Should one necessarily learn, when a verb goes with a dative object and when with an accusative one, or can it be deduced?

How to determine if a verb in question induces *accusative or dative? If there are direct objects and indirect objects, they are associated accusative and dative respectively (kind of tautological):

Ich schenke dir einen Wagen
[dir ist hier das indirekte Objekt; ein Wagen das direkte Objekt]

But first, “direct and indirect” objects are not a natural concept in German. And, more importantly, not all verbs are so easily managed. I’m after hints that can make me save lot of time learning which verb goes with which case (if there are rules at all).

What to do if there is only one object? For sake of concreteness, let’s take two verbs, say, antworten und fragen which seem to be not very different: one asks a question to somebody and one answers a question to somebody. However, the first governs dative and the second accusative:

Antworten Sie mir!

Frag mich!

How does one know that antworten goes with dative (has a indirect object-like) while fragen with accusative?

  • 2
    you picked one of the biggest exceptions to "normal" configuration... fragen is just irregular and there is no ligical way to see or deduce that.
    – Emanuel
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 21:24
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    @c.p. es ist jmdn begleiten...
    – Emanuel
    Commented Jul 5, 2013 at 23:38
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    Yeah, in "frag mich eine Frage" both mich and eine Frage are Akkusativ; and even though the Akkusativ "slot" is still available with antworten, one could at most say "antworte mir mit einer Antwort". Isn't this language wonderful? Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 16:08
  • @c.p. Agreed. Maybe "wonderful" in my comment should be read "full of wonders and mysteries" ;) Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 21:36

3 Answers 3


... learn, when a verb goes with Dativ and when with Akkusativ?

Use that rule with direct and indirect object as you already know.

Or in the words of the rule above, how does one know that ich is a undirect object for antworten while a direct object for fragen?

You just can imagine the Dativ concerning antworten in a way that someone gives information back to someone, and you reduce it from Antwort geben to antworten. But that's just a guess from my feel for language. A reply gives something back, so that may be your virtual direct object. The same goes with imponieren, "make a good impression on someone".

I've learnt in school to look at the preposition. "aus bei mit nach seit von zu" want dative, "durch um gegen für ohne" demand accusative.


As a rule of thumb, when a verb has to do with motion, you use accusative. When the verb indicates a static situation you use dative.

"Er schmiss die Akte auf den Tisch."

"Die Akte liegt auf dem Tisch."

However, there are verbs that require a certain case regardless of whether or not motion is involved, and you will just have to learn those.

"Gib' mir das Buch!"

  • 1
    The rule of thumb for verbs of motion is too blunt, IMHO - "ich fahre in die Stadt" vs. "ich fahre in der Stadt" - Note there is dynamic motion onto something vs. motion within a specified area - I tend to call that static motion
    – tofro
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 14:44
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    @tofro I tend to call that action with direction vs. action without direction.
    – moooeeeep
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 18:56

There is no hard-and-fast rule that can be reproducibly used to determine whether accusative or dative should be used together with a verb. The rules which case goes where are deeply engrained into the logic of grammar which is very logical in itself but not always easy to understand. To make things worse, different languages apply differents grammar logic sets. Thus for example, in French the verb for to help someoneaider qn — takes a direct object which would typically correspond to a German accusative object. The German translation — jemandem helfen — requires a dative object.

It is best to learn the type of object required for each verb in one way or another. Some people may prefer a vocabulary card approach, meaning they repeat jemandem helfen until their brain made the association between dative and helfen. Others may prefer a more usage based approach, i.e. reading and writing lots of sentences that include constructions such as ‘ich helfe ihm’, until the brain realises that the rules for dative should be used after the verb.

Whichever method you prefer, it is mandatory to connect the verb and their object case in some way or another in the language centre of one’s brain.

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