What are the 4 German Cases?
As you know well by now, for native English speakers, one of the most challenging aspects of learning German, at least initially, can be the fact that each noun, pronoun, and article has four cases. Depending on how a given word is used—whether it's the subject, a possessive, or an indirect or direct object—the spelling and the pronunciation of that noun or pronoun changes... Let's take a quick review of these cases.
- The nominative case in German and in English—is the subject of a sentence.
- The accusative case in German is known as the objective case or direct object of a sentence and with certain prepositions.
- The dative case in German is known as the indirect object but is also used after certain dative verbs and with dative prepositions.
- The genitive case in German in German shows possession. In English, this is expressed by the possessive "of" or an apostrophe with an "s" ('s).
When trying to identify what case we are dealing with in German, there are a few helpful things to keep in mind. Identifying the subject in the sentence usually leads us to the nominative case. Identifying the direct object helps us identify the accusative. Finding the indirect object helps us identify the dative case, and identifying possession of a noun helps us find the genitive.
Cases help us demonstrate the relationship between nouns. A noun is typically used with either a definite article (“the”), an indefinite article (“a/an”) a negative article (“no”) or a possessive adjective/article (“my/your”, etc). In German, nouns always have an assigned gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), and each case has its own set of definite, indefinite, negative and possessive articles for masculine, feminine and neutral nouns. Each case also comes with its own set of pronouns.
The nominative case is the subject case. If the subject of a sentence is a person (I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they), then we use the subject pronouns:
If a noun is in the nominative, we use the following definite, indefinite and negative articles, depending on the gender of the noun:
If the noun in the nominative belongs to someone, we use a possessive article/adjective.
When formulating a sentence with a nominative noun, we need to pay attention to the gender of the noun, and what article we are using.
Das ist der / ein / kein / mein Laptop. This is the / a / no / my laptop.
Das ist die / eine / keine / meine Flasche. This is the / a / no / my bottle. Das ist das / ein / kein / mein Auto. This is the / a / no / my car.
The accusative case is the case of the direct object. We can identify the direct object by asking who or what is being verbed by the subject. When a person is the direct object (for example: She calls him), then we need to use accusative pronouns.
If a noun is in the accusative, we use the following definite, indefinite and negative articles, depending on the gender of the noun:
If the noun in the accusative belongs to someone, we use a possessive article/adjective.
Ich trinke den / einen / keinen / meinen Kaffee. I drink the / a / no / my coffee.
Ich trinke die / eine / keine / meine Milch. I drink the / a / no / my milk.
Ich trinke das / ein / kein / mein Bier. I drink the / a / no / my beer.
The dative case is the case of the indirect object. To identify the indirect object, we should first find the subject (Who is doing the verb), then the direct object (what this person is “verbing”?), and lastly the indirect object (to home is this person verbing the direct object?). (for example: He is writing her an email.)
When a person is the indirect object in a sentence, we use dative pronouns:
If a noun is in the dative, we use the following definite, indefinite and negative articles, depending on the gender of the noun:
If the noun in the dative belongs to someone, we use a possessive article/adjective.
Ich gebe dem / einem / keinem / meinem Nachbarn ein Geschenk.
I give the / a / no / my neighbor a present.
Ich schreibe der / einer / keiner / meiner Kollegin eine Email.
I write the / a / no / my colleague an email.
Ich gebe dem / einem / keinem / meinem Kind ein Buch.
I give the / a / no / my child a book.
The genitive case is used when a noun in a sentence belongs to another noun in the sentence. We can usually identify the genitive by thinking “of the” in English. For example: The color of the car is red. In this example “of the car” in German would be in the genitive case. We could also say “The car’s color”, which would also be the genitive. We can not use independent personal pronouns in the genitive. If a noun is in the genitive, we use the following definite, indefinite and negative articles, depending on the gender of the noun:
The genitive case is the only case that can also change the spelling of the noun itself. Masculine and neutral nouns usually add “-s” or “-es”. Feminine and plural nouns do not change. If we need to express possession of the noun that belongs to another noun (the car of my son), then we use the possessive articles in the genitive below.
Das Auto des / eines / keines / meines Sohnes ist rot.
The car of the / a / no / my son is red.
Das auto der / einer / keiner / meiner Tochter ist rot.
The car of the / a / no / my daughter is red.
Das Auto des / eines / keines meines Kindes ist rot.
The car of the / a / no / my child is red.
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