German Case System

German uses endings on articles, nouns, pronouns and adjectives to show relationships among words in a sentence. This practice depends on a system of four distinct grammatical cases: the nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. Preceding articles and other modifiers indicate the case of the noun that follows. Pronouns indicate case by themselves. The accusative and dative cases signal objects of various kinds - direct, indirect, objects of prepositions, as well as various special uses.

The Nominative

The nominative case is never used to connect nouns with prepositions, as are the other cases. It is the most neutral. Its chief functions are to signal the subject of a sentence or clause, and to link the subject with words in the predicate. The nominative case is used after any form of the verb sein.

Wo ist dein Bruder?

The Accusative

The accusative case has a wider range of functions than the nominative. Many verbs take a direct object, also called accusative object. The accusative case signals the following types of objects:

1. Accusative prepositions: bis (until), durch (through), für (for), gegen (against), ohne (without), um (round) .

2. Prepositions of direction when movement is implied: an (at, on), auf (on), hinter (behind), in (in, into), neben (next to), über (above), unter (under), vor (in front of), zwischen (between).

3. Measured distances and amounts

4. Time expressions

5. Es gibt ... - there is/there are)

6. Greetings and wisches where "Wishing you ..." is implied.

Guten Tag!

The Dative

In addition to a direct object, many German verbs take a further object, an indirect object, also called dative object. The indirect object of a sentence is always in the dative case. The dative case signals the following types of objects:

1. Indirect object

2. Object preceded by prepositions: aus (out), außer (except), bei (at/by), gegenüber (opposite), mit (with), nach (after), seit (since), von (from), zu (to) .

3. Object preceded by prepositions which imply position rather than movement of an object: an (at/on), auf (on) etc.

4. Verbs that require only a dative object: antworten (to answer), danken (to thank), folgen (to follow), gehören (to belong), gratulieren (to congratulate), helfen (to help), schaden (to harm), trauen (to trust), wehtun (to hurt)s.

5. Adjectives combined with sein or werden and referring to persons involved.

Es geht mir gut. - I'm doing fine.

Es ist mir kalt. - I'm cold.

Common adjectives used with the dative: bekannt (known, fremd (strange, böse (angry,dankbar (grateful, gefährlich (dangerous, schwer (heavy/hard.

The dative object is also used with reflexive verbs.

Ich wasche mir die Haare. - I wash my hair.

Many English speakers associate the dative case as synonymous with to whom (as in dem Mann - to the man), and many times it is true. But there are many situations in which the German uses the dative case to link verbs and objects in a way that doesn't fit the English pattern ("the dative of references"). The "dative of references" establishes a connection between an action and a person or thing affected by the action which can be described as for whom rather than to whom. Sometimes this connection requires a translation other than for whom.

Siegfried öffnete ihr die Tür. - Siegfried opened the door for her.

The Genitive

The genitive case in German is used to indicate relationship between two nouns - one noun is part of, connected to, belongs to or depends on the other noun. Such relationship is expressed in English with an of-phrase or with the possessive -'s.

das Buch des Mannes - the man's book

Besides certain relationship between two nouns the genitive case signals the following objects:

1. Verbs that only use "genitive objects"

2. Prepositions (not a complete list):

innerhalb - inside of

außerhalb - outside of

(an)statt - instead of

trotz - in spite of, despite

wegen - because of

während - during

Das passiert außerhalb der Bar. - That happened outside the bar.

3. Noun phrases with conjugated forms of sein

Emma ist schlechter Laune. - Emma is in a bad mood.

4. Adverbial expressions: eines Morgens (one morning), eines Sonntags (one Sunday), eines Tages (one day) and a few other.


Grammar Patterns

Listening Comprehension