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The structure "etwas (dativ) den Schrecken nehmen" means "make something less terrifying", but I fail to understand why there are two dativ objects: etwas, den Schrecken, and somehow got the aforementioned meaning.

As a non-native german speaker, I would expect something like: etwas/jdm (dativ) die Schrecken ausnehmen. But this phrase doesn't exist!

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    Check again! There is only one dative.
    – Olafant
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 14:51
  • Den Schrecken is an alternative accusative singular. The more common form is indeed den Schreck.
    – Janka
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 15:13
  • It would help if you gave an example sentence. One I found in "Die Zeit" (via DWDS) is "Die Bilder sollen dem Tod seinen Schrecken nehmen."
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 15:34
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    @Janka - DWDS shows two different entries for "der Schreck" and "der Schrecken". I gather the meanings are nearly the same, but "der Schreck" implies suddenness, so more like "fright" than "fear". But your right that it would be accusative either way; the article would be "dem" in the dative. For both words the dative plural is "den Schrecken", but it hard to see how plural would work here.
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 15:51
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    The dict.cc says "etw" is dative, but it doesn't say anything about "den Schrecken" which is still accusative (see my answer below).
    – RDBury
    Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 16:51

2 Answers 2

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There seems to be a couple sources of confusion here. First, as I noted in the comments, there are (according to DWDS) two different words, "der Schreck" and "der Schrecken". There is a lot of overlap in meaning and even some overlap in inflection, but I interpret "den Schrecken" in this case to the accusative of "der Schrecken". You seem to be interpreting it as the dative plural, which is also "den Schrecken" for both words. I don't see how the plural would work here since it seems to me that we're talking about an abstraction, so "the horror of death" rather than "the horrors of death".

Second, there is a slight change in meaning from "den Schrecken nehmen" to "to take fear (away)". When you're talking about fear/Schrecken it can be the fear that you have for something else, or the fear something instills in other people. In English you can tell them apart by the placement of "of", so "my fear of flying" rather than "flying's fear of me". Apparently German relies more on context. Consider "Fürchte nicht den Schrecken der Nacht." (This was taken from the DWDS usage database.) Literally this is "Don't be afraid of the night's fear." But it's not the night that's afraid of anything, it's that the night may instill fear in you and that's what the sentence is talking about. So a more accurate translation is "Don't be afraid of the terrors of the night." So in "den Schrecken nehmen" you're taking away the fear something might instill in others, not the thing's fears. With that in mind the expression makes more sense.

PS. The expression uses a dative and an accusative, but I don't think there would be anything theoretically wrong with a verb that takes two datives. There are, after all, verbs that take two accusative objects, and many other unusual verb-object combinations in German. I don't think there actually are any verbs that have two dative objects, but it's not because there is an actual rule against it.

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  • You're right. The root cause is: there are two nouns "der Schreck" and "der Schrecken". "den Schrecken" can be intepreted (without context) as accusative of "der Schrecken", or as dative of "der Schreck" (plural). Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 14:03
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This is actually a play on words on the standing expression "Angst und Schrecken verbreiten", which is a tautology aiming to amplify the notion.

Der Angst den Schrecken nehmen basically removes that amplification and makes the original tautology less extensive - i.e it scales down the expressed amount of terror.

Actually, there is only one dative in that phrase - the verb "nehmen" can hold both a dative and an accusative object (which it does here, as in "jemandem/etwas(dat.) jemanden/etwas(acc.) nehmen").

English uses a similar (near-)tautology in "fear and loathing" - If you happen to know that, then

to remove the fear from the loathing

would be somewhat of an analogy.

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  • Fear and loathing is not a tautology; loathing signifies a feeling of aversion and is not a synonym for fear. Consequently, remove the fear from the loathing makes no sense in English.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 10:10
  • @DavidVogt Agreed. That's why I wrote "near" and "somewhat". You might not have seen that.
    – tofro
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 10:28
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    I see nothing "near" about fear and loathing. Be that as it may, I do not understand what removing the fear from the loathing is supposed to mean or what the supposed analogy to der Angst den Schrecken nehmen is.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 10:36
  • I am not convinced that "Angst" and "Schrecken" are synonyms. In ancient Greek these words correspond to "Phobos" and "Deimos". Quote from Wikipedia: Deimos served to represent the feelings of dread and terror that befell those before a battle, while Phobos personified feelings of fear and panic in the midst of battle. Even without the military context one can see the difference, and I think the German pair "Angst" and "Schrecken" is not that far from "Phobos" and "Deimos".
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 10:48
  • @PaulFrost Agreed they are not generally synonyms, but have an area of overlap, which is used here. Don't however, understand the relationship to ancient Greek - I guess there is none.
    – tofro
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 11:02

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