Dative construction

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The dative construction is a grammatical way of constructing a sentence, using the dative case. A sentence is also said to be in dative construction if the subject and the object (direct or indirect) can switch their places 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 "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 kalt and mir ("me"-DATIVE) is the indirect object. 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" behaves like a subject and can control 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")


Dative constructions are extremely common in Icelandic. Their use is similar to that of German, although perhaps somewhat more widespread. The following example is exactly the same as the German one given above:

Ég er kaldur ("I am cold")
Mér er kalt (literally means, "cold is to me")

The implication of the first example is the same as in German, that the speaker has a cold personality rather than feeling physically cold. Dative constructions appear in many fixed expressions such as this, such as mér er alveg sama ("I don't care", lit. "to me it's completely the same"), henni er annt um umhverfið ("she cares about the environment", lit. "to her is dear about the environment") and þú getur fengið nýjan síma þér að kostnaðarlausu ("you can get a new phone free of charge", lit. "you can get a new phone to you at no cost").

Passive constructions in Icelandic also require the subject to be in the dative if the verb in question governs the dative, e.g. tímaáætluninni var breytt ("the timetable was changed"), skjölunum var eytt ("the documents were deleted") and framkvæmdum var frestað um tvær vikur ("works were delayed by two weeks"). Compare to passive constructions where the verb governs the accusative: búðin var opnuð á föstudaginn ("the shop was opened on Friday") and bréfið var sent fyrir hádegi ("the letter was sent before noon"). Verbs that govern the genitive behave in the same way as verbs governing the dative, e.g. þín verður saknað ("you will be missed").

Finally, certain verbs require the subject to be in the dative. This is particularly common with verbs of emotion or opinion. For example:

Mér finnst hann góður kennari. ("I think he's a good teacher", lit. "to me [it] finds [that] he [is] a good teacher")
Önnu þykir erfitt að hætta. ("Anna finds it hard to stop", lit. "to Anna [it] seems difficult to stop")

This phenomenon is not only restricted to the dative case, some verbs require their subject to be in the accusative:

Krakkana langar í ís. ("The kids want ice cream")

In all of the above instances, the verbs used in these constructions are in the third-person singular form.


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").


In Serbo-Croatian (as in other Slavic languages), 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[edit]

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).[1]

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.


Hungarian uses a similar construction to Latin for rendering possession without the verb to have which is missing from Hungarian.