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German cases example that I don't understand

When I have looked up examples of German cases, the examples always seem quite simple and easy to understand. But then when I get back to learning I come across many sentences that are much less obvious. For example: Er wirft einen löffel auf den Mann Er wirft einen löffel zu dem Mann

With my current understanding of cases I would have the spoon as the ditect object (accusative), and the man as the indirect object (dative). But apparently that's wrong. In the first example the Man is accusative, in the second he is dative. Can anyone explain why for me please?

June 26, 2017



Prepositions are the key. In the first example auf can be followed by accusative or dative. (Accusative for movement, dative for place. Throwing the spoon is definitely a movement.) In the second sentence, zu always takes the dative. https://www.lsa.umich.edu/german/hmr/Grammatik/Praepositionen/Prepositions.html

Einen Löffel is the direct object in both sencences, luckily that stays the same.


Right, and "Er wirft einen Löffel auf dem Mann" would therfore imply that Er is located on the man.


Very concise explanation. It's a bit unfortunate, that even the Duden refers to indirect objects as 'Dativobjekte', with the inherent implication that there's a hard rule for that. That prepositions chart seems pretty helpful, btw.


Thanks! That's really useful!


It has to do with the words "auf" and "zu", "zu" is listed as always requiring the dative whereas "auf" can be used either with dative or accusative. In this case the accusative is used with "auf" to indicate that the spoon is traveling to the man. My understanding is not currently good enough to clarify it any further, but perhaps this gives you a bit of a handhold.


and the man as the indirect object (dative)

This is your mistake. "Man" is not an "indirect object" in either of these sentences, "Man" is the object of the prepositions "auf" and "zu".


Sorry, my phone is acting up and it posted wrong. Just for clarity the two sentences are: Er wirft einen löffel auf den Mann. Er wirft einen löffel zu dem Mann.


It depends on the meaning. "He throws the spoon AT the man" would be "Er wirft den Löffel NACH dem Mann" (if the wants to hurt the man), while "He throws the spoon TO the man" would be "ER wirft dem Mann den Löffel ZU" (if he wants to give the spoon to him). Oh, and "Er wirft dem Mann den Löffel NACH" is also possible, if he wants to throw the spoon at the man, but the man is running away or already gone (in that case, the verb is "nachwerfen" not "werfen"). I hope this helps to clarify it :)


All this accusative, dative and all the other cases, has put me off from learning......I just wanted to learn without the theory behind it all, like I learned English when I was at school. I can't remember all this case rubbish.

[deactivated user]

    Don't let it bother you. It will come to you naturally after enough practice. When I talk to a native German about this, he says he doesn't "think about it." He just knows from ear what case to use.


    the easiest for me to understand is the preposition "in" accusative means "into" and uses motion, while dative is just "in" and has no motion.

    Example of accusative movement: ich gehe in die Küche. -I am going into the kitchen ich wird in die Küche gehen. -I will go into the kitchen

    Example of dative: ich stehe in der Küche. - I'm standing in the kitchen just kinda hanging out.

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