaben abschrieb, gern zum Freund.

There is an exception to the rule: with genitive, according to Duden, this rule only applies if the expression after als contains an "article word". Otherwise, is should be nominative.

Die Ermahnungen Johanns als eines besorgten Verwandten prallten an Christian ab.
Die Erwartungen Johanns als besorgter Verwandter prallten an Christian ab.

2) The different meanings of sich darstellen als

See DWDS entry: "Sich darstellen als" can, amongst others, mean to act like something (Bedeutungen 2 und 3), but it can also mean to prove to be (Bedeutung 7).

These are, of course, very different meanings. So grammar may be different, too.

a) Bedeutung 2/3: to act like something

"Etwas (accusative) als etwas (accusative) darstellen" is the basic form of this. In accordance with the rule above both expressions before and after als are the same case.

Der Schauspieler stellte den Romeo zunächst als einen naiven Jungen dar.

Sich is just a special case of this:

Max stellte sich (accusative) als einen strebsamen Schüler dar.
Max acted like a striving student.

b) Bedeutung 7: to prove to be something

Er hat sich als hervorragender Kenner der Geschichte dargestellt.

So what does the nominative "hervorragender Kenner der Geschichte" refer to in the sentence? It obviously refers to the nominative subject of the sentence, "er", not to the accusative "sich".

The example from DWDS is:

... dass Kurpfalz und Kurmainz sich als ein einziger Kultur‑ und Sprachraum darstellen.

So in these sentences, the grammar is different. The nominative after als means that it is directly compared to the subject of the sentence, and thus avoids any doubt about the identity of the two that an accusative would imply.

"A presents itself as B" has a comparable ambiguity in English.

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