German has an interesting dative of possession construction where the possessor goes in the dative but a form of "to be" is not needed. This means that the thing or person being possessed can be the subject of any verb (not just a form of esse). You can find a prominent example of this in the opening sentence of Cinderella.

Einem reichen Manne, dem wurde seine Frau krank, und als sie fühlte, daß ihr Ende herankam, rief sie ihr einziges Töchterlein zu sich ans Bett und sprach: ...

There was a rich man whose wife became sick, and when she felt that her end was near, she called her only daughter to her to her bed and said...

Here, the possessor is the husband and the person being possessed is the wife. (Grammatically speaking... no misogyny intended.) You can see how the subject, seine Frau "his wife", takes the predicate wurde krank "became sick". This is a neat feature of the German construction, that the subject can take a predicate other than just a form of "to be".

Does Latin have anything like this? Where the possessor goes in the dative but the thing or person being possessed takes a verb other than esse?

3 Answers 3


First of all, let me say that this construction is not exactly standard German, even at the time when the Brothers Grimm wrote down this story. It is more what one calls “dialektgefärbtes Hochdeutsch”. It is like “dem Karle sein Bruder” which you find in a lot of dialects for “Karls Bruder”, but which is not regarded as “correct” high German. In both cases, the extrapositioned noun in the dative case specifies the antecedent of the following possessive pronoun “sein(e)”.

In Latin you can say things like “ei est uxor”, “to him is a wife”, “he has a wife”. But you cannot say “ei uxor eius” to mean “ihm seine Frau”, “his wife”. So, Latin does have a dative of possession, but it cannot link this up with a possessive pronoun.


No possession except the ordinary "seine" is there in

Einem reichen Manne, dem wurde seine Frau krank

The Dativ implies not possession but domain.

When you say

Einem Kletterer, dem brach der Fels weg

that does not mean that the rock was in possession of the climber when it gave out but that it was giving out under the climber's use.

I think that this is actually rather similar to how Dativ is used originally in Latin and earlier Protoindogermanian languages: as a construct expressing a certain relation that ossified only in later language stages into a required part of using certain verbs.


Accusing the Grimm brothers of a lack of mastery of good German is certainly not showing a lack of self-esteam...

However, the accepted answer confuses "Einem reichen Manne, dem wurde seine Frau krank" which is an emphasized version of "Einem reichen Manne wurde seine Frau krank" with "Einem reichen Manne, dem seine Frau wurde krank" which would be an emphasized version of "Einem reichen Manne seine Frau wurde krank".

The latter variants would be the kind of dialect variant supplanting a possessive pronoun that the accepted answer is talking about.

"wurde" can take a Dativ object and an additional "es" like in "Es wurde einem reichen Mann der Hund krank" which is at the very least interesting because "Es" appears to be nominative while "der Hund" definitively is nominative.

This is also interesting because "Es wurde einem reichen Manne, dem seine Frau krank" does not work at all and indeed sounds like dialect after removing the spurious comma which has no grammatical place here.

So this demonstrative use of "dem" as a concise repetition of the more elaborate "Einem reichen Manne" only works when the rich man is the first part of the sentence.

So the Grimm brothers certainly produced valid if somewhat circumspect German, and while I can with confidence both state its correctness as well as the Dativ not being used in a possessive function here, the fine points of Grammar involved here are beyond my descriptive mastery of the language.

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