Why is it Sie instead of Ihnen here?

Kann ich Sie kurz sprechen?

Shouldn't it be like this:

Kann ich Ihnen kurz sprechen?

Can I speak TO YOU or WITH YOU for a moment? Both should be in dative case.

2 Answers 2


The German verb phrase in question does neither use zu nor mit as you can easily see. It's jemanden sprechen, hence accusative case. There's also the verb phrases mit jemandem sprechen and zu jemandem sprechen but neither of both is relevant here.

It's true that German dative objects can often be replaced by to X in English. But that's not always the case as English knows indirect objects. And neither can an English to X always be replaced by a dative object in German. Those are only rules of thumb.

  • 1
    It is not necessary to have zu, mit or any other similar prepositions to form a dative case. For example: Ich habe es ihm gekauft. Ihm is dative here only because it implies for him. Aug 4, 2023 at 21:45
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    Yes. It's a plain dative object. The verb kaufen has a mandatory accusative object and an optional dative object. — But the verb sprechen does not have a dative object. At all. You have to memorize the types of objects for each German verb. The easiest way is to memorize jemanden sprechen. Better dictionaries put the verb phrases exactly like that: jmdn sprechen.
    – Janka
    Aug 4, 2023 at 22:17
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    The main problem seems to be that English "to" can function as a marker for a second object ("dative object") or it can function as a directional preposition. The question seems to assume that this is the same, but the two must be kept apart. In "speak to somebody" it is not the "dative-to" even in English. Cf. German: "zu einem Publikum sprechen". It's purely directional. On the other hand, "deny something to somebody" is not directional (because nothing is to be received here).
    – Alazon
    Aug 5, 2023 at 10:22

It's true that this is a somewhat special construction. "Jemanden sprechen" (instead of "mit jemandem") means to talk to someone in a formal context, when this person has a particular office or duty or capacity, and you are pursuing a goal which relates to that.


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