Which case to use after “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)

 

Some examples:

  • “Warum hast du so schlechte Laune?”
    Wegen dir.”  (Dativ)
  • “Why are you in such a bad mood?”
    Because of you!”
    (NO ONE would ever used Genitive here. Not even you German teacher!)
  • “Warum hast du so schlecht Laune?”
    Wegen deiner/deinen Haaren.”
  • Why are you in such a bad mood?”
    Because of your hair.”
    (both versions sound good)

 

 

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Tim Miller
Tim Miller
3 years ago

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!
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Miller

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

jiggers19
jiggers19
3 years ago

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 ;)

Sarah
Sarah
3 years ago

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.

Hanka
Hanka
3 years ago

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

berlingrabers
berlingrabers
3 years ago

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.

Newline
Newline
3 years ago

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

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 years ago

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

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 years ago

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

Anonymous
Anonymous
3 years ago

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

Franzi
Franzi
3 years ago

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

Ebrahim
Ebrahim
3 years ago

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.

Sisa
Sisa
3 years ago

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!

John Loftus
John Loftus
3 years ago

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?

Californiagogirl
Californiagogirl
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

The phrase is definitely “the be-all and end-all.” Since the days of Shakespeare (Macbeth), and still in common use today. :) Thank you for the interesting article!

John Loftus
John Loftus
3 years ago

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.

nichtverstehen
nichtverstehen
3 years ago

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?

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
3 years ago

Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

His name kind of even guarantees it! Just reading the excerpt from his work in the link you posted above was enough to make me dislike him.

I’m totally on your team here – and if I hadn’t been, I would be now after listening to and reading the BL-link – very convincing stuff – although – even as a beginner I can almost “feel” how awkward the genitive is after wegen. This is something I’ve followed on your blogg, among others, for just over a year now and somehow genitive after “wegen” just “doesn’t flow” as well as the dative does. And Deutsch does have a flow, as you yourself pointed out in a past participle article.

Listening to the link as a podcast, at 50% speed, makes it MUCH easier to verstehe! FYI.

Barratt
Barratt
3 years ago
Reply to  Amerikanerin

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
3 years ago
Reply to  Barratt

dass er extrem alt ist #proofreading

Barratt
Barratt
3 years ago
Reply to  Emanuel

Ja, die sagen bestimmt “wegen dir” (oder “deinetwegen”). #BustedForSure! Ich kenne keine andere Möglichkeit. “Wegen deiner” habe ich noch nie gehört.

Ich bin kein Niederländer, aber ich sage meistens “Holländisch” (wenn ich Deutsch spreche), weil die meisten Deutschen das sagen. (Auf Holländisch/Niederländisch hießt die Sprache natürlich “Nederlands”.) Der Unterschied zwischen “Holland” und “Nederland” ist kompliziert. “Holland” bezieht sich teilweise auf ein Teil des Landes (Noord- und Zuid-Holland), aber der Begriff wird auch von Niederländer benutzt, um das ganze Land zu bezeichnen. Schließlich schreit kein einziger Orange-Tragender beim Fußballgucken “Nederland!”, sondern alle schreien “Holland! Holland!”

Barratt
Barratt
3 years ago
Reply to  Barratt

heißt die Sprache (whoops)

Barratt
Barratt
3 years ago
Reply to  Barratt

Ach. Und “von Niederländern“. #proofreading2.0 #DeutscheGrammatik #fuckme