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There's this simple thing I just can't wrap my head around, I hope someone can help me understand it. I heard this sentence from a native speaker [in Vienna]:

Italienisch ist dem spanischen ähnlich

which translates to

Italian is similar to Spanish

The construct in use, according to Leo is "etw (dat) ähnlich sein" but there are two things here that don't make sense to me right now:

  1. "spanischen" is lower case
  2. "spanischen" ends with -en [while the Dativ of "Spanisch" is again "Spanisch"]

I asked my German class teacher and he said that the -en is because "Spanisch" belongs to the "N-declination", but Leo disagrees.

Currently my only valid explanation for "spanischen" to be correct is that the sentence should in fact be

Italienisch ist dem spanischen Sprache ähnlich

and "spanischen" is actually an adjective used as a pronoun that makes "Sprache" disappear. In this case, however, "dem" would be wrong because "Sprache" is female and it should be "der spanischen Sprache".

How do I solve this? Thanks in advance for any help!

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    See de.wiktionary.org/wiki/Spanisch for the different forms "(das) Spanisch" and "das Spanische" and their declination.
    – Bodo
    May 19, 2022 at 13:03
  • @Bodo: There are two forms as seen in Wiktionary, but it doesn't tell you which form to use in a given situation. DWDS has more on when to which form, something about it being similar to when you'd use strong vs. weak adjective declensions. The entry in English Wiktionary is incomplete at the moment.
    – RDBury
    May 19, 2022 at 13:16
  • @RDBury If you have better sources you are free to provide a reference. This was all I found, and I wrote it as a comment because it is not a proper answer.
    – Bodo
    May 19, 2022 at 15:29
  • @Bodo: I don't have anything other than de.wiktionary and DWDS. But I wanted to point out that Wiktionary doesn't really answer the question, and an explanation in English of what DWDS says would be helpful as well. Per Björn Friedrich's comment below it's a kind of nominalized adjective, but I'm thinking there's more to the story. In any case, I think the N-declension theory can be ruled out.
    – RDBury
    May 19, 2022 at 23:24

1 Answer 1

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You are correct that "Spanischen" needs to be capitalized, as it's a noun:

Italienisch ist dem Spanischen ähnlich.

You are also correct that the Dativ of "Spanisch" is again "Spanisch", but the Dativ of "das Spanische" (ending in e) is indeed "dem Spanischen". See the "Singular 2" column in the declension table of Spanish on Wiktionary.

So if instead you use "das Spanisch" (without e), then synonymously you can say,

Italienisch ist dem Spanisch ähnlich.

or even without definite article,

Italienisch ist Spanisch ähnlich.

All of these are indeed Dativ forms of "das Spanische", "das Spanisch", and "Spanisch".


To the second part of your question, "Sprache" is not implied here, and you're right that in that case, it would have to be

Italienisch ist der spanischen Sprache ähnlich.

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    Good answer. It could be helpful for those non-native speakers, who wonder why two nouns exist (one with an e and one without), to add that das Spanische is just the result of nominalizing the adjective spanische. May 19, 2022 at 18:00
  • @Björn this is an interesting point, thanks. Is this the same phenomenon because of which we have "ich habe etwas Anderes gemacht" with "Anderes" as an uppercase adjective? May 20, 2022 at 8:49
  • @MassimilianoLeoni Yes, these are both examples of Substantivierungen of adjectives.
    – Jo Liss
    May 23, 2022 at 12:55

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