German Cases – Key Information and Examples

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German noun declension is a crucial element of grammar that may seem complicated at first, but with the right approach, it can be easily mastered. In this blog post, we will present the most important information about cases and provide practical examples that will help you understand how and when to use them. With us, learning German grammar will become easier!

Table of Contents

German Cases

There are four cases in German:

  • Nominativ – answers the questions wer? was? (who? what?)
  • Genitiv – answers the question wessen? (whose?); occurs much less frequently than in Polish
  • Dativ – answers the question wem? (to whom? to what?), in combination with appropriate prepositions, it replaces the Polish instrumental and locative cases
  • Akkusativ – answers the question wen? was? (whom? what?)

What is declined by cases in German?

In German, several categories of words are declined by cases, which allows for precise determination of their function in the sentence. The most important categories include nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles. Each of these elements changes its form depending on the case in which it appears, which is crucial for understanding and creating correct sentence structures.

Nouns (Substantive):

Nouns in German are declined by cases, which often involves changing endings. For example, in the Genitive case, the ending -s or -es is added to masculine and neuter nouns.

  1. Pronouns (Pronomen):
    Personal, possessive, and demonstrative pronouns also decline by cases, which helps to determine who is performing the action, to whom it refers, or what is the subject of the conversation. For example: ich (I) → mir (to me) in the Dative case, mich (me) in the Accusative case.
  2. Adjectives (Adjektive):
    Adjectives change their endings depending on the case, the gender of the noun, and the number they describe. For example: ein großer Hund (nominative case, singular, masculine gender) → eines großen Hundes (genitive case, singular, masculine gender).
  3. Articles (Artikel):
    Both definite articles (der, die, das) and indefinite articles (ein, eine) decline by cases, which makes it easier to identify the function of the noun in the sentence.

Case declension allows us to understand who is the performer of the action, who is its recipient, and what the relationships are between the individual elements of the sentence. Knowledge of these rules is crucial for anyone who wants to use German correctly.

Table of Article Declension

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativder/eindie/einedas/eindie/-
Akkusativdes/einesder/einerdes/einesder/-
Dativdem/einemder/einerdem/einemden/-
+ n at the end of the noun
Genitivden/einendie/einedas/eindie/-

Nominative Case – Nominativ

The nominative case is the basic case in German, used primarily to indicate the subject of the sentence, which is the person or thing performing the action. The nominative case answers the questions “who?” or “what?”. This is the case that German learners encounter most frequently.

Nominative Case: wer? was? – who? what?

Singular

GenderNounIndefinite ArticlePossessive PronounFormal Possessive PronounNegative Determiner
Masculineder Schüler (student)ein Schülermein SchülerIhr Schülerkein Schüler
Femininedie Schülerin (student)eine Schülerinmeine SchülerinIhre Schülerinkeine Schülerin
Neuterdas Kind (child)ein Kindmein KindIhr Kindkein Kind

Plural

GenderNounPossessive PronounFormal Possessive PronounNegative Determiner
Masculinedie Schüler (students)meine SchülerIhre Schülerkeine Schüler
Femininedie Schülerinnen (students)meine SchülerinnenIhre Schülerinnenkeine Schülerinnen
Neuterdie Kinder (children)meine KinderIhre Kinderkeine Kinder

Here are a few example sentences using the nominative case:

  • Der Lehrer erklärt die Lektion. (The teacher explains the lesson.)
  • Das Kind spielt im Garten. (The child plays in the garden.)
  • Die Frau liest ein Buch. (The woman reads a book.)

Genitive Case – Genitiv

The genitive case is one of the four cases in German, used primarily to express possession or relationships between nouns. While its use is becoming less common in everyday spoken language, it still plays an important role in written and formal language.

Genitive Case: wessen? – whose?

Definite Article:

GenderNounGenitive Form
Masculineder Lehrer (teacher)des Lehrers
Neuterdas Kind (child)des Kindes
Femininedie Mutter (mother)der Mutter
Pluraldie Kinder (children)der Kinder

Indefinite Article:

GenderNounGenitive Form
Masculineein Lehrer (a teacher)eines Lehrers
Neuterein Kind (a child)eines Kindes
Feminineeine Mutter (a mother)einer Mutter
Pluralkeine Kinder (no children)keiner Kinder

Here are a few example sentences using the genitive case:

  • Das Auto des Lehrers (The teacher’s car)
  • Die Farbe des Himmels (The color of the sky)
  • Das Ende eines langen Tages (The end of a long day)

Dative Case – Dativ

The dative case (Dativ) is one of the four cases in German, used primarily to indicate the indirect object, which is the person or thing that is the recipient or beneficiary of an action. This case answers the questions “whom?” or “to what?”. It is essential for forming sentences with two objects and when using many verbs and prepositions.

Dative Case: wem? – to whom? to what?

GenderDefinite ArticleIndefinite Article
Masculinedemeinem
Femininedereiner
Neuterdemeinem

Example sentences using the dative case:

  • Er zeigt dem/einem Freund ein Foto. (He shows a photo to a friend.)
  • Er zeigt der/einer Frau das Stadtzentrum. (He shows the city center to a woman.)
  • Er zeigt dem/einem Kind ein Bild. (He shows a picture to a child.)

Accusative Case – Akkusativ

The accusative case (Akkusativ) is one of the four cases in German, used primarily to indicate the direct object, which is the person or thing that is directly affected by the action performed by the subject. This case answers the questions “whom?” or “what?”. It is one of the most commonly used cases, right after the nominative case.

Accusative Case: wen? was? – whom? what?

Singular

GenderNounIndefinite ArticlePossessive PronounFormal Possessive PronounNegative Determiner
Masculineder Schüler (student)einen Schülermeinen SchülerIhren Schülerkeinen Schüler
Femininedie Schülerin (student)eine Schülerinmeine SchülerinIhre Schülerinkeine Schülerin
Neuterdas Kind (child)ein Kindmein KindIhr Kindkein Kind

Plural

GenderNounPossessive PronounFormal Possessive PronounNegative Determiner
Masculinedie Schüler (students)meine SchülerIhre Schülerkeine Schüler
Femininedie Schülerinnen (students)meine SchülerinnenIhre Schülerinnenkeine Schülerinnen
Neuterdie Kinder (children)meine KinderIhre Kinderkeine Kinder

Note that in the plural, the accusative case has the same form as the nominative case.

Articles in the accusative case – examples

The definite article der of the masculine gender takes the form den in the accusative case singular, and the indefinite article ein takes the form einen:

  • Wie heißt der Mann dort? – What is the name of the man over there? (nominative)
  • Ich kenne den Mann gut. – I know the man well. (accusative)
  • Dort liegt ein Bleistift. – There is a pencil lying there. (nominative)
  • Ich habe einen Bleistift. – I have a pencil. (accusative)

The definite and indefinite articles of the feminine and neuter genders have the same form in the accusative case as in the nominative case, e.g.:

  • Wie heißt die Frau / das Mädchen? (nominative) – What is the name of the woman / girl?
  • Ich kenne die Frau / das Mädchen. (accusative) – I know the woman / girl.
  • Dort liegt eine Aktentasche / ein Heft. (nominative) – There is a briefcase / notebook lying there.
  • Ich suche eine Aktentasche / ein Heft. (accusative) – I am looking for a briefcase / notebook.

German Cases – Summary

Below is a brief summary of the forms of definite and indefinite articles in the nominative, dative, and accusative cases, which are the most commonly used cases in the German language.

Masculine

CaseDefinite Article/Indefinite Article
Nominative (1st case)der Schüler / ein Schüler
Dative (3rd case)dem Schüler / einem Schüler
Accusative (4th case)den Schüler / einen Schüler

Feminine

CaseDefinite Article/Indefinite Article
Nominative (1st case)die Schülerin / eine Schülerin
Dative (3rd case)der Schülerin / einer Schülerin
Accusative (4th case)die Schülerin / eine Schülerin

Neuter

CaseDefinite Article/Indefinite Article
Nominative (1st case)das Kind / ein Kind
Dative (3rd case)dem Kind / einem Kind
Accusative (4th case)das Kind / ein Kind

Plural

CaseDefinite Article/Indefinite Article
Nominative (1st case)die Kinder / meine Kinder
Dative (3rd case)den Kindern / meinen Kindern
Accusative (4th case)die Kinder / meine Kinder

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