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I am considering that "in" would often accompany an indirect object in a sentence but perhaps it could be a subject, such as, "In Schweden ist es schön."

Does "in" always imply a dative case or is it variable?

Thank you

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  • @guidot: This isn't exactly a duplicate since instead of the usual accusative/dative confusion, it's due to subject/object confusion, with some German word order issues thrown in. I don't know if it's worth reopening based only on that; it's not like subject/object and German word order hasn't been covered here before, but it seems different enough that I, for one, would attempt an answer if it was reopened.
    – RDBury
    Apr 8, 2022 at 10:49
  • @RDBury, I agree and voted to reopen. Apr 8, 2022 at 11:13
  • Since with re-opening my close reason link got lost, here the related question again.
    – guidot
    Apr 8, 2022 at 13:40
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    There is no direct and indirect object in German. There is nominative, genitive, Dativ and Akkusativ Apr 8, 2022 at 15:33

2 Answers 2

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'in' is a preposition which goes with either Dativ (for a location) or Akkusativ (for a direction):

Der Vogel fliegt in den und sitzt dann in dem Baum.

In your sentence "In Schweden ist es schön" it is not the subject either; the subject is 'es'. It's a location adverbial which uses the Dativ for the location. This is in disguise as for countries or locations like towns and villages there is no article indicating case. But you see the case of the location adverbial in the equivalent sentence "In dem Wald ist es schön". (=It is nice in this wood). This is different from "In den Wald gehen wir" (pointing towards a certain wood: We go into that wood).

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    "In Schweden" is not a dative object, it's not even an object. It's an adverbial. If it were an object, it would be a prepositional object.
    – RHa
    Apr 8, 2022 at 17:45
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As planetmaker noted, the terms "direct object" and "indirect object" don't really work in German and it's best to just forget about them when you're talking about German grammar. I know these are standard terms in linguistics, but I think most people who have studied German sentence structure at anything beyond an introductory level will have come to a similar conclusion. (It seems odd that linguists don't seem to have caught up with this, but it's probably best I don't start down that road here.) Instead, a verb will (in almost all cases) require a subject, up to 1 (rarely 2) accusative objects, and up to 1 dative objects, where an object is accusative or dative depending on it's case. For most verbs the accusative object (if any) corresponds to a direct object and the dative object (if any) corresponds to an indirect object. But there are so many exceptions to this that the terms direct object and indirect object cause more confusion than enlightenment for learners of German. One such exception is helfen, which takes a dative object but not accusative object; the equivalent English verb "to help" takes a direct object. There are enough verbs of this type that they have been give their own name, "dative verb", which breaks the intransitive/transitive/ditransitive trichotomy linguists are also fond of. There are also a few verbs which take two accusative objects, but it's not really possible for a sentence to have two direct objects. From there, terminology may vary, but I usually refer to nouns after a preposition as prepositional objects. Their case is mostly determined by the preposition instead of the verb, but there are a number of prepositions where the case of the following noun is determined by the meaning as well; follow the link given by guidot above for more information on this. I'd also refer to an object used as a predicate as a predicate object. My favorite example of a predicate object is ein Berliner in JFK's famous line Ich bin ein Berliner. Predicate objects usually take the nominative case, which again breaks the direct object and indirect object terminology since the nominative is normally reserved for the subject of a sentence. Predicate objects can take the accusative case for some verbs, as in Nennst du mich einen Narren?. This sentence has two nouns in the accusative case, which is, yet again, hard to justify with the direct object, indirect object model.

Another source of confusion here is flexible German word order. Unlike English where the subject precedes the verb, any sentence element can precede the verb in German; the most important rule is that the verb must come second. (In a simple statement at least, different sentence and clause types follow different word order rules.) I would call in Schweden a prepositional phrase, making Schweden a prepositional object. (Rha's terminology may be slightly different than mine here, but to me an adverbial phrase is an adverb or prepositional phrase that modifies the verb or the entire sentence.) The actual subject in In Schweden ist es schön, is es. In the English translation, "It's beautiful in Sweden," the subject is "it", which corresponds to es. For most German sentences, the subject is placed before the verb as in English, so why is it not in this case? The slot in front of the verb is usually reserved for the topic, what the sentence is actually about. In this case the topic is what conditions are like in Sweden; it would hardly be "it". So I think the English word order, Es ist schön in Schweden, while grammatically possible, would be unusual in German.

The way I'd analyze the sentence is: verb -- sein requiring a subject and predicate; subject -- impersonal es; predicate -- schön, a predicate adjective; in Schweden -- a prepositional phrase, preposition in and prepositional object Schweden. Technically Schweden is in the dative case here, but it doesn't really matter since the different cases are spelled the same. With a similar sentence In diesem Land ist es schön, it's more clear that the dative is used. Given that German word order is so flexible, it doesn't really make sense to analyze a sentence as a sequence of words, and instead I think of it a collection of phrases. Only the verb has a reserved spot at position 2; the others are more or less free to wander around until they find the spot where they feel most comfortable, like cars filling up a parking lot. And that's the way I analyzed the sentence, as a collection of phrases in no particular order.

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  • No, this is not a prepositional object, but an adverbial. Proof: you can replace it by adverbs such as «dort».
    – mach
    Apr 9, 2022 at 16:25
  • @mach: This seems like a difference in terminology rather than substance. I tried to be careful to say that this is the terminology which I use; I'm not claiming anyone else uses it.
    – RDBury
    Apr 9, 2022 at 19:39

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