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I understand that sagen, erklären, erzählen are dative verbs but what's the logic behind treating them dative. Why lieben is not dative?

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    Having learnt German as foreign language, I'd advise just not to lose time with trying to find explanations to why each verb is governed by which case. (The worse was to try to find explanations to genders, for which rules exist only for very small class.) Memorization is the best you can do.
    – c.p.
    Feb 15 at 15:19
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    This question might be interesting for you: german.stackexchange.com/questions/75997/…
    – Jonathan Herrera
    Feb 15 at 16:04

3 Answers 3

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sagen, erklären and erzählen are transitive verbs and thus take an accusative object. It is just not the receiver of the said/explained/told thing.

The receiver is denoted as a dative object, and is optional. The accusative is required and a sentence would be incomplete without it.

It is the same as in English:

Ich erkläre dich = I explain you = I explain what/who you are (sounds strange)
Ich erkläre XXX = I explain XXX = I explain what XXX is (not mentioning to whom)
Ich erkläre dir XXX = I explain XXX to you = I tell you what XXX is
Ich erkläre dir = I explain to you (missing "what" object, may be implied)

Lieben on the other hand is also transitive, but cannot take a receiver as dative object. The loved thing is the accusative object

Ich liebe dich = I love you
Ich liebe dir = I love to you

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  • Actually "Ich liebe dir" is not unheard of, just watch the afternoon program on RTL-II (as Alfred Dorfer once observed): "Komm zurück zu misch, isch liebe dir!"
    – bakunin
    Feb 15 at 13:43
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    "Ich erzähle euch von meinem Leben Leben" does not have an accusative object.
    – Carsten S
    Feb 15 at 18:09
  • There's an implied accusative object "etwas". Feb 18 at 1:19
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One (actually, one of the main, and actually its literal) purposes of the dative is denoting "giving something to someone". The notion of "giving" is interpreted very widely in languages that have a live dative to "do something for someone", and even "give a word to someone" and "give help to someone". That roughly explains why sagen, erklären helfen, and erzählen require the dative (as an optional object in addition to their mandatory accusative object).

The interpretation of "giving" does not so much extend to "lieben", so it forces the accusative. With respect to your "why is that" question, the answer is, as always in language questions, bluntly "because people talk that way". And, no, you should rather not expect or apply too much logic to a language.

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I understand that sagen, erklären, erzählen are dative verbs

But they aren't!

Check out these examples:

Er sagt etwas. ← That's an accusative object.

Sie erklärt den Ablauf. ← Clearly an accusative object.

Er erzählt großen Mist. ← Also, cleary an accusative object.

So those are just normal transitive verbs which feature an accusative object. But you may add a dative object to mark the receiver of the message:

Er sagt mir etwas.

Sie erklärt mir den Ablauf.

Er erzählt mir großen Mist.

So the dative object tells who receives the accusative object, or more in general, who bears the result of the action on the accusative object.


With lieben you could indeed argue that the one loved is who receives the love. Similar as with helfen for example.

Unfortunately, German isn't that regular.

You have to remember for each verb which objects it takes. So it's

  • jemandem helfen

but

  • jemanden lieben

There's no way around drilling that, sorry.

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