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Let us say I have a fill in the blank question:

  1. ____ schreibst du?

I am confused, I can either fill wen or wem? Or should I always fill wem since it is assumed I am writing something to a person?

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  • Why is was not an option to fill in?
    – guidot
    Commented Mar 12 at 10:34
  • @guidot: Wahrscheinlich, weil es Teil einer Lektion ist, in der es um "Wen oder Wem" geht, nicht um "Was, wo, weshalb, wie oft, .… Commented Mar 12 at 11:24

3 Answers 3

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English uses a preposition to denote the recipient of something written:

To whom are you writing? (Grandma, my brother,...)

It may also use accusative to denote what's being written:

What are you writing? (a letter, a sentence, a poem)

German can do the same:

An wen schreibst du? (Oma, meinen Bruder,...)

Was schreibst du? (einen Brief, einen Satz, ein Gedicht)

But, in addition to that, the recipient can also be denoted in a dative object (English, without a full-blown dative, can't do that)

Wem schreibst du? (Oma, meinem Bruder,...)

As you can see from the above, you can use accusative with "schreiben", but that's never a person, but rather a thing - the thing being written.

Ich schreibe meiner Freundin [dative] einen Brief [accusative].

And asking for the dative needs to use wem

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While "schreiben" can take both a dative object and an accusative object, there is no clear meaning of "schreiben" with the accusative object being a person. The accusative object denotes what is written, and it's not defined what this would mean for a person.

I.e., "jemanden schreiben" (to write somebody) has no defined meaning, while "jemandem schreiben" (dative) (to write to somebody) does.

The author of the question obviously expects you to know that and thus decide to pick the dative case:

Wem schreibst du?

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  • And this is my exact question, why does "jemanden schreiben" has no meaning? How do I determine what has meaning and what not?
    – Jishan
    Commented Mar 12 at 8:21
  • @Jishan: I'm afraid there's no real answer to the "why" question. The accusative object denotes what is written. What would that mean if you insert a person? The name of that person? A description? Their points on Stack Overflow? It's not clear, and in the end, it's just not used that way.
    – HalvarF
    Commented Mar 12 at 8:51
  • Man kann nur mit viel Kontext ein Beispiel konstruieren, in dem "Wen" Sinn ergäbe. Für eine Feier könnten sich mehrere Person die Aufgabe teilen, hübsch kalligraphische Namensschilder zu schreiben, und die Namen könnten zugelost worden sein, und Deine Nachbarin fragt Dich: Ich schreibe "Oma Trude"; wen schreibst Du? Oder für ein Bühnenstück könnten unterschiedliche Personen die Rollen ausschmücken - "Ich schreibe den brutalen König - wen schreibst Du?". Das ist aber so konstruiert, dass man das "Wem" auswählen muss. "Ich schreib eine E-Mail". "Wem schreibst Du?". Commented Mar 12 at 11:31
  • @Jishan "how do I determine what has meaning and what not?" you must learn the pairs (Verb, Case) not only the verbs.
    – c.p.
    Commented Mar 12 at 13:52
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First off: I do hope you haven't learned about "direct" and "indirect" objects. If you have; forget them, they don't exist in German.

Regarding your question: the correct answer is "wem", which is Dativ.

Generally, when talking about places Dativ is a place, Akkusativ is a direction (towards something). For instance:

im Raum (in the room, Dativ, place)
in den Raum (into the room, Akkusativ, direction)

Since you write "a person" (which is a "place", so to say) you use Dativ. You could also ask:

An wen schreibst du? (about: "to whom do you write?")

This stresses the fact that the writing is directed towards someone and hence Akkusativ ("wen" instead of "wem") is used.

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    Since you write "a person" (which is a "place", so to say) you use Dativ. This is a deceiving analogy, since it creates the expectation, that Akk. vs. Dat. questions are logic and deducible from contrasting places vs. directions, while we all know that you just must learn these.
    – c.p.
    Commented Mar 12 at 6:09
  • Eine Person ist kein Ort, beim besten Willen nicht. "Ich schreib dem Potsdamer Platz/dem Schwarzwald/dem Kreml und dem Weißen Haus" - nur die letzteren gehen, aber da steht der Ort stellvertretend für eine Person/Institution. Commented Mar 12 at 11:38
  • Dativ kann mehr ausdrücken als nur "Orte" (das wäre eine gute Erklärung für Wechselpräpositionen, darum geht's hier aber nicht). Eine der Hauptanwendungen ist ein Empfänger - Und darum geht's hier. Dativ ist „der Kasus des statischen Zustands oder der Lagebezeichnung, des Besitzers und des Empfängers".
    – tofro
    Commented Mar 12 at 15:02

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