The following is quotation from Kritik des Gothaer Programms by Karl Marx:

Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen.

The usual translation into English is From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. I don't see how the distinction between from each/to each is captured by jeder/jedem. Can someone explain this to me?

  • 1
    Did you read the whole cited link text yourself? There is stated, that very similar statements predated Marx' usage. Maybe Marx translated them from French or picked an already circulating German translation. According to my search, Marx didn't translate his Book into English himself and it was only done, after he died. Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 23:00
  • 2
    @userunknown How does this matter for the question at hand though?
    – HalvarF
    Commented Dec 4, 2023 at 23:23
  • @HalvarF: Well, assuming there was an original French quote, which was translated to German and circulated in socialist groups with an established, German translation, while an independent English translated was commonly used in GB, before the German Book was translated to English, then the established English idiom might have been chosen, despite being not that close to the German "original". Commented Dec 6, 2023 at 17:39

1 Answer 1


Roughly, it is an ellipsis of: "Jeder tut Dinge nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem werden Dinge gegeben nach seinen Bedürfnissen."

The nominative case refers to the one acting: the ones acting are supposed to do so according to their ability. The translation into English you gave is not a very literal one.

The dative case is easier to explain: the one to whom something is given (dem etwas gegeben wird) stands in the dative case. Indeed that is the etymology of "dative", it comes from the Latin verb for "to give". "He gave an apple to the woman" = "Er gab der Frau einen Apfel." – "der Frau" being dative in German, but after a "to" preposition in English.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.