The Impersonal Construction With the Dative Indicating a State of Being


Whew mercy, that’s a handful isn’t it? Just the title alone gives me the shivers. What am I talking about?

I’m talking about phrases like Mi-e foame (I am hungry) versus Eu sunt mai român decât tine (I am more Romanian than you).

Please understand that what follows isn’t comprehensive, that is to say, it doesn’t cover all situations of similar usage (the dative case involving pronouns) nor is it restrictive. That is to say, there are (often) other ways to say the same thing.

In English, when one is describing a state of being (or how they are feeling), the construction is very simple: I am hungry, I am tired, I am afraid, etcetera.

Spanish and Italian (and other Latin-based languages) use a different but similarly simple form: Yo tengo hambre (I have hunger), Io ho fame (I have hunger), Yo tengo sueno (I have tiredness), etcetera.

Romanian uses a unique style which goes like this (in the present tense): dative pronoun, the verb “to be” in the singular third person, then the noun form of the adjective.

This is rather simple to “conjugate” because the only thing that changes is the pronoun.

Examples:

mi-e foame – I am hungry
ți-e foame – you are hungry
mi-e sete – I am thirsty
ți-e sete – you are thirsty
mi-e frica – I am afraid

The personal pronouns used for other forms are likewise standard. I haven’t written about them yet but here they are:

îi e foame – she/he/it is hungry
ne e foame – we are hungry
vă e foame – you (plural/formal) are hungry
le e foame – they are hungry

I should warn you that some of the above forms are quite rare because it strikes a Romanian as very presumptious indeed to describe a state of being for someone else.

Saying “we are hungry” is a little peculiar because how can you know what someone else is feeling? Technically though you could say “Ne e foame?” to mean “Are we hungry (or what)?” For this reason, even the tu form is usually phrased as a question – ți-e foame? (are you hungry?) and rarely as a statement.

You’ll notice that “mi-e foame” literally translates as “(to me) it is hunger” as the dative case means the pronoun is receiving the action.

In the case of “Eu sunt mai român decât tine” the pronoun (eu) is the one doing the action. “Mi-e foame” is constructed so that I (mi) am receiving the action.

What about the simple past tense?

mi-a fost foame – I was hungry
ți-a fost foame – You were hungry
ne a fost foame – We were hungry

This is pronoun + past tense of third person singular “to have” (the a) plus the participle of “to be” (fost) + hunger.

In other words it’s “To me + (what I) had + (it) was + hunger”.

Future tense (technically the conditional tense):

mi-ar fi foame – I will be hungry
ți-ar fi foame – You will be hungry
ni-ar fi foame – We will be hungry

In other words, again it’s “to me/you/us + (what I/you/we) will have + (it) will be + hunger”

The present tense is the most common so this is the only one you need to worry about mastering.

A few more examples:

Mi-e somn – I am tired
Mi-e frig – I am cold
Mi-e cald – I am hot
Mi-e frica – I am afraid
Mi-e bine – I am well/feeling good
Mi-e rău – I am sick/unwell/feeling bad
Mi-e ruşine – I am embarrassed/ashamed
Mi-e dor de tine – I miss you

The last one – dor – is a little tricky for English speakers because it’s used as a noun instead of as a verb. In other words, a person doesn’t miss someone (or something) but rather experiences “the missing” of them.

Mi-e dor de tine literally means “to me (it) is the missing of you”.
Mi-a fost dor de tine literally means “to me (what I) had, (it) was the missing of you”.
Mi-ar fi dor de tine – literally means “to me (what I) will have, (it) will be the missing of you”.

Again, these constructions are not restrictive. “Mi-e somn” means “I am tired” but a Romanian could equally say “Eu sunt epuizat” to mean roughly the same thing (I’m exhausted).

Likewise “mi-e foame” means “I am hungry” but one could also say “Eu sunt infometat” to mean roughly the same thing (literally “I am hungered/starving”).

The forms above are used (generally) any time you are describing your own state of being, as in how you are feeling. Sometimes though the standard way to express a state of being is not this way:

Eu sunt fericit – I am happy (not mi-e fericire)
Eu sunt mandru – I am proud (not mi-e mandrie)
Eu sunt ingrijorat – I am worried (not mi-e ingrijire)

In some cases, it can go either way to add nuances. Eu sunt bine (I am doing well) is probably used more often than Mi-e bine (I am feeling well) but both forms have a similar meaning.

How do you know which one to use? Only through practice, I’m afraid.

AND NOW YOU KNOW!

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Don says:

    If people rise up, it has to be bauecse their discontent has reached such a fever pitch, they’re not prepared to tolerate either the poverty or the oppression any more, or both. If the revolution is successful in that it overthrows the rulers, be they democratically elected or dictators, their replacement, generally led by the leaders of the revolution, would be expected to provide a reduction in poverty and much greater freedom for the people.The problem seems to be in many cases that the difficulties facing the new leaders, with regard to the former, are so formidable it takes a lot longer to bring in even small changes, so discontentment is still present, but, if with regard to the latter, a lot more freedoms are given to the people, it could hold off them expressing their discontentment at not achieving a higher standard of living quickly, but, I would suggest, only for so long. In South Africa for example, there still seems to be extreme poverty but some effort has been made to alleviate it but decades later, many of its people are still chronically poor, but they have much great freedom now so haven’t rebelled again.It may take more than one revolution to establish a system of government that satisfies a people, but, eventually, one is arrived at and survives for a long time, for example the UK’s system of government. It has flaws, we still have poverty, but the actual desire for a full blown revolution isn’t there anymore. Pockets of discontentment may flare up every now and then but, collectively, there isn’t the will at all for a violent uprising.

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  2. Ayceman says:

    You got it wrong on the other forms:

    Îi e foame (no cratimă)
    Ne e foame
    Vă e foame

    and the constructions with “ar” are conditionals:

    Mi-ar fi foame dacă n-aș fi mâncat cât timp erai plecat.
    Ți-ar fi foame…
    I-ar fi foame…
    Ne-ar fi foame…
    V-ar fi foame…
    Le-ar fi foame…

    For a similar future tense I can only think of:

    Ți s-or face foame mai încolo. (You’ll (probably) get hungry later on.)

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    1. Sam R. says:

      Thanks :D Fixed!

      I know the mi-ar is conditional but it’s about the only way you’d express a future situation… as in “I would be hungry” but I’ve never heard a Romanian say (in effect) “For sure I will be hungry tomorrow, no doubt about it”.

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      1. Ayceman says:

        Ok, but it has to be mentioned that it’s a conditional, and I see that it is now.

        You forgot to fix the 1st person plural for the text below that: Ne-ar fi and Ne-a fost (and Ne e for in the explanatory text for why it’s unusual to use a collective subject) :D

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  3. Mihaela says:

    As I said in the other comment, in English, the equivalent grammatical structure of “Mi-e foame” is “*To me there is hunger” (= Indirect Object + expletive + Verb + Subject Noun). If you translate like this:
    “(to me) it is hunger” = (Indirect Object) + Subject Pronoun (impersonal) + Nominal Predicate (Verb/link + Noun)
    then you miss the logic of the Romanian sentence:
    “mi-e foame” = Indirect Object + Verb + Subject Noun
    The whole idea is that there is hunger (Subject) and I suffer from that (I am the Object of hunger).
    Here comes the big difference between “Mi-e foame” and “Eu sunt fericit”:
    Mi-e foame = Object Pronoun + Verb + Subject Noun
    Eu sunt fericit = Subject Pronoun + Nominal Predicate (Verb/link + Adjective)
    If you want to understand when to use each structure, let me know. The explanation is not simple but… there is a logic, at least from the point of view of the Romanian language :)
    Otherwise, keep up the good work! :)

    p.s. Jen is right.

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  4. Andrei says:

    AFAIK, German does this to a certain extent as well, cf. “Mir es kalt” = I am cold, lit. “I.DAT is.1P col”, and so on. What would be definitely interesting to talk about is the so-called “Dativul etic” wherein one shows the emotional connection with another person, exempli gratia “Pe unde mi-ai fost?” lit. “on where I.DAT have.2P be.PAST”; or the very confusing “ti l-am luat” which can either mean “I took it from you” or “I took it for you”, depending on how you parse the phrase.

    But let’s not get too technical…

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  5. Anca says:

    ți-ar fi foame – You will be hungry

    This reminds me of the alternate form that I have heard my mother often use any time I ate too little: o să-ți fie foame

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    1. Jen says:

      Actually (sorry Sam!), “mi-ar fi foame” is a conditional (“I might be hungry”), and what Anca said isn’t an alternate version, it’s the future (“popular future” as it’s called, the more informal way of saying it). The “official” future would be “imi va fi foame”.

      (On the other hand, this might be a regional way of expressing the future… I’ve never heard it in Bucharest, but I’m clueless about the north of the country.)

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