Alter Dativ forms in the German Language

What is the Alter Dativ?

The Alter Dativ, literally translated as “old dative”, refers to a historical form of the dative case that was once more common in the German language. It was commonly used in Middle High German (MHG), a phase of the language that preceded Early New High German (ENHG), which later evolved into modern High German. MHG was spoken from about the 11th to the 16th century.

The Alter Dativ can be recognized by distinct endings for articles, pronouns, and nouns that differ from the modern dative case endings. This older form has largely disappeared from contemporary spoken German, but still persists in some dialects and written expressions, particularly in poetry, literature, or when aiming for a more formal or archaic style. The addition of the vowel -e to the main noun form is its distinguishing feature.

Historical Significance

The Old Dativ is a remnant of the historical development of the German language. During the Middle High German period, German underwent significant changes in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. The Alter Dativ, along with other linguistic features of the period, provides valuable insights into the development of the language.

Modern Usage

In modern German, the Old Dativ has largely been replaced by the standard dative forms. However, it occasionally appears in certain idiomatic expressions, proverbs, or poetry to evoke a sense of tradition, formality, or nostalgia. Some native speakers may knowingly or unknowingly use it in dialects that have preserved older grammatical features.

It can be recognized by the addition of the vowel -e to the main noun form.

Examples from Everyday Speech

  • im Sinne von: Diese Regeländerung betrifft “freiwillig” im Sinne von “ohne Zwang” und nicht im Sinne von “freiwillig erschienen”. (This rule change pertains to “voluntary” in the sense of “without coercion” and not in the sense of “voluntarily appeared.”)
  • dem Grunde nach: Die Idee des Projekts ist dem Grunde nach gut, aber wir müssen die Details noch ausarbeiten. (The idea behind the project is good in principle, but we still need to work out the details.)
  • im Zuge: Im Zuge der Ermittlungen wurden wichtige Beweise sichergestellt. (Important evidence was collected during the course of the investigation.)
  • am Fuße: Wir haben unser Zeltlager am Fuße des Berges aufgeschlagen, um morgen den Gipfel zu besteigen. (We’ve set up our camp at the base of the mountain to climb the summit tomorrow.)
  • im vollen Gange: Die Vorbereitungen für die Veranstaltung sind bereits im vollen Gange. (Preparations for the event are already in full swing.)
  • in dem fremden Lande: Sie fühlte sich verloren und einsam in dem fremden Lande. (She felt lost and lonely in the foreign land.)
  • im Hause: Ich bin nicht im Hause und beantworte Ihre E-Mail nach meinem Rückkehr. (I am out of office and will answer your e-mail after my return.)
  • auf diesem Wege: Auf diesem Wege informieren wir unsere Kunden über wichtige Neuerungen in unserem Service. (In this way, we inform our customers about important updates to our service.)
  • zu Buche: Die Kosten für die Renovierung des Hauses müssen bei der Budgetplanung zu Buche geschlagen werden. (The costs of renovating the house must be taken into account when planning the budget.)
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