What are the 4 German Cases?

Overview

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).
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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. 

1. Der Nominativ (Nominative)

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: 

subject pronouns nominative jpg

If a noun is in the nominative, we use the following definite, indefinite and negative articles, depending on the gender of the noun:

nominative only jpg

If the noun in the nominative belongs to someone, we use a possessive article/adjective. 

nominative possessive jpg

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. 

Examples: 
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. 

2. Der Akkusativ (Accusative)

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. 

accusative pronouns86fc041fa8c5429d9fbb8f3e4a602783 jpg

If a noun is in the accusative, we use the following definite, indefinite and negative articles, depending on the gender of the noun:

accusative only jpg

If the noun in the accusative belongs to someone, we use a possessive article/adjective. 

accusative possessive jpg

Examples:
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. 

3. Der Dativ (Dative) 

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: 

dative pronouns jpg

If a noun is in the dative, we use the following definite, indefinite and negative articles, depending on the gender of the noun:

dative only jpg

If the noun in the dative belongs to someone, we use a possessive article/adjective. 

dative possessives jpg

Examples:
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. 


4. Der Genitiv (Genitive)

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:

genitive only jpg 1

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. 

Genitive Possessives 1

Examples:
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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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The CEFR is an international standard used to describe language ability. Here are specific details of the CEFR for this topic.

General Explanation:

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

Writing:
I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate needs. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.
Spoken Production:
I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.
Spoken Interaction:
I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.
Reading:
I can read very short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, prospectuses, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.
Listening:
I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.