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I don't understand the word order in "Er sagt das mir" or "Er sagt mir das" Which one is correct or are both correct?

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  • I'm a bit confused about this myself. The grammars generally agree that when both accusative and dative objects are pronouns then the accusative comes first. But DeepL puts the dative "mir" first. Maybe it's because "das" is a demonstrative pronoun and not a personal pronoun. It seems to be an exception in English too: "He tells me that," but "He gives me it" is wrong.
    – RDBury
    Feb 4, 2023 at 12:36
  • Related question: german.stackexchange.com/questions/17996/…
    – RHa
    Feb 4, 2023 at 13:19

1 Answer 1

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This type of question is always difficult to answer, as German has variable, but not free (arbitrary) word order.

Word order is often used to focus certain elements of the sentence. For instance, with narrow focus on mir, the addressee:

Warum sagt er das mir?
Why am I the one he's telling this to?

However, with narrow focus on das or wide focus:

Warum sagt er mir das?
Why is this what he's telling me? (narrow focus on das)
Why is he telling me this? (wide focus)

The fact that wide focus is possible in the second example but not the first indicates that it has the more neutral word order.

Depending on what stage of learning German you are at, teachers or teaching materials might insist that you use the second order, mir das, (and potentially label the first one, das mir, as wrong) with the intention of teaching you the neutral order, even though the first order isn't wrong at all (unless wide focus is intended; then it's wrong).

At the end, the question is this correct? isn't the right one; it's more should I phrase it like this? is this what I want to express? or maybe is this the neutral order?

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