I am trying to analyze the two sentences given below:

Zu meiner Familie gehören vier Personen. Die Mutter bin ich und dann gehört natürlich mein Mann dazu.

I have been crippled by these questions:

  1. gehören is listed as a prepositional verb (Dodd et al., Modern German Grammar, 2nd Ed., Routledge, P.90); i.e., it is idiomatically linked to zu preposition and the phrase which is governed by the preposition zu has to be in Dative case (ibid. 92). My first question comes here: in prepositional verbs, doesn't the preposition need to be placed adjacent to the verb? Or, it is placed independent of the position of the verb that is linked with (i.e. the syntactic considerations determine its place within the sentence)? In other words, being the preposition for a given prepositional verb, would restrict the placement of the preposition with respect to the verb?

  2. Now, let's return to the sentences given above: zu is a preposition for the prepositional verb gehören (which is placed at the beginning of the first sentence and at the end of the second one)?

  3. If my conjecture is correct and gehören is conceived as a prepositional verb here (in both of the sentences), then Familie should be in the Dative case (for, it has been stated in P.92 of ibid that zu requires its dependent noun phrase to be in Dative case when it is the preposition of a prepositional verb). Yes, -∅ (i.e. null) is the ending of the Dative case of feminine nouns (Familie is feminine); but grammatically it should be considered to be a Dative case. Am I right?

Thank you

  • There is no principle that says a preposition has to be adjacent to its governor. Topicalization and subclauses are two extremely common phenomena where things work differently. Commented Feb 6 at 11:04

2 Answers 2

  1. "gehören zu etwas" is a verb that binds two substantives with a fixed preposition (so, it is, in fact, a prepositional verb as you rightly assume) - "x belongs to y" -- "x gehört zu y". Just like in English, the "bigger thing" receives the preposition, the "smaller thing" doesn't. The preposition actually binds (and thus, lives close) to the noun, not to the verb (again, like in English). Note that other usages of gehören are without any preposition.
  2. Yes
  3. Yes, Familie is in the dative here
  • Thank you very much for your illuminating response; you clarified everything. Commented Feb 6 at 8:57
  • Counter example for 1. where no preposition is involved: "Das gehört mir." Commented Feb 6 at 13:51
  • @BjörnFriedrich: Yes! So, gehören is a verb that is not always prepositional. Commented Feb 6 at 19:36

There are meanings of "gehören" as a prepositional verb, but there are other meanings where it's not. In general "prepositional" is a property of the meaning rather than the word, so you have to be careful when applying the term. A good dictionary will provide some indicator of which meanings have this property and which preposition is used. For example DWDS uses "⟨zu etw., jmdm. gehören⟩" in the relevant definitions, and Wiktionary says "(with zu)". The fact that you're dealing with a prepositional verb has to do with the meaning only, not the grammar of the preposition. The way I would analyze the first sentence is Adverbial ("Zu meiner Familie") + verb ("gehören") + noun phrase/subject ("vier Personen"). Note that flexible word order in German allows the adverbial to go before the verb, but the subject can go first as well: "Vier Personen gehören zu meiner Familie." (This is the word order you'd use in English.) The case of "Familie" is entirely determined by the preposition, and it only applies in the adverbial phrase; the fact that you're using the dative there doesn't really affect the rest of the sentence. You can tell that "Familie" is dative because the preceding determiner, "meiner", has the feminine dative inflection. Confusingly, when "gehören" is not being used as a prepositional verb, it's a dative verb and you'd still use the dative case but for a different reason: "Das Buch gehört mir." The second part of the next sentence has more or less the same structure, but this time with three adverbials, "dann", "natürlich" and "dazu". In this case the "da-" part of "dazu" refers to "meiner Familie", so it would be dative if you were to spell it out, but it makes no difference with "da-". The fact that "zu" appears at the start of one sentence and at the end of the other is more or less a coincidence; German word order is flexible and where you place a certain phrase can change according to emphasis.

  • Thank you very much for your clarifying response. You actually opened my eye to those aspects of the problem on which I had not concentrated. Notably, I had interpreted "meiner" as the genitive 1st person pronoun. However, it can also be interpreted as a dative (feminine) possessive pronoun, as you mentioned. Though, I do not still understand well the difference between the possessive pronoun and the 1st person pronoun in genitive case. Maybe the so-called possessive pronouns are possessive "adjectives" rather than possessive "pronouns" (i.e. mine family not, say, their family). Thanks again. Commented Feb 6 at 9:12
  • @Ali Koohpaee - There is a difference between a possessive pronoun and a possessive determiner. A determiner comes before a noun while a pronoun replaces a noun, "That's not my (determiner) book, mine (pronoun) is yellow." - ""Das ist nicht mein (determiner) Buch, meins (pronoun) ist gelb." Even though the determiner and the pronoun are often spelled the same, they are different parts of speech and should be considered different words. Some authors do call the determiners adjectives, but I think this is confusing; one reason is that they aren't declined like adjective.
    – RDBury
    Commented Feb 6 at 13:56
  • Thank you for your comment. I do agree with you that "mine" in "mine is yellow" is a pronoun and "my" in That's not my book is determiner. I have to think more on your points... Commented Feb 6 at 19:41

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