"I thank a cat."
Translation:Ich danke einer Katze.
Dative is correct, accusative is wrong.
Usually, the accusative case is used for the direct object. However, after a limited number of verbs you have to use the dative case for the direct object. "Danken" (to thank) and "helfen" (to help) are two of these special dative verbs.
I think it makes sense that it is the dative case, too.
Think about it: "I thank the cat." For what are you thanking the cat? There is an implied (but not written) direct object in this sentence. The cat is the indirect object. The thing for which you (the subject) are thanking the cat is the direct object.
But indirect objects in English are usually indicated by a prepositional phrase: "This looks good to me." "I give the dog to you." "I'll buy that for you." "I thank you for this." With every indirect object, there's a way to put it in the sentence with and without a preposition. If in this case, "you" really is the indirect object (which would mean that the verb would actually be "to thank for"), then how would you put "you" in a prepositional phrase in this case? "I give you the lamp" vs "I give the lamp to you."
Though, I admit, it's still up for debate, 'cause in the sentence "I thank you for this," I don't really get how "this" is receiving the action.
You can't do a direct comparison of indirect/direct objects for the verb "to thank" in this situation because you are actually comparing different verbs. The reason why it is dative is because the verb "to thank" in German translates more closely to "to give thanks." So if you really wanted to break it down in English, you would be saying "I give thanks to you," where "thanks" is the direct object and "you" is the indirect object. Hence, the dative case.
Regarding the sentence you guys are discussing, "I thank you for this." In English, the "you" IS in fact the direct object. The "for this" is a prepositional phrase used as an adverbial modifier answering the question of "why" for the thanking ("this" would be a prepositional object).
Interesting discussion. My two cents:
The English terms "direct and indirect objects" and the German terms "Akkusativ and Dativ" are not an exact match. For an English speaker, it is certainly helpful to think of the dative and accusative in terms of indirect and direct objects. That generally works, but not always.
About the "reformulation" trick (e.g. to help sb. means to give help to sb. etc.). Again, it's helpful for an English speaker to memorize dative verbs that way. But IMO it's not the real grammatical explanation as to why these verbs take the dative case.
Moreover, you could do the same "trick" with a lot of verbs that take a direct object in English and an accusative object in German: Ich schlage den Mann (I punch the man) - Ich gebe dem Mann (dative) einen Schlag (accusative). So you could make a case for * Ich schlage dem Mann (dative), even though the dative case would be wrong here. In addition, there are synonyms such as "begegnen" (+ dative) and "treffen" (+ accusative) - both mean "to meet" in English. I don't really see how one could explain the different cases they take by saying that one verb takes an indirect and the other a direct object.
It's a bit like a German speaker equating the genitive case with the possessive 's in English and then trying to find an explanation why English does not use a possessive 's after the verb "to commemorate", whereas the German verb "gedenken" (to commemorate) triggers the genitive case. The actual reason is: the genitive case and the positive 's are not an exact match, nor are direct/indirect objects and the accusative/dative cases.
I'm sure there are people who think differently - there always are :) - but I'm not entirely alone with my assessment. Translation of a quote by a German professor of linguistics: "If the dative is the only object case - cf. the verbs begegnen (to meet), helfen (to help), beistehen (to stand by), erwidern (to reply), gehorchen (to obey), nützen (to be of use), schmeicheln (to flatter), trotzen (to defy), DANKEN (to thank) -, it simply marks the object. The term 'indirect object' does not make sense here." http://goo.gl/AQVjGd
Nice. Nenettexx, I love your response. I think I agree that there is not a 100% correlation to the concept of direct/indirect objects in German, though it is a very helpful mnemonic most of the time. However, as is usually the case with idiomatic usage, I'm sure a lot of these verbs have some sort of etymological reason for taking a particular case. I speculate that "danken" has to do conceptually with "giving thanks," but I'd be curious to know more about some of the other verbs you mentioned.