4 German phrases that need the dative

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4 German phrases that need the dative

As a German teacher there is really only one thing that makes my blood curdle… when students after hearing and reading the phrase “Wie geht es dir?” a million times spew out something like “Wie geht’s du?” Please, please, please do not make this mistake.

This mistake brings me back to my post from last week, about health and doctors visits in German. There are a few common expressions that we use that demand the dative case. Now, I know I’ve written about this before, so I don’t want this to be a long post, just to address a few simple health and well-being verbs.

wie geht's dir?1. How are you?

  • Wie geht es dir? Wie geht es Ihnen? (literally, “How goes it with you?”)

This is a common German question added after a basic greeting. If you’re asked it or ask it of someone, an answer is generally required and/or given. It can be short, but I highly recommend giving one. Positive short answers can keep the person from asking you further questions. Notice as well that the answer also uses the dative.

  • Answer: Gut, danke. Und Dir? / Gut, danke. Und Ihnen?

Was_fehlt_Ihnen_denn-2. What’s wrong you with you? What seems to be the problem?

  • Was fehlt dir denn? Was fehlt Ihnen denn?

This is a common question that a doctor will ask you when you go to see him or her about an ailment. Note that a romantic expression to use when you miss your loved one is “Du fehlst mir.” (literally, “You’re missing from me.”)

3. I’m cold / hot.

  • Mir ist kalt. Mir ist heiss. (literally, “It’s cold/hot to me.”)

Notice here that the subject “es” is actually missing from the sentence. Don’t worry about it. This structure is also very good for mentioning or expressing some symptoms of illness. Avoid at all costs the phrase “Ich bin heiss.” which would mean that you are either sexually turned on or that you believe that you are hot stuff or look sexy.

  • Mir ist schlecht. (I feel queasy / I feel sick to my stomach / I feel sick.)
  • Mir ist schwindelig. (I feel dizzy.)
  • Mir ist übel. (I feel queasy / I feel sick to my stomach / I feel sick.)
  • Mir ist kotzübel. (I feel like throwing up.) (colloquial)
  • Mir ist mau. (I feel queasy.) (colloquial)

4. I’m sore all over.

  • Mir tut alles weh. (literally, “Everything gives pain to me.”)

Weh tun is a very useful expression for expressing pain and what hurts you. Note here that the verb is conjugated to the number things that are causing the pain.

  • Mir tut die linke Hand weh. (My left hand hurts.)
  • Mir tun die Beine weh. (My legs hurt.)

A true story:

This happened to a former student of mine – a Canadian married to a Swiss woman living in Zurich. A very bad word appears in this story so I will not explicitly write the English word.
For the sake of the story let’s call our character Charlie. Charlie is a big Canadian lad with a beard and comes from the rugged forests of British Columbia. As fate would have it, his first job in Switzerland was as … You guessed it … a lumberjack (Holzfäller).
One day a big log rolled on to Charlie’s foot (Fuss) and it started to hurt, but he was tough and didn’t want to make a big deal of it. A few days later, his foot was still hurting him, so he decided to go to the hospital (Krankenhaus / Spital).
Upon arriving at reception the following happened:

Arzthelferin: Guten Tag! Was kann ich für Sie tun?
Charlie: Ich habe Schmerzen.
Arzthelferin: Was fehlt Ihnen genau denn?
Charlie: Meine Fotze ist schmerzen. (Schaut nach unten)
Arzthelferin: Entschuldigen Sie, was fehlt Ihnen?
Charlie: Meine Fotze ist schmerzen sehr viel.
(At this point, I’ll make you aware that Charlie means to say: “Mein Fuss tut mir weh.” He is mistaking Fotze for Fuss. he has no idea what he’s actually saying.)
Arzthelferin: Aber… aber Die sind doch Mann, oder?
Charlie: Ja, und meine Fotze ist schmerzen. (Schaut wieder nach unten)
Arzthelferin: Also kommen Sie bitte mit mir. Eine Krankenschwester kommt gleich. (Charlie geht ins Untersuchungszimmer).
Krankenschwester: Guten Tag. Was fehlt Ihnen denn?
Charlie: Meine Fotze ist schmerzen. (Deutet mit dem Kopf nach unten)
Krankenschwester: Ziehen Sie bitte Ihre Hose aus.
Charlie: (zieht seine Hose aus, findet das ein bisschen merkwürdig) Okay…
Krankenschwester: Und jetzt die Unterhose.
Charlie: (ein bisschen besorgt) Warum muss ich meine Unterhose ausziehen?
Krankenschwester: Ihre Vagina tut doch.
Charlie: Was?! Meine Vagina! Nein. Ich bin Mann.
Krankenschwester: (völlig durcheinander) Moment bitte, ich hole den Arzt. (Verlässt das Zimmer)
Arzt: (kommt ins Zimmer) Hi, I don’t think German is your native language. Please tell me what seems to be the problem.
Charlie: Oh, thank heavens. A tree fell on my foot and it really hurts. I think something might be broken.
Arzt: Aha, that’s not what you told the nurses though. You said Fotze, which is a vulgar term for the female genitalia, pretty much the equivalent of the c-word in English. Let’s take a look.
As Charlie left the examination room and walked past the Arzthelferin, she almost fell on the floor laughing.

Moral of the story:

Learn your basic human anatomy in German.

Grammatical lesson

You cannot say “ist schmerzen” for “is hurting” in German. Start the sentence with the thing that is hurting you and say that. Mein Fuss tut mir weh.


The following people are in pain from an activity that they’ve done, or it’s suggested from the activity that they are about to do. Feel free to use personal possessive articles.

zum Beispiel:

  • Markus muss zum Zahnarzt gehen.
    • Sein Zahn tut ihm weh. oder Die Zähne tun ihm weh.

1. Maria hat den ganzen Abend neue Stöckelschuhe getragen.


2. Henrys neue Krawatte ist zu eng angezogen.


3. AnneMarie ist gestern in einem Bergmarathon gelaufen.


4. Es ist Winter und Michael hat seine Handschuhe vergessen.


5. Hansel und Gretel haben zu viel Lebkuchen gegessen.


6. Arnold hat den ganzen Tag Gewichte gehoben.


7. Andreas und Paul haben den ganzen Tag Gitarre gespielt.


8. Lisa ist Skifahren gegangen. Es war sehr sonnig und sie hat sich nicht eingecremt.


9. Im Haus, wo Rainer und Wolfgang arbeiten, wird tagsüber umgebaut. Es ist sehr laut.


10. Du hast den ganzen Abend durch getanzt und getrunken.


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