CONTENT
  1. Nominative Case
  2. Accusative Case
  3. Dative Case
  4. Genitive Case

There are four cases in the German language: nominative for subjects, accusative for direct objects, dative for indirect objects, and genitive for possession.

You will see single words changing because of them:

Native

Translation

Ich gehe in das Café.

I go to the café. (accusative)

Ich sitze auf dem Stuhl in dem Café.

I sit on the chair in the cafe. (dative)

Below, let's discuss when different German cases are used.

Nominative Case

Rule 1: The nominative is the basic form of all nouns and pronouns. It describes the subject of the sentence, i.e. the person, the thing, or the action that acts.

To find the subject, we would ask: Who or what is acting?

Native

Translation

Ich gebe dir ein Buch.

I'm giving you a book. (I is the subject, the person who's acting, which is why it stands in the nominative case).

Rule 2: The nominative case is also used after the verbs sein, werden, and bleiben, even if it's not applied to the subject.

Accusative Case

Rule 3: The accusative case is always used for the direct object in the sentence.

To find the direct object, we can ask: To whom or what is something happening?

Native

Translation

Ich gebe dir ein Buch.

I'll give you a book. (Something is happening to the book, thus is stands in the accusative case).

Exception: There is an exception to the rule above: there are verbs that are used in the dative case only (e.g. antworten). They may seem like a direct object, but won't be used with the accusative case.

Native

Translation

Ich antworte dir.

I answer you.

Rule 4: Accusative case is also used after certain prepositions, such as durch (through), bis (until), für (for), ohne (without), etc. We will talk about them on higher levels.

Dative Case

Rule 5: The dative case is used for the indirect object in the sentence. An indirect object is the person or thing to (or for) whom (or which) an action is being performed.

We would ask: To whom or for whom is this being done?

Native

Translation

Ich gebe dir ein Buch.

I'll give you a book. (You is the indirect object, the action is done to "you.")

Rule 6: Dative case is also used after certain prepositions, such as auβer (besides), bei (next to), mit (with), nach (after), etc. We will talk about them on A2 level.

Verbs with the Dative Case

Rule 7: There are certain verbs in German that always put their object in the dative case, even when there’s no preposition and no indirect object. Here they are:

  • danken (to thank)
  • glauben (to believe)
  • helfen (to help)
  • gehören (belong to)
  • gefallen (to like)

Genitive Case

Rule 8: The genitive case shows to whom something or someone belongs, i.e. possession or ownership.

To find the genitive case, you can ask: Whose this is?

Rule 9: In the genitive, not only the articles, pronouns and adjectives change but also endings of nouns. Male and neutral nouns get an extra "s/es" at the end.

Native

Translation

Das ist das Buch eines Lehrers.

That is the book of a teacher. (The book belongs to the teacher, this it is put in the genitive case).

Rule 10: Most often, you will see this case in written German. In spoken language, people usually use the preposition “von” (from) and the dative case instead of the genitive case.