“mir” or “für mich” when to use the Dative or an Accusative Prepositional Phrase

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“mir” or “für mich” when to use the Dative or an Accusative Prepositional Phrase

The other day I was giving one of my German lessons on the run… literally running with my students. The advantages of combining language training and physical exercise are huge. Students combine things (multi-task if you will) and don’t have to worry bout sacrificing one form of self-improvement for an other. Secondly, the increased blood-flow to the brain, means they think faster and thus learn better. Also, because I can’t write and run and they can’t read and run, there are no crutches to lean on while learning. Simply put, learning is better on the run if you want to learn to speak.

Setting the scene on a run

So I was running, and my student said the following:

Am Sonntag hat mein Mann mich ein Omelett gekocht.

Whistles and sirens started to go off. No, actually in Switzerland this is a common mistake because in dialect, mich and mir often sound the same. However, I corrected her and said, the correct form would be:

Am Sonntag hat mein Mann mir ein Omelett gekocht.

I then added that if she didn’t want to use the dative (mir) she could use the prepositional clause “für mich”:

Am Sonntag hat mein Mann ein Omelett für mich gekocht.

Question in an e-mail: “mir” or “für mich

Alles klar? Alles klar! or so I thought. When I got home in the evening I found an e-mail in my inbox asking pretty much the same question. Here is the e-mail:


I really like your blog. It is really funny to read and, by the way, it helped me pretty much to improve my German grammar. I would like to ask you to write an entry regarding the use of “für mich” and “mir”. I mean, I had a lot of troubles with the following:

– Das Buch ist sehr kompliziert für mich

– Das Buch ist mir kompliziert.

I’ve heard both of them and I don’t know which one is right (or maybe both!).

Thank you in advance! Really nice blog!

– Ale

So to get to Ale’s question and expand on the first. Actually while the first sentence is grammatically correct, it’s not really idiomatically correct. The second is then wrong, though many would have a hard time telling you why, in fact, until I really looked into this question, I was stumped too.

Heidegger Sein und ZeitHere are the corrections and explanations of what you could write / say:

  • 1. Ich finde das Buch kompliziert.
  • Use a simple sentence structure for expressing simple ideas. If you find the book is complicated, say that.

2. Das Buch ist schwer für mich

  • Simply idiomatic here: etwas ist schwer für + AKK Präposition

3. Das Buch ist mir zu kompliziert.

  • This is an example of, and hold on now as this is advanced German grammar, Dativus iudicantis. This means that it is a free dative case that defines the person who is making a judgement. Notice as well that the verb will be a form of sein/werden. Here is another example:

 Seine Unverschämtheiten wurden mir einfach zu viel.

The easy way to know if you can do this is to ask:

1. is a judgement call being made — are you giving something a value? If yes, you’re half way there.

2. Does the word “zu” come before the adjective you are giving? If yes again, go for it and use that dative pronoun.

Here are two other examples:

Der Schwamm war ihm zu nass. (The sponge was too wet for him. (That’s why he didn’t want to use it or rang it out before he did use it.))

Der Moderator ist mir zu nervös. (I found the moderator to be too nervous. (That’s why I didn’t like the interview.))

So back to the original question

Going back to the original question of mir or für mich, the answer lies again in a rather advanced German grammatical explanation. The answer is that if we’re dealing with Dativus commodi / Dativus incommodi you can use one or the other.

What are the Dativus commodi / Dativus incommodi?

They are free datives, which stands for the person who benefits or is disadvantaged by a specific action.

Let’s go back to the Omelett sentence:

Am Sonntag hat mein Mann mir ein Omelett gekocht.

mir (dative form of ich) is clearly benefitting from the action. I will get to eat the omelet and better yet, I don’t even have to cook it.

Here is a test:

Question: Can I drop the mir out of the sentence and still have it make sense?

Am Sonntag hat mein Mann ein Omelett gekocht. 

Answer: Yes, sounds good.

Second test:

Question: Can I say it was done for me (für mich) or for anyone else?

Am Sonntag hat mein Mann ein Omelett für mich gekocht.

Answer: Yes, that sounds good too.

This is a case of a Dativus commodi. Feel free to use on or the other.

Here is another example:

Martin trägt den Koffer. (Martin carries the suitcase.)

Martin trägt den Koffer für seine Freundin. (Martin carries the suitcase for his girl friend.)

Martin trägt ihr den Koffer. (Martin carries the suitcase for her.)


So I hope that this post clears up some questions about the dative case. I want to come back to the point quick that I’ve made in previous posts and that point is that the dative exists in English too. We don’t change our pronouns as much, but it does exist. Because we don’t change our pronouns and articles though, we tend to use more prepositions. In general you can think that when you translate the dative from German to English you will need a preposition – often “to” or “for”.

Thank you to Ale for the question, I hope the answer helped.

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  1. German-is-easyGerman-is-easy04-22-2013

    Really great topic!!! I have been asked that question too but I never knew what to say :). Having read this, I thought about the difference for a while. To me, the accusative version “für mich” makes “me” (or any recipient for that matter) less integrated in the sentence. It is one additional information phrased as a prepositional phrase… we could add many more of that.

    – Mein Mann hat mit viel Liebe vor der Arbeit in der Küche ohne Rezept spontan ein Omlett für mich gekocht.

    The fact that “für mich” comes after Omlett is an indication that “für mich” is somewhat more important than the other prepositional phrases. However the structure (preposition + noun) is nothing special.
    It is like… you tell about the action of omlett making and then you think “Oh, and he did it for me.”
    This is different for the dative. “Mir” is the only dative or thing without preposition, and that makes it feel more integrated into the backbone of the phrase. We learn early on that the husband did something for me, and now we’ll find out what.
    In the other version we learn, that he did something somehow somewhere and then that he did it for me.

    In this sentence:

    – Das Buch ist mir zu schwer. vs Das Buch ist zu schwer für mich.

    To me the first version is a bit more of a personal subjective statement… kind of how I feel. The second one sounds a little more like an objective measurement of book-difficulty. But those are nuances and they might be different for others 🙂

    • Completely agree. Thank you for that insightful comment. I will use that for sure next time I’m asked about it. I love the poetics of German.

  2. AleAle04-25-2013

    Hey! Thank you so much for the answer! Es war mir zu klar und einfach!!!

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