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Jahre alt/Meter hoch - Which case?

When someone says 'Ich bin x Jahre alt' or 'Ich bin x Meter hoch', are the phrases 'x Jahre' and 'x Meter' in accusative, as it happens in Latin? Thank you in advance.

May 14, 2017



A simple test is to use a word that is different in nominative and accusative. However, the test is only simple, if you are a native speaker and you do it right automatically before you think about it.

ein Meter - nominative
einen Meter - accusative

Es ist einen Meter hoch. (Accusative)

This "accusative of measurement" could be an instance of an adjective (like hoch) taking on other constituents to specify it. Usually, the verb determines the case and the number of objects in a sentence. This is the valency of the verb.
When adjectives command their own set of objects, it is called secondary valency.

It would be far to boring for German to allow the adjectives only accusative objects. There are also prepositional objects, dative and genetive objects.



Still different is the free accusative of time, which is not an accusative object nor part of a prepositional phrase.

Jeden Donnerstag gehe ich schwimmen. (jedeN -> accusative)
Every Thurday, I go swimming.

Although, this is also a job for the genetive with a not so specific time. As the genetive tends to fade away, you find that in older idioms.

Eines Tages wird es dir leid tun. (eineS -> genetive)
One day, you'll be sorry.

Einen Tag wird es dir leid tun. (eineN -> accusative)
You will be sorry for one day.

I wonder if the adverb donnerstags (on Thursdays) is an old genetive of Donnerstag. However, that's another story.



Excellent explanation, I had never thought about adjectives as having valency, but the examples make the point clear now. I had also never thought this would be a distinct phenomenon when compared to what you called 'free accusative' of time. That is very interesting. Also thanks for the websites. I didn't know Cafe-deutsch and found it rather charming. :)

PS: Stop vanishing from Duolingo. :P


A comment on size (i.e. body height): Usually in German you don't say "Ich bin 1,80 m hoch". In German, the noun is "Körpergröße", so you say "Ich bin einen Meter achtig groß" or, usually "Ich bin eins achtzig".


Oops hehe, I didn't know that. :) Thanks for the heads up!


The verb to be (in this case, the verb sein) is a copulative verb. It links the subject to an adjective or to another noun. It places both arguments of a sentence on the same "level".
Copulative verbs are verbs that express a state of being, rather than an action. A few examples are be, become, feel, seem, smell, sound, taste. Therefore there is no object, thus no declination
Copulative verbs don't do anyting... they just sit there and be.

So, answering your question, it is in the nominative case.
Just think so: we say "ich bin ein Mann" and not "ich bin einen Mann"
"ein Mann" is no object to be declined, it is rather a predicative.

And by the way, in latin after the verb esse (to be) it is nominative as well, and not accusative.
Femina est regina. (the woman is a queen)


Thank you, your explanation is great and I quite agree with everything you said. The only thing that seems fishy is that it doesn't seem to be exactly analogous to 'Ich bin ein Mann'. I agree that, in my example, 'alt' and 'hoch' are in nominative, but I tend to think 'x Meter' and 'x Jahre' aren't.

'Femina est regina' is perfect. But compare it to 'Ghaok decem annos natus est' (I've seen it written like that somewhere, don't remember where). 'Natus' is in nominative, but 'decem annos' isn't. It seems to be the annalogous to 'Ich habe zehn Jahre lang in Deutschland gewohnt', in which 'zehn Jahre' is definitely accusative. But, just like you said, being used with a copulative verb makes it almost irresistible to think of it immediately as nominative. Hence my doubt.


Yeah, you got a point.

I'm not so good in Latin and it's been a while I don't write something in English, so I'll try my best to explain what I think.

in English we don't use the verb to be as an auxiliar verb, as we do in german and latin. so it is necessary to take a closer look to see wheter sein is the main verb or if it's being used as an auxiliary verb. If sein is the main verb, then it is a copulative verb; If it is not the main verb, then you should look at the main verb and know which case this main verb requires.

Firstly, it is important to look at the sentences of the German language as formed by constituents and not separete words. A constuent is a syntactic unit. It is part of a sentence that gives us an intire information about the world. And all elements that form a constituent should be declinated equally. So, x Jahre alt is one entire constituent, you can't look at Jahre and alt as if they were two separete-independent words from each other. If one is declinated, the other one is declinated as well. If alt is in nominative, then Jahre gotta be in nominative too.

Now about Latin: Well, in this case, est ist not the main verb, but an auxiliary verb. The main verb is "natus" which requires accusative, I guess. You should look at natus esse and not only esse. It works just like the construction in german: geboren sein. In Latin we don't say "Ich bin zehn Jahre alt" but rather "Ich bin zehn Jahre geboren" (or "I am born 10 years", but it doesn't make sense)

It surely is an interesting topic, I wish I knew more Latin to help you out.
Buuut, in your example, I am sure that both Meter and Jahre are in Nominative. One would say "die Tür ist ein Meter hoch" and not "die Tür ist einen Meter hoch"


Your English is excellent, there's no need for concern. :) I thought exactly the same way as you do before pondering about this very sentence. 'x Jahre alt' is a single syntatic unit, so it must be the case that its elements all agree in case. But after some research, I don't think this way anymore (not in this particular case, at least). The problem with 'Meter' is that it can be both neuter and masculine, so we don't really know whether 'ein Meter hoch' is nominative masculine or accusative neuter.

The following page doesn't really explain why this is so, but it confirms AdamKean's hypothesis with its examples at the 5th item ("to express a measurement"): http://www.dartmouth.edu/~deutsch/Grammatik/Nouns/accusative.html

I agree, it's good to find someone who also finds this kind of thing interesting. :) I appreciate all the feedback.


I'll definitely check this out with my professors. I study Linguistics at the university (more specifically Germanistik - Sprachwissenschaft und Literatur) but I'm only in the third semester though.

So, some of my professors will probably know a "plus" about it that we will probably not find on Google too easily


I had never heard about this measurment thing before. If it is true, then much of I've written here shouldn't be taken into account x)

I guess measurment + accusative (even with sein) should be treated as a special case


I had heard about it before, but I never thought about applying it in these cases with copulative verbs, so I was just surprised as you are. :) It would be great if you could ask your Professor about it and share his words with us, I'm sure that would be very enlightening. :) Best of luck in your germanistic studies!


Yes, I believe so.

In the examples you give, it is impossible to tell unless "x" = 1, in which case „Jahre“ would change to „Jahr“ and it is „ein Jahr“ in both nominative and accusative cases; whilst the example with „Meter“ would answer your question definitively, and I believe „einen Meter“ is correct in that example.

The reason I believe it is in the accusative case is because one would say „Jeden Tag mache ich meine Hausaufgaben“ instead of „Jeder Tag...“, and to me it looks as if we're dealing with the same issue here; though I couldn't tell you for the life of me why it is accusative.


Temporal complement without preposition goes with Akkusativ, it's just a grammar rule. With a preposition, it depends on the case that the preposition requires.

"jeden Sommer/Tag" is asked with wann: Wann liest du Zeitung? Wann fährst du nach Italien?


I quite agree with you, I think it's the same situation as well. :) Very interesting.


Yes, they're in the accusative, e.g. einen Meter hoch.

With anything except 1 and a masculine noun, you can't tell the difference, though, since nominative = accusative in all combinations of gender and number except for masculine singular.


Thanks mizinamo, that makes sense. :) I had found quite a few occurences of 'ein Meter hoch' on Google, but it's safe to assume that in these cases 'Meter' is being used in neuter gender, correct?


No, still masculine -- but either a typo ("einen" sounds a lot like "ein" in casual speech), or nominative instead of accusative, where I'm not sure whether it's wrong or not TBH -- it may depend on the construction of the sentence.


Oh okay, I see now. :) I checked PONS and Leo and both said that 'Meter' can be either masculine or neuter, hence why I had this hypothesis.


The neuter Meter fell out of use. Duden lists Meter as masculine. However, they specifically mention "ein(en) Meter lang" as a usual expression. I guess, the nuance here maybe "ein oder zwei Meter" which concentrates more on counting instead of the indefinite article.

Measuring instruments ending on -meter are still always neuter. Das Thermometer, das Gasometer.
The unit is still masculine. Der Kilometer, der Millimeter.



That makes sense, now I got it. :) Thank you once again.

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