The 4 German cases: Nominative, accusative, dative & genitive

Learning about German cases might not be as fun as learning about German fairy tales or how to flirt in German but it’s absolutely key to learning the language.

In German, cases help you identify who is doing what in a sentence, which is an essential part of communication. Using the right case can make all the difference in getting your point across.

So we created a comprehensive guide for you that includes a German cases chart and a breakdown of nominative, accusative, genitive and dative in German, so you know exactly when and how to use each case.

Breaking down nominative, accusative, genitive and dative in German so you can use each case.

What is the German case system

The case system in German determines how nouns, pronouns, and articles change form to indicate their role in a sentence. It's like a set of rules that helps to identify the subject, object, and other elements within a sentence.

There are four different cases:

  1. Nominative Case (Nominativ): This is the subject of the sentence, the 'doer' of the action. For example, in the sentence "Der Hund bellt," (the dog barks), 'Der Hund' is in the nominative case.
  2. Accusative Case (Akkusativ): The accusative case shows who or what is the direct object of the action. In the sentence "Ich sehe den Hund (I see the dog)," 'den Hund' is in the accusative case as the recipient of the seeing.
  3. Dative Case (Dativ): This case is for the indirect object, indicating to whom or for whom something is done. In "Ich gebe dem Mann das Buch" (I give the book to the man), 'dem Mann' is in the dative case because the man is the indirect recipient of the book.
  4. Genitive Case (Genitiv): This case shows possession or a close relationship. In "Das Buch des Mannes (the man's book)," 'des Mannes' is in the genitive case, showing possession of the book.

What is a noun case

A noun case is a grammatical category that changes the form of a noun to express its role in a sentence. This change often involves different endings or forms, helping to clarify a noun’s function and its relationship to other words in the sentence. In German, there are four noun cases.

Case Role Description
Nominative Subject Shows the subject of the sentence: Who or what is performing the action?
Accusative Direct Object Shows the direct object: Who is the receiver of the action?
Dative Indirect Object Shows the indirect object: To whom or for whom is the action done?
Genitive Possession Expresses possession, origin, or relationship: Whose object is being addressed?

How cases work in German

German is an inflected language. That means nouns, pronouns, and adjectives can have different endings depending on whether they are the subject, object, or show possession. Unlike English, where grammatical function is shown by word order, German relies on these inflections.

For example, in English, we say, "The dog bites the man" vs. "The man bites the dog", but in German we need different cases because the word order doesn’t show who is active and who is passive:

"Der Hund beißt den Mann" and "Den Mann beißt der Hund," both mean “The dog bites the man.”

Diving deeper into each one of the German cases.

German cases

Let’s dive deeper into each one of the German cases.

1. German nominative case

The nominative case in German is used to identify the subject of a sentence, which is the person or thing performing the action. As the most basic case, it’s a good starting point for learning the German case system.

German nominative forms

Gender Definite Indefinite
Singular Masculine der ein
Singular Feminine die eine
Singular Neuter das ein
Plural Masculine die
Plural Feminine die
Plural Neuter die

German nominative case examples

  • Singular Masculine: "Der Hund spielt." (The dog is playing.)
  • Singular Feminine: "Die Katze schläft." (The cat is sleeping.)
  • Singular Neuter: "Das Kind lacht." (The child is laughing.)
  • Plural Masculine: "Die Hunde spielen." (The dogs are playing.)
  • Plural Feminine: "Die Katzen schlafen." (The cats are sleeping.)
  • Plural Neuter: "Die Kinder lachen." (The children are laughing.)

2. German accusative case

The accusative case in German identifies the direct object in a sentence, that is, the person or thing that receives the action. This case mainly impacts masculine nouns, changing their definite and indefinite articles ('der' becomes 'den', 'ein' becomes 'einen').

German accusative forms

Gender Definite Indefinite
Singular Masculine den einen
Singular Feminine die eine
Singular Neuter das ein
Plural Masculine die
Plural Feminine die
Plural Neuter die

German accusative case examples

  • Singular Masculine: "Ich sehe den Hund." (I see the dog.)
  • Singular Feminine: "Ich rieche die Blume." (I smell the flower.)
  • Singular Neuter: "Ich kaufe das Brot." (I buy the bread.)
  • Plural Masculine: "Ich kenne die Männer." (I know the men.)
  • Plural Feminine: "Ich lade die Frauen ein." (I invite the women.)
  • Plural Neuter: "Ich sammle die Bücher." (I collect the books.)

3. German dative case

The dative case in German is used for the indirect object in a sentence. It comes into play when you're talking about doing something for or to someone else. For example, when you give a gift to someone, the 'someone' is in the dative case.

In this case, the articles for masculine and neuter nouns change to 'dem', for feminine nouns to 'der', and for plural nouns to 'den'.

German dative forms

Gender Definite Indefinite
Singular Masculine dem einem
Singular Feminine der einer
Singular Neuter dem einem
Plural Masculine den
Plural Feminine den
Plural Neuter den

German dative case examples

  • Singular Masculine: "Ich folge dem Mann." (I follow the man.)
  • Singular Feminine: "Ich antworte der Frau." (I answer the woman.)
  • Singular Neuter: "Ich danke dem Kind." (I thank the child.)
  • Plural Masculine: "Ich danke den Lehrern." (I thank the teachers.)
  • Plural Feminine: "Ich schreibe den Frauen." (I write to the women.)
  • Plural Neuter: "Ich spiele mit den Kindern." (I play with the children.)

4. German genitive case

The genitive case in German shows possession or a relationship. It's similar to using 'of' or an apostrophe ‘s’ in English. German genitive cases aren’t used as often as dative cases because they can be a little complicated, even for German natives.

In the genitive case, definite articles change to 'des' for masculine and neuter nouns and 'der' for feminine and plural nouns. Additionally, many masculine and neuter nouns also add an '-s' or '-es' at the end.

German genitive forms

Gender Definite Indefinite
Singular Masculine des eines
Singular Feminine der einer
Singular Neuter des eines
Plural Masculine der
Plural Feminine der
Plural Neuter der

German genitive case examples

  • Singular Masculine: "Das ist das Auto des Mannes." (That is the man's car.)
  • Singular Feminine: "Die Idee der Frau ist interessant." (The woman's idea is interesting.)
  • Singular Neuter: "Die Farbe des Hauses gefällt mir." (I like the color of the house.)
  • Plural Masculine: "Die Bücher der Männer sind auf dem Tisch." (The men's books are on the table.)
  • Plural Feminine: "Die Meinungen der Frauen sind wichtig." (The opinions of the women are important.)
  • Plural Neuter: "Die Räder der Autos sind neu." (The wheels of the cars are new.)

German cases chart

Definite articles

Numerus Gender Case:
Singular Masculine der den dem des
Singular Feminine die die der der
Singular Neuter das das dem des
Plural Masculine die die den der
Plural Feminine die die den der
Plural Neuter die die den der

Indefinite articles

Numerus Gender Case:
Singular Masculine ein einen einem eines
Singular Feminine eine eine einer einer
Singular Neuter ein ein einem eines
Plural Masculine - - - -
Plural Feminine - - - -
Plural Neuter - - - -

Coming out on top

Once you've mastered the German cases, you'll come out on top.

Once you’ve mastered the German cases, the most challenging part of learning the language is over, and you can focus on the more fun parts. Finding your way through a language’s grammar is a bit like hiking up a hill. Once you’ve made it to the top, you’ve got a clear view onto the scenic landscape ahead of you. From here, you can jump right into interesting topics about the rich German culture.

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