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In this sentence

Es gibt eine Brücke über den Fluss.

den is used after the preposition über. Why is it in accusative case and not dative case? In other words, why don't we say über dem Fluss?

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    That literal question can, unfortunately, not be answered, because your assumption that "we don't say 'über dem Fluss'" is wrong. We do say that, but with a change of meaning. You might want to look up "Wechselpräposition" on this site or your favourite grammar.
    – tofro
    Feb 9 at 9:04
  • BTW: German umlauts are important, even if the dots are somewhat small. You canot simply leave them off, that is considered wrong (you're changing the letter). What is accepted if you cannot reach the special characters from your keyboard, is transcribing "ü" with "ue" (and "öä", accordingly).
    – tofro
    Feb 9 at 9:12
  • "Eine Brücke über dem Fluss" would imply that the bridge does not lead across. Perhaps some sort of bridge module is being transported on the river by a barge. Feb 9 at 10:45
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    @KilianFoth <s>would</s> could. Otherwise, I agree.
    – tofro
    Feb 9 at 12:23

2 Answers 2

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The preposition über is a so-called Wechselpräposition. That is, depending on context, it can be used with dative case (to indicate a location) or with accusative case (to indicate a direction). Often, the verb already implies which case is to be used.

Dative case is used typically to express where something is located (in German sich befinden):

Die Brücke befindet sich über dem Fluss.
⇆ The bridge is located above the river.

Accusative case is used typically to express a direction:

Die Brücke führt über den Fluss.
⇆ The bridge leads over the river.

In the original sentence, the verb gibt does not indicate location or direction. Still, the case that the writer chose tells you what he had in mind [I will indicate this with square brackets]:

Es gibt eine Brücke [und die führt] über den Fluss.
⇆ There is a bridge [and it leads] over the river.

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    Hi Björn. Thanks very much for your help. I think I am beginning to understand how German grammar works, though, at times, I get the feeling that I need divine help if I am to master German. Still, the lesson I've learnt is persist, persist, persist.
    – Kamran
    Feb 10 at 10:36
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In German, it's always important to tell apart locations and directions.

E.g. with über die Brücke you give a direction rather than a location, as the two-way preposition über indicates a direction when used with accusative case.

Die Straße führt über die Brücke.

The road runs from here to the other side across the bridge. That's a direction. You can make this out easily even when describing the situation in English: as soon there's a to in your description, it's likely a direction in the German sense as well. Compare:

Der Mond steht über der Brücke.

The moon is visible above the bridge. That's a location.


Now your example:

Es gibt eine Brücke über den Fluss.

That verb phrase es gibt does not imply location nor direction. It just states there is and it takes a lone accusative object. But this accusative object isn't eine Brücke.

But eine Brücke über den Fluss.

That's a complex object that includes an adverbial über den Fluss. And same as with my road example, the bridge runs from one bank to the other across the river. That's what bridges do.

You may find this complicated as now you have to understand what bridges do. Or other things. If it connects two ends, you can be pretty sure that its relations are given as directions. Or you drill it for classes of things. Sorry about that.

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