Mir tut der Rücken seit Dienstag weh.
I know I'm missing some grammar concepts here. I would translate this as: Myself hurts the back since Tuesday.
Can you help me understand how to comprehend the wording and grammar rules so that I can create and understand sentences like these. I have a basic understanding of reflexive verbs.


2 Answers 2


The verb here is "wehtun" meaning "to hurt/cause pain". It has a separable prefix "weh" which is why you see it all the way at the end of the sentence. The subject is "der Rücken" meaning "the back (of one's body)". While English usually requires that you refer to someone's body parts with a possessive "my/your/his/her", it's much less common to do this in German. It's not likely that someone else's back is going to cause you problems after all. So while you say "der Rücken"/"the back" in German, the translation in English would be "my back". Since "wehtun" happens to be a dative verb, it takes a dative object, in this case "mir". Remember that German allows any sentence element to be placed before the verb, as long as the verb comes second. This is why "mir" appears first in the sentence and the subject "der Rücken" appears after the verb. I assume you can figure out the "seit Dienstag" part yourself. My rendition of the sentence in English is "My back has been hurting since Tuesday."

So there were a few things going on here that an English speaker would find strange, and that might make it easy to get lost. But it would be a fairly normal sentence for a German speaker.

PS. Just a couple additional comments: The verb is not reflexive; the subject and dative object are different. I can see how thinking that it was reflexive would cause confusion. Also, I should probably explain the difference in tense between the German and English versions. In German when something has been happening for a while, and is still happening, you use the present tense, since it's still happening. This is different from English where, since it started in the past, you use the past tense. The progressive "has been hurting" is implied, but German does not have separate progressive tenses so the German just has the bare present tense "tut weh". These are just differences between the German and English systems of verb tenses. Tenses are usually the same between English and German, but you have to learn when they're not and this is one case. It may sound strange in English "My back hurts since Tuesday", but that's how you say in in German.


Mir tut der Rücken seit Dienstag weh.

It's not reflexive. You can tell this from the fact that mir is a form of ich but the subject is der Rücken. Those are two different entities so it can't be reflexive.

The subject is der Rücken. This is who does something. It's weh tun – to hurt. The back hurts.

That mir is in dative case, and there's no preposition in front of it, so this is the dative object. Dative objects tell who bears the result of the action (on the accusative object if there is any). Usually that is who receives the accusative object, or who benefits from the action. Sometimes it's not a benefit. As in this sentence.

If you wanted to translate the original sentence to English literally, it has to read

To me, the back hurts since Tuesday.

German allows you to put anything you want in front of a main clause. That item becomes the topic of that sentence. Similar to English's tiny topic clause in front. Different in that way that all German main clauses are topicalized.

Der Rücken tut mir seit Dienstag weh.

Seit Dienstag tut mir der Rücken weh.

Mir tut der Rücken seit Dienstag weh.

Weh tut mir der Rücken seit Dienstag.

Those permutations are all common. They differ in the topic: the followup to a previous sentence. Known information for which you provide more details.

  • I didn't think your last example, "Weh tut mir ...", would be allowed. My list of things that can't be moved directly in front of the verb includes coordinating conjunctions, modal particles, the prefixes of separable verbs, and "nicht". Of course German has exceptions for every rule, and this might be one of them, but "Weh tut ... " seems odd to me.
    – RDBury
    Commented Apr 15 at 12:50
  • 3
    It's allowed, and you can trust me on that, as I'm a native speaker. It's the answer on „Sie haben also immer wieder Rückenprobleme. Seit wann genau tut es denn weh?“ — This kind of mirroring of the last thing mentioned in a question as the first thing mentioned in the answer is super common.
    – Janka
    Commented Apr 15 at 17:05
  • 1
    I, another native speaker, can confirm that Janka is right. Putting the verb at the beginning of the sentence is very common, especially if you want to convey an implication. Example: "Geschenkt habe ich dir das Geld nicht." This implies the message: "Geschenkt habe ich dir das Geld nicht, sondern nur geliehen. Ich will das auf jeden Fall zurück." --- "Weh tut mir der Rücken seit Dienstag" might imply "Weh tut mir der Rücken seit Dienstag, aber ich habe schon seit Montag Probleme".
    – Rottweiler
    Commented Apr 19 at 14:21
  • 1
    Another common situation is a passive sentence, for example, to describe a task/problem in an academic context: "Gesucht ist eine Funktion f, die folgende Eigenschaften erfüllt: […]". --- And you also see it in the context of jobs: "Gesucht ist eine Frau zwischen 80 und 90, die in einem kommenden Filmprojekt die Mutter des Helden spielen könnte." (Instead of: "Wir suchen X.") --- More examples: "Gemeint ist damit X.", "Gebraucht wird ein starker Mann, der schwere Kisten schleppen kann."
    – Rottweiler
    Commented Apr 19 at 14:26
  • 1
    Other non-colloquial examples that do not convey a "secret message" but make something plain: "Ich bin im Urlaub. Arbeiten werde ich hier definitiv nicht.", "Das ist alles legal. Verklagen kann mich also niemand." --- Where I live, we also love to combine a verb with "tun". This is colloquial speech and is considered very blunt/rude/aggressive. We usually use it to criticise somebody. Examples: "Ach ja? Machen tust du doch sonst auch nichts.", "Sehen tue ich hier gar nichts."
    – Rottweiler
    Commented Apr 19 at 14:45

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