Dative construction

Dative construction

Ask a question about 'Dative construction'
Start a new discussion about 'Dative construction'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
The dative construction is a grammatical way of constructing a sentence, with the subject in the dative case
Dative case
The dative case is a grammatical case generally used to indicate the noun to whom something is given, as in "George gave Jamie a drink"....

 and the direct object in the nominative case
Nominative case
The nominative case is one of the grammatical cases of a noun or other part of speech, which generally marks the subject of a verb or the predicate noun or predicate adjective, as opposed to its object or other verb arguments...

. A sentence is also said to be in dative construction if the subject and the object (direct or indirect) can switch their cases for a given verb, without altering the verb's structure (subject becoming the new object, and the object becoming the new subject). The latter case is not to be confused with the passive voice
Passive voice
Passive voice is a grammatical voice common in many of the world's languages. Passive is used in a clause whose subject expresses the theme or patient of the main verb. That is, the subject undergoes an action or has its state changed. A sentence whose theme is marked as grammatical subject is...

, where only the direct object of a sentence becomes the subject of the passive-voiced sentence, and the verb's structure also changes to convey the meaning of the passive voice. The dative construction tends to occur when the verb indicates a state rather than an action.


In German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

, the dative construction sometimes occurs with the verb sein ("to be"). Compare:
Ich bin kalt ("I am cold")
Mir ist kalt (literally means, "cold is to me.")

The first example implies that the speaker has a cold personality. The subject here (ich, "I") is in the nominative case. The second construction is used when one wants to say "I am (feeling) cold" in German. While in English the subject of the sentence "I am cold" is "I", in German the subject of the sentence "Mir ist kalt" is mir ("me"-DATIVE), normally the marking for indirect objects. The use of the nominative form equivalent to "I" is only possible with a different meaning: "Ich bin kalt"='I am cold (in personality)'. "Mir" has the behavioural properties of a subject, e.g., control of infinitives:

"Mir war zu kalt um zur Kirche zu gehen"
me.DAT was too cold for to.the.Fem.D church to go.INFIN
'I was too cold to go to church' ("I" go, not "cold")


A number of verbs in Spanish
Spanish language
Spanish , also known as Castilian , is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several languages and dialects in central-northern Iberia around the 9th century and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile into central and southern Iberia during the...

 employ a dative construction. Many of these verbs express psychological states; the most common one is gustar, which is equivalent to English like (but syntactically functions like be pleasant to). The verb agrees with the formal/morphological subject, but the subject is usually placed after the verb instead of before, as usual. The dative construction requires a proclitic
In morphology and syntax, a clitic is a morpheme that is grammatically independent, but phonologically dependent on another word or phrase. It is pronounced like an affix, but works at the phrase level...

In linguistics and grammar, a pronoun is a pro-form that substitutes for a noun , such as, in English, the words it and he...

; if the dative argument is a full noun phrase or needs to be explicitly stated, it is shown by a phrase with the preposition a.
Me gusta el verano. ("I like the summer")
A mí me gusta más la primavera. ("[As for me,] I like the spring better")
A Juan le gustan las rubias. ("Juan likes blondes")
A ella le gustas. ("She likes you")

Other verbs which show this pattern are apasionar ("be passionate about"), antojarse ("have a feeling for"), encantar ("adore"), faltar ("be lacking"), quedar and sobrar ("be left").


In Serbocroatian
Serbo-Croatian or Serbo-Croat, less commonly Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian , is a South Slavic language with multiple standards and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro...

 (as in other Slavic languages
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

), the dative construction is often used, mostly in the same manner as in German:
Hladan sam.
cold.ADJ-MASC.NOM.SG be-1st.SG

literally "I am cold", meaning "I am a cold person".

Hladno mi je.
cold-ADV 1st-DAT.SG be-3rd.SG

literally "It is cold to me", meaning "I am (feeling) cold".

Some verbs, like nedostajati ("lack") use dative constructions:
Nedostaju mu zubi.
lack-3rd.PL he-DAT.SG Teeth-NOM.PL

literally "Teeth to him lack".

Georgian dative construction

The dative construction is very common in Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

. The dative construction of Georgian differs somewhat from German in that the dative case agrees with a certain person marking on the verb. The dative construction occurs in the perfect (not perfective) tense of transitive verbs and in all the tenses of some verbs, such as "to want", "to have", "to forget" and "to remember." These verbs are also called "indirect verbs" by some generativists. Compare:
Bavshvebi tsqals svamen ("children are drinking water") Imperfective Aspect-Present Tense, NOM-DAT
Bavshvebs tsqali dauleviat ("children have drunk water") Perfect Aspect-Present Tense, DAT-NOM
Bavshevebma tsqali da-li-es ("children drank water") Perfective Aspect-Past (Aorist) Tense, ERG-NOM

In Georgian, the -s suffix is the dative case marker. In the first sentence, bavshvebi ("children") is the subject and in the nominative case. Tsqals ("water") is the object and in the dative case (with the suffix -s attached). In the second sentence, however, the subject (children) is in the dative case (with -s), and the object (water) is in the nominative case. The verb in the imperfective and perfective sentences are conjugated in accordance with the subject of the sentence (regardless of the case of the subject); they are both third person plural. Perfect verbs also agree in part with their dative case subjects (in this case the -u- between da- and -leviat) but only have third person verb endings (singular form for all singular persons and ALSO first person plural; plural form for 2nd/3rd person plural). Therefore, "I have drunk water" would be:
(me) damilevia (-a is singular, -at is plural)

The dative construction is also a separate class of verbs (Class IV) which have the semantics of experience, cognitive processes, and possession (all common DAT-construction predicates in languages which have them). An example of this can be given with the possessive verb kona ("to have"):
Kals tsigni akvs ("The woman has a book")
Kals tsigni hkonda ("The woman had a book")
Kals tsigni hkonia ("The woman has had a book")

In all the tenses, the subject kals ("woman") is in the dative case, and the object tsigni ("book") is in the nominative case. Etymologically, the root is also found in the future forms of the copula 'be', making it very much like the Latin dative possession construction 'mihi est X'. Again, all singular persons have an agreeing proclitic pronoun on the verb but a third person singular verb ending (-a or -s).
(me) tsigni makvs ("I have a book")


The genitive case is used in dative constructions. The "dative genitive" (datiivigenetiivi) is no longer productive in Finnish language, and it is often replaced with other cases, except in frozen expressions, e.g. luojan kiitos (thanks to god).
Minä olen kylmä. = I am cold (cold personality).
Minun on kylmä. = "To me is cold."
More often in modern language: Minulla on kylmä. = "At me is cold."

The dative genitive is often used with verb infinitives.
Minun pitää tehdä se. = "To me has to do it." = I have to do it.
Minun tekee mieli syödä makeisia. = "To me makes mind to eat candies..." = I'd like to eat candies.
Minun tekee pahaa ajatellakin sitä. = "To me makes bad to even think about it." = I feel bad just thinking it.


Latin uses a dative construction for possession (dativus possessivus).
Mihi est liber. = "To me is book." = I have a book.