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There are two sentences.

  1. Ich will, dass du mich willst.
  2. Er möchte, dass sie ihm Abendessen kocht.

Question: The first sentence has mich which is accusative after the subordinate conjunction dass.

So why isn't the word ihm in the second sentence ihn (accusative) like mich in the first sentence, or more general: what's the grammar rule here?

Thank you.

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  • 1
    The subordinating conjunction affects constituent order, but it has no effect whatsoever on agreement. May 17 at 7:32

4 Answers 4

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The reason is what is called Verbvalenz. The basic structures of your two subordinated sentences are:

[Wer] wollen [was]?

(subj) wollen (acc obj).

Du willst mich. And in the relative clause: dass Du mich willst.

[Wer] kochen [wem] [was]?

(subj) kochen (dat obj) (acc obj).

Sie kocht ihm Abendessen. And in relative clause: dass sie ihm Abendessen kocht.


It is generally helpful to consider the verb the center of a sentence and everything else as linkable elements; these are called Aktanden. You typically adress them by questions s.a. who?, whose?, to who(m)?, who(m)?, and others. Their ordering generally follows [nom],[gen],[dat],[acc],[prep].


As to relative clauses with dass: yes, they do very often contain their own subjects, (which of course then usually come in nominative case), as it is their main function to subordinate one (complete) sentence to another.


To adress the second part of your original post (edited afterwards): No, not every word within this subordination is in nominative case, and no, commata do not offset rules.

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  • I don't think that was what the second question was saying. I'm not sure that I get it myself, but I think the point was that subordinate clauses seem to always put the subject right after the conjunction. So, for example, would Ich will, dass mich du willst be correct? Would it ever be correct to put the subject later in the clause?
    – RDBury
    May 16 at 5:49
  • Of course a person can also be the accusative object of 'kochen'. But then we are probably in the illegal legal terrain ;). Similar a person can be the Dativ object of 'wollen'... who then would be the person suffering the consequences of the to-be-specified Accusative object of the will of the subject (jmd. etwas wollen) May 16 at 8:25
  • Modified to match the by now edited question. And yes, jmd. etw. [anhaben] wollen does feature a dative object, but that's not what OP had in mind, I'd say; it's an ellipsis.
    – starrin
    May 16 at 10:17
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This has nothing to do with subordinate clause. This happens also in main clauses which makes the analysis simpler:

  1. Du willst mich.
    You want me.
  2. Sie kocht ihm Abendessen.
    She cooks dinner for him.

You can see, that also in English you have different cases for the personal pronouns. This is because the verbs wollen (to want) and kochen (to cook) need different kinds of objects.

Analysis of Sentence 1:

  • du
    The subject and therefore in nominative case. It is a personal pronoun in second person, singular.
  • willst
    The predicate1 as defined in German grammar. It consists of only 1 main verb. Willst is a form of wollen. It is in Präsens (a German tense similar to English present tense), singular and second person. Number (singular) and person (second person) must match with the subject.
    The verb wollen can have an optional object that tells what or who is wanted (what is the object of desire?). If you decide to tell what or who is wanted, the verb wollen strictly wants this object to be in accusative case.
  • mich
    An accusative object. It is a personal pronoun in first person singular and it is in accusative case. Number and person can be chosen freely, but the grammatical case is defined by the verb wollen.

Analysis of Sentence 2:

  • sie
    The subject and therefore in nominative case. It is a persona pronoun in third person, singular, feminine.
  • kocht
    The predicate1 as defined in German grammar. It consists of only 1 main verb. Kocht is a form of kochen. It is in Präsens (a German tense similar to English present tense), singular and third person. Number (singular) and person (third person) must match with the subject.
    The verb kochen can have an optional object that tells what is cooked (which food is prepared?) and when you decide to tell which food is prepared, the verb kochen strictly wants this object to be in accusative case.
  • ihm
    This is a free dative object (to be more precise: It is dativus commodi = dative of the beneficiary; dative of the advantaged). This kind of dative objects does not exist in English grammar. You have to express it with a free prepositional object ("for him") in English. An English free prepositional object is as optional (this is what "free" means here) as a German free dative object. You can add it to almost every sentence, its existance in the sentence is not forced by the verb.
  • Abendessen
    This is the accusative object that the verb kochen needs when you want to tell which food is prepared. Although this object is optional too (you don't have to tell what is cooked), it still depends on the verb kochen. This means: When you want to tell what is cooked, you have to tell it in accusative case.

How can someone know which objects to use in which case?

Well, you have to learn it for each verb separately. This sounds like more effort than it really is. When you learn a verb you learn its meaning (What does wollen mean? What does kochen mean?) and you learn the corresponding verb in your native language (What is the English word for wollen? What is the English word for kochen?). (Note, that meaning and translation are two different things!) Usually each verb has many different meanings, and often these meanings need to be translated with different words in another language. But for each meaning there is a typical grammatical pattern, and these patterns are often very similar. When you learn a verb, you need to learn the patterns of usage, and when you did, you already have learned the matching case for the mandatory and optional objects that a verb needs in a specific meaning.

Learning the correct grammatical case of the mandatory and optional objects of German verbs is easier than learning the grammatical genders of German nouns.


1 The term "predicate" is defined differently in German and English grammar: In English grammar it is anything but the subject, in German it is the main verb plus optional modal and auxiliary verbs and predicative supplements which are also optional. So, the main difference is, that all objects of a sentence belong to the predicate in English grammar but do not belong to the predicate in German grammar.

1

Objects in a clause need to be in a certain case (genitive, accusative or dative). The case they need to be in is entirely dependent on the verb of the clause and the function of the object.

This is true in a main clause and also in a subordinate clause. A subordinate clause has its own subject, main verb (Prädikat) and (optionally) object(s). So if you're interested in what happens in a subordinate clause beginning with "dass" grammatically, the main clause doesn't matter for that.

Du willst mich. (you want me)
as a subordinate clause: ..., dass du mich willst (that you want me)

"Du" is the subject of the clause (nominative case).

"mich" is the accusative object that goes with "wollen".

Sie kocht ihm Abendessen (She cooks dinner for him)
as a subordinate clause: ..., dass sie ihm Abendessen kocht (that she cooks dinner for him)

The verb "kochen" can take two different objects, an accusative object and a dative object.

"Sie" is the subject of the clause (nominative case).

"Abendessen" is the accusative object here that goes with "kochen".

etwas kochen: to cook something
Abendessen kochen: to cook dinner

The pronoun "ihm" is the dative object here that also goes with "kochen"

jemandem etwas kochen: to cook something for somebody
ihm Abendessen kochen: to cook dinner for him

0

"Abendessen" is in the accusative; "ihm" is dative. In English, we can say "Make him dinner", which appears to have two objects; but one of them ("him") is an indirect object, which in German usually takes the dative case. As in "She gave me a book": "book" is the direct object, so accusative; "me" is the indirect object, so dative: "Sie hat mir ein Buch gegeben."

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