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While I'm studying German vocabulary from a dictionary, I constantly see that the definitions of verbs have abbreviations next to them, such as "jdm: jemandem" and "jdn: jemanden" and "etw: etwas". I learned the words, but I still do not know their significance in a dictionary. For instance, what is the difference between "jdm" and "jdn"?

My best guess is that they indicate the case of the object, like accusative or dative. But dictionaries don't provide the exact meaning, so I couldn't be sure. Even if that is the case, how can we understand the cases of verbs having just "etw" ? And if I'm wrong, how can we understand the cases of verbs anyway?

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Your guess about the cases is correct. "jemandem" and "jemanden" are different inflections of "jemand". "jemandem" is dative, "jemanden" is accusative. You find this with verbs because many verbs take objects, which have to be in a certain case -- depending on the verb in question.

"jemand" means someone, and thus refers to a person. "etwas" means something and refers to a thing. "etwas" doesn't change its form when it's inflected.


A few examples:

jemanden sehen -- to see someone

etwas sehen -- to see something

"sehen" demands accusative, hence "jemanden".

jemandem helfen -- to help someone

"helfen" requires dative, hence "jemandem".

jemandem etwas geben -- to give something to someone

"geben" takes both an accusative objct ("etwas"), the thing you give, and a dative object ("jemandem"), the person you give it to.

  • in other words, they indicate transitivity of a verb, and what cases follow. – Matthaeus Jul 26 '14 at 20:19

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