Advent Calendar 8 – “The Purge – Election Dative”


Mir of Für mich – what’s the difference

Oh boy, that title :).
So… what’s behind door number 8? It is …

a bug fix

I want to tell you about one very common mistake that lots of learners are making and see where it comes from and how to avoid it.
Which mistake?

Overusing Dative, in particular mir.

You all know phrasings like these:

  • Das schmeckt mir.
    I like that (in context of the taste of food).
  • Das gefällt mir.
    I like that.
  • Mir ist kalt.
    I’m cold.

In the beginning, this is just a really weird way to say things, but as you get a bit more comfy with German and cases, you get an inkling that mir often translates to  for me or to me.
And you’re like “Hah, gotcha Dative case. I sooo figured you out.” and you start using it.

  1. German grammar is hard for me.
  2. This restaurant is expensive for me.
  3. That sounds weird to me.
  1. Deutsche Grammatik ist mir schwer.
  2. Dieses Restaurant ist mir teuer.
  3. Das klingt mir komisch.

But German’s just like “That was pretty good… NOOOOT. evil laugh“. The proper phrasing is like it is in English.

  1. Deutsche Grammatik ist schwer für mich.
  2. Dieses Restaurant ist teuer für mich.
  3. Das klingt komisch für mich.

Using the Dative (mir, dir, ihm… ) is not super wrong; but it’s not idiomatic and sounds strange. It’s a mistake many intermediate learners are making, and I’ve seen it in quite a few of your comments, too.
So… for these general statements of opinion,  you’d use für mich, not mir. Oh and für dich instead of dir and für ihn instead of ihm and so on.

Cool. This would be a great moment to end the post. I mean… we’re done, right? The mistake is fixed.
Well… German has an extra twist in store for us. A really, really stupid, random, nonsensical twist. Get this:

  • Das ist mir teuer.

We’ve learned that this is wrong, or at least unidiomatic. So it would make all the sense in the universe if the following were also unidiomatic.

  • Das ist mir zu teuer.

Well… it’s FINE. This is proper idiomatic German that people speak everyday.  Let’s take a different example.

  • Die Musik ist mir laut.
  • Die Musik ist mir zu laut.

The first one is wrong-ish, the second one is fine. Makes no sense, I have no idea why, but that’s how it is.
Oh… and of course there are a few exceptions like “Das ist mir recht. (That’s fine with me. /That suits me well. )”  where ONLY mir is idiomatic. But you’ll pick those up along the way.
And after all… this really isn’t a big mistake or anything. So don’t worry too much about it.
It’s more something for the perfectionists among you :).

Cool… so this was our little bug fix for today. How is it? Have you made this mistake before? Or have you heard native speakers say it (I think there are some regional dialects that do it)? Or do you have a crazy crackpot theory as to why this is the way it is? Let me know in the comments and win today’s little giveaway (I’ll pick winners “between the years” so after Christmas is over)
Have a great day and bis morgen.

Oh… in case you want to practice, here’s a little exercise.
Just translate the following sentences. If you want you can type your solution in the comments and I will correct it.

  1. That sounds wrong to me.
  2. The movie was too long for her.
  3. To me, the wine smells like tobacco.
  4. To me, the wine smells too much like tobacco.
  5. That seems odd to me.


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5 years ago

Sorry, I didn’t think the first one had been submitted correctly so I rewrote it later! The second one is probably clearer though in both I meant ‘voraussetzen’ not ‘heraussetzen’.

5 years ago

Viele danke! Das war sehr hilfreich, wie immer.

Vielleicht liegt der Unterschied zwischen “für mich teuer” und “mir zu teuer”—wie in allen solchen Fällen—darin, dass etwas gewissermassen objektiv “teuer” sein kann, die Konzept von “zu teuer” aber setzt jemanden heraus, von dem her eine Dinge ist zu teuer. Mit “für mich teuer” biete ich meine Meinung an über einen Sachverhalt, die ohne mich noch bestehen würde, mit “mir zu teuer” aber bin ich selbst von der Idee untrennbar.

Passt das?

5 years ago

Ich bin ein bisschen spaet zur Feier, aber:

1. Das klingt falsch zu mir
2. Der Film war ihr zu land.
3. Fuer mich, riecht der Wein wie Tabak.
4. Der Wein riecht mir zu aehnlich wie Tabak.
5. Das scheint mir komisch.

5 years ago

I thought I completely understood when to use dative and now after seeing the wrong way of doing it I feel confused lol.

These are my first thoughts on those sentences:

Das klingt falsch zu mir.
Der Film war zu lang für sie.
Für mich riecht der wein wie Tabak. (Should nach be used here. Is wie acceptable?)
Für mich riecht der wein zu viel wie Tabak.
Das scheint komisch zu mir.

5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Yeah “sehr” is pretty much always translated as “very” in dictionaries, so the idea of “too very” is confusing to a native English speaker. I think it would be awesome to have an explanation of when it is “zu sehr” vs “zu viel”.

5 years ago

Then according to you in the south (Schwaben and Bayern) people use “mir” totally wrong. Im used to hear things like youve stated as wrong the whole time from natives. They even say stuf like: “hast du mir Feuer”

5 years ago

Oh, ich hatte keine Ahnung, dass “das klingt mir komisch”, usw. nicht idiomatisch sind! Danke für dieses Post.

1. Das klingt falsch für mich.
2. Der Film war ihr zu lange.
3. Für mich riecht der Wein nach Tabak.
4. Mir riecht der Wein zu sehr nach Tabak.
5. Das scheint seltsam für mich. <– wow, ist "das scheint mir seltsam" tatsächlich falsch? Ich hatte immer gedacht, man könnte sowas sagen.

5 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ah, danke, ich weiß nie welches ich verwenden sollte :)

5 years ago

I was thinking of studying in Berlin. And a bekannte from Hannover said noooo, Berliners don’t speak Hochdeutsch like people do in the Hannover area. And his example was them using dir when they should use dich.

5 years ago

Das klingt falsch für mich
That sounds wrong to me.

Der Film war zu lange für Ihr.
The film was too long for her.

Das Wein raucht wie Tabak für mich
For me, the wine smells like tabacco.

Das Wein raucht mir zu viel wie Tabacco.
For me, the wine smells too much like tobacco.

Das scheint mir zu komisch.
That seems odd to me.

Derek Hardman
Derek Hardman
5 years ago

1. Für mich klingt das falsch
2. Der film war ihr zu lang.
3. Für mich riecht der Wein nach Tabak.
4. Der riecht mir zu viel nach Tabak.
5. Das kommt mir kommisch vor.

5 years ago
Reply to  Derek Hardman

Almost perfect. In 4 you made the same mistake as Aoin D. It should be “zu sehr” instead of “zu viel”. “zu stark” also works.
Great work using “vorkommen” for 5!!

5 years ago

1. Das klingt für mich falsch.
2. Der Film war ihr zu lang.
3. Der Wein riecht für mich wie Tabak.
4. Der Wein riecht mir zu viel wie Tabak.
5. Das scheint seltsam für mich.

5 years ago
Reply to  aoind

Pretty good!! In 4 it would be “zu sehr” not “zu viel” and number 5 sounds a bit high brow (using “seltsam” instead of “komisch”) but other than that it’s correct.