"Mir ist die Tür zugefallen,"?

I don't understand how does:

"My door snapped shut,"

is translated into:

"Mir ist die Tür zugefallen,".

Why it isn't:

"Meiner Tür fällt zu,"?


December 27, 2016


It's not a literal translation, nor the only possible translation.

The mir here is what I'd call a "benefactive dative", indicating who was affected by the action (usually positively, sometimes negatively).

So a more literal translation might be "The door fell shut on me", i.e. "The door fell shut, and I was affected by this".

The fact that this door belonged to you is not stated.

You could also say Meine Tür fiel zu or, more commonly, Meine Tür ist zugefallen (since the imperfect is not used that much for most verbs) - those are more literal translations of "My door fell shut".

They do not imply that this affected you in any way, they just state that there is a door which belongs to you and which fell shut.

Meiner Tür is not appropriate since it's genitive or dative, but the subject of the sentence should be in the nominative case; and fällt zu is present tense but your "snapped shut" is past tense.

December 27, 2016

Thank you! :)

December 27, 2016

Is there a relation between the benefactive case and the reflexive? Should it be "Ich wasche mir die Hand," instead of "Ich wasche meine Hand," (even though they mean the same)? Or they are just two separate things?

January 11, 2017

An interesting question!

The surface meaning of your two sentences is similar, but they don't feel the same to me.

And I suppose that either "reflexive" or "benefactive" could apply to why the dative-case mir is used in that sentence.

On the other hand, Ich wasche mich is, for me at least, clearly reflexive and clearly not benefactive. (At least, benefactive is not marked in that sentence grammatically.)

So maybe "benefactive" is a bit more appropriate than "reflexive" in sentences such as Ich putze mir die Zähne -- and in Ich kaufe meiner Schwester eine Tasche, it can obviously only be benefactive, not reflexive.

January 11, 2017


January 11, 2017

I wouldn't consider "Ich werde es mir merken," (which means "I will bear it in mind,") as a benefactive. If it's benefactive, the meaning of 'sich merken' would have changed from 'to bear sth. in mind' into 'notice sth.'.

Is that right?

January 16, 2017

Is mir here an instance of the so-called "ethical dative"?

December 27, 2016

Something like that, I suppose.

I'm not sure whether that's distinct from the dativus commodi vel incommodi, which I think is a bit closer.

December 27, 2016

Could you give me another example which has the benefactive dative on it ?

December 28, 2016
  • Ich habe mir ein Hemd gekauft. "I bought myself a shirt. I bought a shirt for myself."
  • Ich habe meiner Schwester ein Buch gekauft. "I bought my sister a book. I bought a book for my sister."
  • Sie hat sich das Fußgelenk verstaucht. "She twisted her ankle."
  • Ihm ist das Auto gestohlen worden. "His car was stolen."
  • Denn uns ist ein Kind geboren. "For unto us a child is born"
December 28, 2016

Thanks. Last question. Is it recently used?. I mean, do Germans say '...fuer meine Schwester....' or '...meiner Schwester...'?

December 28, 2016

Both are possible, but the second one is more explicitly that you bought it in order to give it for her.

Ich habe für meine Schwester ein Buch gekauft could mean that you went and bought it instead of her (because she wasn't able to buy it herself) or that she told you to buy it, or it could mean that the book was for her.

In the last case, it's more a difference of "feeling" between the für meine Schwester and meiner Schwester -- the benefactive version "feels" more as if you're doing her a favour, the version with für is more neutral.

At least, that's how I perceive them.

December 28, 2016

I think probably the best translation is "The door fell shut on me".

December 27, 2016
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