Can you write a post explaining German cases please?
If they could be explained in one post, i’m sure we’d all have less problems lmao but i’ll try!
1. What cases are there?
German has four cases: Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ und Akkusativ. (for any Latin nerds: Same as in Latin minus Ablative and Vocative.)
2. Why are they necessary?
Well, for once, you’ll need them if you want native speakers to understand what you’re saying. But let’s go a little deeper and compare German to English:
In English, the meaning depends on the sentence structure. “The man bit the dog” and “The dog bit the man” have very different meanings even though both sentences use the same words - that’s because of the typical SVO-order. In English, the subject generally comes first, then some kind of verb, then the object (there are more difficult cases of course, but let’s not go into that rn). English has very little morphology, meaning that nouns/pronouns/determiners don’t inflect (a lot) depending on the case they’re in.
In German, you can switch stuff around until you’re dizzy. “Der Hund biss den Mann” and “Den Mann biss der Hund” both mean the same, because “den” indicates that “Mann” is in the Akkusativ, thus he’s the one being bitten, no matter where you put him in the sentence. The case morphology allows a freer sentence order without leading to possible misunderstandings.
3. So how do I know which case I need?
This is the moment where it gets more complicated. You can associate the following questions with each case:
- Nominativ = Wer oder was? (Who?. The subject of a sentence is always in the nominative case.)
- Genitiv = Wessen? (Whose?. Typically describes possession or comes as a rule after certain prepositions like “wegen” or verbs like “gedenken”.)
Okay, we can deal with that. Now on to the more difficult stuff:
- Dativ = Wem?
- Akkusativ = Wen oder was?
To understand this, some knowledge of grammar is definitely an advantage. Consider the following sentences:
- I have a book. = Ich habe ein Buch.
- This is all well and nice. Subject (NOM), Verb, Object (AKK).
- In English, you would call “a book” a direct object because the verb “to have” is transitive, meaning it carries one object. “I have.” isn’t generally a full sentence and is expected to be followed by an object.
So apparently all our problems are solved with the Akkusativ/direct object. What now?
- I give you a book. = Ich gebe dir ein Buch.
- This is the critical moment. Subject (NOM), Verb, Object (DAT), Object (AKK).
- Suddenly we have two objects because the verb “to give” makes us expect information about what we’re giving (direct object, AKK) and to whom we’re giving it (indirect object, DAT).
- Such verbs are called ditransitive, meaning they can carry two objects. Just saying “I give.” leaves us wondering what you’re talking about because we’re missing key information.
- English, as explained above, solves this with sentence order by making the indirect object come first or by indicating it with “to” (“I give a book to you”). German solves it with inflection, putting the indirect object in a different case.
- That’s why things like “Ein Buch gebe ich dir” and “Dir gebe ich ein Buch” are both possible in German.
- There are also intransitive verbs which carry either no object at all or just a dative object (“Ich antworte ihm”).
4. How do I know which verbs carry which object(s)?
This list will save you. At some point (once you’ve gotten to a certain level in German), you’ll have a gut feeling about which object(s) to use just from experience. Give it some time!
5. What about determiners and pronouns?
I actually think this is less work because it’s one table of endings each, and once you’ve got that down you should be fine.
- This handbook explains everything really well in my opinion.
- Here’s a whole page about pronouns (relative, personal, and every other kind you can think of.)
- Here are a LOT of exercises.
- Here are printables for German case declensions by @languageoclock.
side note: As a native speaker and language nerd who loves grammar, it’s hard for me to judge if this was helpful or just confusing as hell. I hope I still answered your question to some extent! If you need more help or have problems with a specific sentence, let me know and i’ll try my best! :)