First of all, what is a case?
No, it’s not a suitcase, or any other kind of ‘case’ as you know it! A grammatical case is simply a way to show which role each noun (a person, thing or object) plays in a sentence.
German nouns appear in four cases, depending on their function in a sentence. The four German cases are called the: nominative case, accusative case, genitive case and dative case.
Are you wondering: ‘Do I really have to learn all about these pesky German cases?’ Or maybe: ‘Why are they so important?’
Quite simply you must find time
to learn the German cases if you are serious about learning German properly, because certain German words change their form – the official word is ‘decline’ – depending on which case is being used, an example in English would be ‘she’ to ‘her’.
In German there are a whole host of different forms for ‘the’ and ‘a’, for example, depending on which case is being used and, of course, the gender of the noun.
Even adjectives (descriptive words such as ‘beautiful’ for example) are declined differently in German depending on the case, but let’s look at that in another lesson.
Enough chat. Let’s take a look at the four German cases and find out how to work out which case is which.
of a sentence is always in the nominative case. The subject is normally the person or thing performing the action of a verb.
fährt das Auto. (Thomas drives the car)
Thomas is the subject as he is driving the car. He is performing the action of the verb: the driving and is thusin the nominative case.
The direct object
is always in the accusative case. A direct object is the person or thing which directly receives the action of the verb. Tip: You can ask: ‘what?’ or ‘whom?’ of the verb to identify the direct object.
A couple of examples:
1.) Thomas fährt ein Auto.
(Thomas drives a car)
‘A car’ is the direct object as that is ‘what’ is being driven and thus ‘a car’ takes the accusative case.
2.) Wir wissen die Antwort.
(We know the answer)
‘The answer’ is the direct object as that is ‘what’ is known.
So why is it important to know what the direct object of a sentence is?
Because in German, the article (definite article = the / indefinite article = a/an) of a masculine noun in the accusative case changes, for example, from ‘der’ to ‘den’ and ‘ein’ to ‘einen’. This change will be demonstrated towards the end of this lesson in a German case table.
The dative case identifies the indirect object
of a sentence. The indirect object is the thing indirectly affected by the action of the verb.
A good way to identify the indirect object if you are not sure is by asking ‘to whom’ or ‘for whom’ with the subject and verb of a particular sentence.
A couple of examples:
1.) Ich habe dem Mann
ein Geschenk gekauft.
(I bought the man a present)
For whom did I buy the present? ‘The man’ is the indirect object.
2.) Ich habe dem Baby
die Rassel gegeben.
(I gave the baby a rattle)
To whom did I give the rattle? ‘The baby’ is the indirect object.
So why is it important to know what the indirect object of a sentence is?
Because in German, the articles (definite article = the / indefinite article = a/an) of all nouns (feminine / masculine / neuter / plural) change. These changes will be demonstrated in a table towards the end of this lesson.
The primary function of the genitive case is to demonstrate possession
. The person or thing that possesses, i.e. the ‘possessor’, is in the genitive case. It is very similar to the ‘s’ or ‘of’ in English.
Let’s look at some examples:
1.) Das ist die Tasche des Lehrers.
(That is the teacher’s bag)
The bag is possessed by ‘the teacher’, therefore, ‘the teacher’ is in the genitive case.
2.) Das ist das Auto des Nachbarns.
(That is the neighbour’s car)
The car is possessed by ‘the neighbour’, therefore, ‘the neighbour’ is in the genitive case.
You will notice that the possessed person or object comes first followed by the possessor.
Why is the genitive case important to learn?
Because the definite and the indefinite articles of all nouns will change form in the genitive case, as demonstrated in the tables below.
Grammatical Tables – The German Cases
Some of the most important aspects of German grammar are detailed in the three tables right below and can be seen as a summary of this lesson so far.
Tip of the entire lesson:
make it a priority to learn the content of these three tables off by heart
– it will help you so much in so many ways and is core to many other elements of German grammar.
The first table will list the various words for ‘the’
in all four German cases. The second table will detail the words for ‘a’ / ‘an’
in German and the third table will detail personal pronouns in German in the various cases, such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘he’ and ‘she’.
By the way, personal pronouns are simply small words which replace nouns i.e. ‘it’, instead of ‘the car’.
Table 1 – Definite articles by case
(i.e. the various ways of saying ‘the’ in German depending on the case / gender of noun)
Table 2 – Indefinite articles by case
(i.e. the various ways of saying ‘a’ and ‘an’ in German depending on the case / gender of noun)
Table 3 – Personal pronouns by case
(The small words which replace nouns i.e. ‘it’, ‘she’, ‘he’ depending on the case)
||I / me / to me
||you / you / to you (informal singular*)
||he / him / to him
||she / her / to her
||it / it / to it
||we / us / to us
||you / you / to you (informal plural**)
||you / you / to you (formal singular or plural***)
||they / them / to them