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The dative construction is a grammatical way of constructing a sentence, with the subject in the dative case and the direct object in the nominative case. 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, 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, 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 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 clitic pronoun; 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").
- 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. 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 indirect objects (dativus possessivus).
- Mihi est liber. = "To me is book." = I have a book.