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German cases are four: the nominative case (subject of the sentence); the accusative case (the direct object); the dative case (the indirect object), and the genitive case (possessive). Cases are not something strange to English, pronouns for example use a certain kind of cases, for example we say “he speaks”, and “give him” and not “give he”, did you see how “he” became “him” in the second example, well the same thing happens in German, the only difference is that in German it’s much more widely used, not only in pronouns, even nouns/ adjectives/ articles … use the same thing. The German case indicates the role of an element in a sentence.
The nominative is the easiest case in German and also the one dictionaries use as the standard form of nouns, adjectives, articles…and refers to the subject of the sentence. The teacher went to school, “The teacher” is the subject of the sentence, and therefore “The teacher” is nominative.
So it will take the nominative form in German, which is “Der Lehrer”.
Below is a table of some forms of Nominative, you will only know the difference when you will go through the 3 other cases (accusative, Dative, Genitive).
These are just some examples to show the nominative form of some elements such as articles, pronouns, adjectives. Note that the nominative case can be used in a much wider scope such as in Nouns, interrogative pronouns…what comes next will help you notice the difference between Nominative and what the other 3 German cases.
Now we will learn the second case in German which is the accusative, the good news is that apart from the masculine, the other 2 genders + the plural (feminine, neuter and plural) look just like the Nominative. Now let’s learn what the accusative really is. The accusative case is considered the direct object. I see the teacher, “the teacher” is the direct object of the sentence, and therefore would take the accusative form, and since “the teacher” is masculine it will become in German “den Lehrer” and not “der Lehrer” as in the nominative case. I see the teacher = Ich sehe den Lehrer.
Let’s get adjectives involved as well. I see the young teacher = ich sehe den jungen Lehrer. Young in German is jung, but since we’re using the accusative case, then the adjective should copy the article it follows, which is “den/ the” = masculine, so “den jungen”. If you look at the table above you will understand why we added “en” after the adjective “jung”. Now let’s get personal pronouns involved. I see him = ich sehe ihn. Easy, isn’t it!
Now things will get serious because the dative case is very important in German, and it also changes in all the 3 genders + the plural (masculine, feminine, neuter and plural). But first let’s learn what the Dative means. The Dative in German is just like the indirect object in English, or in other words, it’s like the receiver of the direct object. So for example: I give the book to him, “I” is the subject of the sentence, “the book” is the direct object, and “him” is the receiver, therefore also called the indirect object, in which we’re interested when it comes to the dative case.
Usually the equivalent of the dative case in English would include “to”, like our example above, I give the book to him, I send it to him, I show it to him… but in German that “to” is usually included in the expression used, for example “to him = ihm” “to the = dem” …so it’s not that complicated after all.
Finally we will learn the genitive in German. It’s not used as often as the other cases, but still has its own importance, because the genitive in German means possession, or in other words it means the expression “of…” or “’s”. The book of my teacher = das Buch meines Lehrers.
Note that nouns in the masculine and neuter take an “s” at the end, as in our example: The book of my teacher = das Buch meines Lehrers.
Feminine and plural nouns don’t take any “s” at the end. More detailed information would be in the German Nouns page. Also you can check out the adjectives and articles page to see how they form in different cases with some examples. Good luck!
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German cases, nominative case, accusative, German dative, and genitive case.