The Dative Case in German


The dative case in German is used to indicate the indirect object of a sentence. It answers the question: To or for whom? Just as with the nominative and accusative, the articles and personal pronouns change in the dative.

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The dative case in German is one of the four German Cases and home of the indirect object, but it can also be used for indicating location. The indirect object is the noun that is affected in some way by the subject performing an action on another noun — in other words, this is often the “beneficiary” of the action.

Example:     The mother gives her children the ice cream.

In the example, the children are the indirect object because they receive the ice cream (direct object) that is being given by the mother (subject). If the sentence were rewritten to make the ice cream the indirect object (The mother gives the ice cream her children), it would imply the ice cream is capable of eating the children. This becomes clearer in the first example when we consider that there is an implied preposition (“to”) that is often omitted both in English and German, and which would precede the indirect object (“to her children”). Here is the German equivalent of the example sentence:

Beispiel:     Die Mutter gibt ihren Kindern das Eis.

In the German we see deletion of the preposition “zu” (“to”), as discussed above, but there is a difference with dative plural noun endings. In the dative case, plural nouns add an ‘n’ wherever possible; however, loan words and other plurals that add an ‘s’ cannot add an ‘n.’

Beispiel:     Die Krankenpflegerin hört die Schreie von den Babys.

The dative case, like the accusative, has a set number of prepositions that are only dative: aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, and zu.

Further, the personal pronouns change from accusative to dative as seen in our German cases chart below:

personalpronounsnom akk dat jpg

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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 and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Specific Capabilities at this Level

I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.
Spoken Production:
I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.
Spoken Interaction:
I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics.
I can understand familiar names, words and very simple sentences, for example on notices and posters or in catalogues.
I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases concerning myself, my family and immediate concrete surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.