Advent Calendar 2 – The Curious Case of “wegen”

The curious case of wegen

Hello everyone,

day two of our Advent Calendar. And today will certainly a bit controversial, because we’ll talk about one of the most classic points of debate about German grammar: the question of

which case do we need with wegen

Or actually, it is more that I’ll give you my opinion about it :).

You see, every now and then, I get a comment from one of you guys asking me about an example where I used wegen with the Dative instead of the Genitive. And it makes perfect sense that you ask because most learning material and also a fair number of sources for native speakers claim the following:

Genitive is the proper case. 
Dative is wrong or at least colloquial and not to be written.

So why do I keep using the Dative? I mean, I should teach correct German, right?
Yes, absolutely. The thing is, pardon my French, je m’appelle Emanuel et je veux t’embr… oh wait, that’s actual French. What I meant to say was this in my opinion, this rule is crap.
And the reason is… reality.

  1. wegen dem Regen (Dative)
  2. wegen des Regens (Genitive)

I think you’ll have to spend quite some time looking until you find someone who actually uses version two in daily life.
Now you might like:
“But Emanuel, rules are important to keep a language consistent and just because lot of people do something a certain way, doesn’t make it right.”
Well, that is true for almost everything, but not for language. Language is maybe the most democratic thing on the planet. It IS what the majority does. Like.. the aliens that landed in Bielefeld a while back to if aliens landed in, say, Bielefeld and where to objectively study the German as it is spoken and written without checking rule books, it’s likely that they’d say something like
“What the hell is this crap. This verb at the end stuff is so confusing”
Seriously though, many sources do acknowledge that wegen is used with Dative in colloquial language.
But my REAL argument comes now:

  • Wegen dir bin ich zu spät.

I don’t think any of the wegen-with-genitive-acolytes, that so readily point out that “wegen dem Regen” is wrong, would even notice what happened in this sentence. Wegen is used with Dative. And NO ONE would EVER say that with Genitive.

  • Wegen deiner bin ich zu spät… NOPE

That sounds like from a theater play.
So either, we need a rule like this: Wegen is used with Genitive, except when we use it with a personal pronoun, then it comes with Dative.”
Or we just accept that either version is fine.Live and let live, so to speak.
Me personally, I’m for the latter, and I am pretty sure that you will encounter plenty of wegens with Dative if you come to Germany.

Now, I might have managed to convince you (not sure), but what about your teacher, who insists that it’s Genitive because ruuuules.
Well, no problem. There’s one Podcast called Belle Lettre and they guy makes a REALLY compelling case that not only is Dative not wrong, Dative is actually the PROPER case for wegen and Genitive is but a concoction of scholars who don’t know what they’re saying.
The guy has like level 100 in linguistics and level 200 in etymology (I’m like 10/15) so ALLY knows what he is talking about.
The video is 45 minutes long, the text can be read a bit more quickly. Here’s the link:

Belle Lettres –  “wegen” with Genitive or Dative 
(nerd level 10)

Now, the video is 45 minutes long (the text is a bit shorter) and it’s all in German, so you have to have a high nerd level to check this out.
But because it’s Advent I’ll summarize it for you real quick :). Here are his main points:

  • “real” prepositions ONLY come with Dative or Accusative, only adverbs used as prepositions come with Genitive
  • “wegen” is based on an old norther German meaning of “Weg” as “point”, we can see it in “always = at every point”
  • this meaning was unknown in the South of Germany
  • they used the phrasing as a translation for a Latin preposition without being aware that it was based on a noun, which makes it a “real” preposition
  • the words like “meinetwegen”, “seinetwegen” and so on, often taken to be a Genitive are actually a Dative because they’re a shortened form of “von meinen Wegen”. The “t” is filler. Luther, the bible guy, used to still write meinentwegen, quite clearly showing the Dative

These are really just the main points. I mean, the video is 45 minutes, as I said. And of course that doesn’t mean that what he says is the end all be all.
But obviously a strong case can be made for wegen actually, by nature being a Dative preposition, so I think the easiest is just to … not worry about it. I mean, unless you’re a journalist ;).

And that’s it for today. What about you? Have you heard Dative with wegen? Have you ever been corrected? Can you follow my line of argument?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Have a great day, and bis morgen :).

Oh, if you want to nerd out even more, here’s a scientific article about it… also in German:

Wegen – Dative or Genitive – A corpus based approach (pdf)

for members :)

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Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod.

Barratt
Barratt

Der Mann meiner Cousine (oder “meiner Cousine ihr Mann”…?) kommt aus Ost-Berlin und spricht tatsächlich so. Er hat seinem Vater meine Mutter vorgestellt, indem er sagte, “Barbara ist Barratt seine Mutter”. Meine Familie kommt aus den USA, aber als ich ein Kind war, wohnten wir drei Jahre lang in den Niederlanden, wo ich Holländisch sprach. Deswegen ist mir der Satzbau total sinnvoll. Auf Holländisch gibt’s drei Möglichkeiten: (1) “de moeder van Barratt” (die Mutter von Barratt), (2) “Barratts moeder” (Barratts Mutti) oder (3) “Barratt z’n moeder” (i.e., dem Barratt seine Mutter). Vielleicht ist die Tatsache, dass dieser Satzbau auch auf Holländisch existiert, ein weiterer Beweis dafür, das er extrem alt ist. (Ich glaube, Holländisch und Deutsch sind schon seit mehr als tausend Jahren geschieden.) Andererseits arbeite ich an einer Universität, wo jeder Kollege wegen + Dativ als einfach falsch betrachtet. Deshalb sage ich in der Regel, “wegen des Regens”.

Barratt
Barratt

dass er extrem alt ist #proofreading

nichtverstehen
nichtverstehen

Das Video (und die ganze Website) ist faszinierend.

Aber ich konnte den letzten Teil (bei 44:00; bezüglich “bezüglich”, “einschliesslich” usw.) nicht richtig verstehen. Warum soll man “bezüglich” nicht in guter Sprache verwenden?

John Loftus
John Loftus

Als ich im Gespräch mit einigen Deutschen den Ausdruck ‚wegen des Regens‘ benutzt habe, hat einer von diesen mich dafür gelobt, als ob er sagen würde, dass mein Deutsch eigentlich sehr korrekt war, obwohl normale Leute heutzutage auf solche Art und Weise nicht mehr sprechen.

John Loftus
John Loftus

The be-all and end-all

‚ And of course that doesn’t mean that what he says is the end all be all.‘

Emanuel, wenn Sie mir eine kleine Korrektion zu Ihrem fast makellosen Englisch gestatten würden, darf ich Ihnen hinweisen dass der richtige Ausdruck nicht ‘the end all be all’ sondern ‘the be-all and end-all‘ ist?

Sisa
Sisa

Emanuel, vielleicht off topic, aber mich interessiert, warum einige Lehrer nicht “Nominativ-Genitiv-Dativ-Akkusativ” sondern “Nominativ-Akkusativ-Dativ-Genitiv” verwenden? Ich sehe die Logik nicht und verwirrt mich das beim lernen. Kannst du mich erleuchten, wenn wir schon den ersten Advent haben? :) Danke!

Ebrahim
Ebrahim

To the team and people who have paid in advance for other users, THANK U SO MUCH. With Ur support I am able to learn German from this amazing website. ONCE AGAIN THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Franzi
Franzi

Es freut mich sehr,den diesjährigen Adventskalender beginnen zu können. Danke dir für deine Bemühungen!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Mmm very good. As a tour guide , years ago, an elderly lady on the coach said to me .. Bleiben Sie nicht wegen meines…. she wasn’t going to get off, she was too tired. Never heard meinetwegen etc tho

Anonymous
Anonymous

In England war’s immer Nom Akk Gen Dat. Das war aus dem Latein.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Emanuel…. tell us more about other genitives like trotz and während if possible. Do they behave the same as wegen?

Newline
Newline

Wegen des Wetters bin ich den ganzen Tag zu Hause geblieben.
wegen Ihres Kurs über das Wort wegen bedanke mich bei Ihnen.

berlingrabers
berlingrabers

This is one of those areas that’s just weird for a foreigner. I definitely hear plenty of “wegen dem” (also “während dem”) in normal conversation, casual everyday settings, etc., and I tend to try to just conform to that in those settings.

But I think there’s always a sort of subtle mental pressure as a foreigner that you put on yourself, not exactly to conform to the rules as you learned them in school, but to show that you learned them and have a desire to speak well. It seems to me that an awful lot of Germans will use the dative where they “should” use genitive without a second thought, but they appreciate “correct” use of the genitive because it sounds elegant. It might be totally out of place in normal conversation, but it’s sort of like the heirloom crystal dishes in the china cabinet – you don’t want to get them out to eat your microwave burrito off of, but you wouldn’t want to throw them away either, even if there are only ever one or two occasions in your life when they’re actually put to use.

For me, there’s the added wrinkle of speaking in different settings/registers. I obviously want to speak “normal” German with most of my friends and acquaintances, especially students and other people younger than I am. But I also preach, which (even in a pretty casual Freikirche setting) is public speaking to a mixed audience, so there I want to sound normal but also have good style that doesn’t put off older or more highly educated people. Then I’m also an instructor in a seminary, which is not a university, so it’s less formal in atmosphere, but is still an academic setting where I want to be able to put things precisely and fit style-wise into what students are reading and hearing. (I’ve also got colleagues who tend to speak more formally/elegantly, so there’s some degree of peer pressure there too.)

I doubt most people would tend to hold non-native speakers to that high a standard (although I have run into one or two who did), but it’s kind of grating to think of people noticing a particular usage and thinking, “well, he just doesn’t know any better.” Oh well.

Hanka
Hanka

Funnily enough, in Czech it is the other way round!

It is correct to use the equivalent of wegen (“kvůli”) with Dative, although people use it with Genitive, too. I’m actually not so sure how big a mistake it is, I haven’t found any articles dealing with it, but it sounds super natural to me.
The reason Genitive works in Czech is that the origin of the word literally means “to the will (of)” – naturally followed by Genitive.
The reason the Dative works is because in the structure “I do something to somebody’s will”, the ‘somebody’ would be in Dative.

And yes, I realize this is completely useless information :P

Sarah
Sarah

The entry for ‘wegens’ in my small-ish Collins Dictionary says ‘because of…’ +Gen or Dat (col). Enough said . Thank you for your lovely helpful notes.

jiggers19
jiggers19

Von wegen! No idea if this has any dative connection due to the dative ‘von’ but I like the phrasing either way (it doesn’t represent my personal response to your claim about how wegen should be used ;)

Tim Miller
Tim Miller

Could anyone please explain to me the different meanings of “erwürgen”. When I listen to German sacred choral works from the 18th and 19th centuries, erwürgen is always translated as “slain” (or “to slay”). When I look up this word in modern German dictionaries, it’s translated as “to strangle”. Is the first meaning from the 16th Century Luther Bible? Do you know how the meaning evolved over the centuries?

Also, I have a question about “grüssen”. In Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, he uses the phrase “Gegrüsset seist du, Rabbi”. But several times in Wagner’s operas he uses the phrase “Sei dir (mir) gegrüsst!”. Is this just poetic and archaic, because I never see these constructions in modern German.

Abgaßßstufe Es-Zett!
Abgaßßstufe Es-Zett!

Im 21 Jahrhundert wird oft gesagt-
“Atemlos” -durch- die Nacht”!
So sind die Leute heute!