Have you been learning German for quite some time? Then, you must have surely come across the German cases. Have you noticed that the articles are written in slightly different ways in different scenarios? There are number of possibilities to translate English “the” and “a” in German. Like der, den or dem and ein, eine or einen and so on.
Not just articles, but even pronouns change and the adjectives take a variety of endings. These complications are due to four German cases. The German case system may seem difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to form sentences with ease.
It is important that you always get your German cases right, if you wish to communicate fluently. Native speakers won’t like it, if your pronouns or articles don’t match their cases.
In this lesson, you’ll learn about the 4 German cases and when to use them. So let’s jump into the details and try to understand this case system.
What are German cases
In German language, each noun, pronoun, article and adjective has four cases.
Let’s consider a pronoun. It has four variations, depending on how it is used in a sentence. That means, depending on whether it is the subject or direct object or indirect object or possessive, the pronoun changes.
For example, er and ihn. These are the two variations of the same pronoun.
Unlike English, every German noun has a gender. The three articles der, die and das indicate the three genders- masculine, feminine and neuter respectively.
A noun’s article too changes depending on if it is the subject or object. For example, den and dem are the two variations of the same noun.
The 4 German cases are nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. The nominative case is used for subjects, accusative case for direct objects, dative case for indirect objects and the genitive case is used to signify possession.
When to use which German case
The three main factors that determine which case to use are:-
- The function of the noun.
- Prepositions used in the sentence.
- Verbs used in the sentence.
Depending on which preposition is used, the following noun or pronoun takes either the accusative case or the dative case or the genitive case. You can learn more about this in our Prepositions lesson.
There are also certain verbs which always take a specific case. This factor is covered in this lesson- Dative Verbs and Accusative Verbs. Now, let’s study the four German cases in detail.
German Nominative Case
The nominative case describes the subject of the sentence. Subject is the person or thing performing the action. It is known as der Nominativ in German.
This case answers the question “who?” or “wer?” and “what?” or “was?”.
Let’s have a look at the definite and indefinite articles in nominative case:-
- Der Spieler schießt ein Tor. (The player scores a goal.)
- Die Frau lebt mit ihrer Familie. (The woman lives with her family.)
- Das Kind spielt im Park. (The child is playing in the park.)
The verbs sein, werden and bleiben are usually followed by a noun in the nominative case, even though it is not the subject of the sentence.
For instance, Er ist der beste Lehrer. (He is the best teacher.)
German Accusative Case
The accusative case describes the direct object of a sentence. Direct object is a person or thing that is acted upon. It is known as der Akkusativ in German.
This case answers the question “whom?” or “wen?” and “what?” or “was?”. The question is asked to the subject.
Let’s have a look at the definite and indefinite articles in accusative case:-
Only the masculine articles change in the accusative case.
- Peter hat einen Hund. (Peter has a dog.) Here, “Peter” is the subject of the sentence. What does Peter have? – Einen Hund.
- Ich liebe meine Ehefrau. (I love my wife.) Here, “I” is the subject of the sentence. Whom do I love? – Meine Ehefrau.
There are certain verbs and prepositions that always take the accusative case. For example, the verb “haben” always requires a direct object. Most of the verbs need accusative case.
Also, the nouns or pronouns following the prepositions – bis, durch, für, ohne, gegen, um and entlang are in the accusative case.
THE PREPOSITION ALWAYS DETERMINES THE CASE.
German Dative Case
The dative case describes the indirect object of a sentence. Indirect object is a noun that receives something (usually the direct accusative object). It is known as der Dativ in German.
This case answers the question “wem?” (to whom?) or “was?” (what?).
Let’s have a look at the definite and indefinite articles in dative case:-
|Plural||den + n||–|
- Ich schenke dir ein Buch. (I gift you a book.) Here, “book” is the direct object and “you” receive the book. Who do I gift the book to? – Dir.
- Er gibt einer Freundin die Kamera. (He gives a friend the camera.) Here, “camera” is the direct object and “friend” receives the camera. Who does he give the camera to? – Einer Freundin.
You must have noticed “+ n” in the table above. This means that an extra “-n” is added at the end of the plural forms. It is not added to the plural forms ending in “s” or “n”.
- die Kinder – den Kindern
- die Kulis – den Kulis => no “n” as the plural form ends in “-s”
There are certain verbs and prepositions that always take the dative case. Few verbs are:-
- gehören – to belong to
- gefallen – to like
- helfen – to help
- antworten – to answer
- danken – to thank
- glauben – to believe
The nouns or pronouns following the prepositions – aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu and gegenüber are always in the dative case.
German Genitive Case
The genitive case is used to express belonging or possession. It is known as der Genitiv in German. This case answers the question “wessen?” or “whose?”.
Let’s have a look at the definite and indefinite articles in genitive case:-
|Masculine||des + s||eines + s|
|Neuter||des + s||eines + s|
You must have noticed “+ s” in the table above. Masculine and neuter forms take an extra “-s” or “-es” at the end. Nouns ending in -s, -ß, -x, -z and single syllable nouns take an -es ending. All the other nouns take an -s ending.
- Der Spiegel des Autos ist kaputt. (The car’s mirror is broken.)
- Die Gitarre deines Bruders liegt auf dem Bett. (Your brother’s guitar is on the bed.)
- Das Auto meiner Schwester ist schwarz. (My sister’s car is black.)
- Das Buch des Kindes ist verloren. (The child’s book is lost.)
Let’s consider the last statement. Whose book is lost? – Des Kindes. The book belongs to the kid. So, the “owner” is always in the genitive case and is placed second. The noun that is owned is first, and goes in whichever case it would normally go in.
There are certain prepositions that always take the genitive case. They are as follows:-
- aufgrund – due to / because of
- anstatt – instead of
- außerhalb – outside of
- innerhalb – within / inside of
- trotz – despite
- wegen – because of
- während – during
In spoken German, you can also use von and dative case instead of genitive case. For example, Das Auto von meinem Bruder (My brother’s car).
Go through our lessons on Pronouns and Adjectives to know more about how these four German cases affect them.
Want to learn more about German cases? Check out this tutorial on Transparent Language.
PS – On this blog, you will find grammar lessons just like this one, vocabulary lists divided subject-wise as well as articles related to countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland and a lot more. Keep scrolling, keep learning!
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