German for Music Lovers

Homepage Workbook Links Grammatical Terms Syllabi

Introduction to Nominative, Accusative and Dative
The Genitive Case
Other Uses of the Accusative
Prepositions with Accusative or Dative
Predicate Nominative
Reference  Table of Cases in German

Case in German

Introduction to the Nominative, Accusative & Dative

The subject of a sentence is in the nominative case.

The direct object is in the accusative case.

The indirect object is in the dative case.

What is Case?

1. Do you see he?

2. Her is me sister.

3. Him mother knows you neighbor.

4. Us buy this gift for they.

5. Her buys they this gift.

If these sentences don't sound right to you, that's because you understand the function of grammatical "case," even if the term is new to you. Some words can indicate only a "doer" performing the action of the verb, a subject. Other words can only indicate the "one-done-unto" receiving the action of the verb, or object.

When we talk about "case," we describe how we express ideas of "do-ers" or "done-unto's," or subjects and objects. Case describes the function of a noun or pronoun.

Some words can function in more than one "case": "you" and "it" can be both subjects and objects: "You love it. It loves you." How do you know which one is doing the loving and which one is being loved in these sentences? Word order and the verb ending tell us which is the nominative, the subject, the do-er, the lover. The verb ending will be a valuable clue in German, too, but we won't be able to depend on word order because German word order follows different rules. To figure this out in German we have to learn about "case."

English uses the same pronouns for various kinds of objects: . German, however makes distinctions among the various kinds of objects (direct objects, indirect objects, and objects of prepositions) and uses different cases for them. To illustrate, let's correct the sentences on the left, and translate the corrections into German.


1. Do you see heDo you see him?

Siehst du ihn?

The subject is the do-er in a sentence (e.g. "you see," "he sees").
The subject can only be a word in the nominative case.
The pronoun "he" can only function as a subject.
The word
"he" is nominative.

The object receives the action of the verb.
(The viewer views the object. The hearer hears the object. The buyer buys the object. The lover loves the object.)
The object is accusative.
The do-er or subject of "1. Do you see . . . ?" is "you," not "he."
To complete this question we need a word that can work as an object.
"1. Do you see h---?" needs an object word that is masculine as well.
The pronoun "him" indicates a singular masculine object.
The word "him" fits the sentence because it is accusative

Nominative: A word like "he" functioning as the subject.
Accusative: A word like "him" functioning as the direct object.


Every sentence has a subject and a predicate. The subject is nominative. Every sentence needs a nominative element.

2. Her is me sister. She is my sister.

Sie ist meine Schwester.

"Her" can be a pronoun object, as in
"Do you know her? Send her a card. He got it for her."

"Her" can be a possessive adjective, as in
"Her mother is your neighbor."

"Her" is not nominative, however: it cannot be the subject.
The pronoun for a singular feminine subject is "she."

The difference between "she" and "her" is a difference of case. "She" is nominative, and "her" is not. The word "her" has other functions: it can be either a pronoun object, or a possessive adjective. The word "her" cannot be the subject, because it is not nominative.

 

There are different kinds of objects. The direct object receives the action of the verb. Prepositions also take objects.

3. Us buy this gift for they We buy this gift for them.

Wir kaufen dieses Geschenk für sie.

When we examined sentence 2, we saw that "her" could not function as the subject, because it is not nominative.

Here, notice that there are two objects in the sentence: one is a direct object: "gift/Geschenk," the other the object of the preposition "for/für."
Both of these objects are in the
accusative case.

We correct the sentence with a pronoun to indicate the object of the preposition "for/für." The word "they" can function only as the subject or do-er. It is nominative and cannot function as an object.

By the way, can you describe the other correction to sentence 3 in terms of case?


In English, we use the same words for the direct object, the object of a preposition or an indirect object.
In German, we use different words for these different kinds of objects.

Her buys they this gift.  She buys them this gift.

Sie kauft ihnen dieses Geschenk.

The nominative word "they" clearly doesn't fit here. The function of the word we need is indirect object, the one who "benefits" from the subject's action on the direct object.
The beneficiary of this buying = the indirect object = them.

subject predicate

indirect object

direct object
nominative verb dative accusative
do-er action to / for whom? done-unto
She buys them gift


When "them" can be restated as "for them" or "to them," it is an indirect object.
We describe the function of the
indirect object as dative case in German.

The ideas expressed by the prepositions "to" and "for" are strongly associated with the dative.
The words "
to" and "for" are "built into" the dative.


The facade of the Reichstag in Berlin, dedicated "to the German people."

She buys them this gift.  She buys this gift for them.

 In English, a pronoun like "them" can function both as accusative and dative object.
In German, however, we use different words to distinguish
accusative and dative objects.

A. Sie kauft dieses Geschenk für sieB. Sie kauft ihnen dieses Geschenk.

She buys this gift for them She buys them this gift.

The English word "them" is expressed in sentence A as "sie," while in sentence B it is "ihnen."

Because in sentence A, "them" is the object of the preposition "for," or "für," German requires the use of the accusative case.
Because in sentence B, "them" expresses an
indirect object, German requires the use of the dative case.

The subject of a sentence is in the nominative case.

The direct object is in the accusative case.

The indirect object is in the dative case.


Predicate Nominative

"It is I."

Sie ist meine Schwester.

In the sentences above, "it" and "I," "sie" and "Schwester" are all in the nominative case.
This is because the verb in the sentence is "to be" or
sein.

sein to be
singular
plural
ich bin I am wir sind we are
du bist

you are
(singular intimate)

ihr seid you are
(plural intimate)
er / sie / es ist he / she / it is sie sind they are
Sie sind
you are (non-intimate, singular & plural)

Sein (to be) functions as an equalizer (=) in terms of case.
"Sister" in sentence 2 is not an object. (The verb "is" is not an action being done to "sister" by "she.")
The word "sister" is called a
predicate nominative.
To put it in simple terms, when the verb is sein, think
N = N, where N indicates nominative case, and = indicates a form of "sein."

Nominative =(is) Nominative

Subject: Nominative Case Of: Genitive

Possession
Link a Noun to a Noun

Direct Object: Accusative Case To or For: Dative Case

Other Uses of the Accusative

Accusative Prepositions
Moving across Boundaries

Other Uses of the Dative

Indirect Object
Dative Verbs
Dative Prepositions
Location in Space and Time


Prepositions with Accusative or Dative

Accusative for Destination
Dative for Location in space or time

 

 Student's Table of Cases in German

top of page


Other Uses of the Accusative

Accusative prepositions

durch, für, gegen, ohne, um

The following list of prepositions always is followed by the accusative case.
They are called the accusative prepositions.

 

durch through
Er geht durch den Garten.
He walks through the garden.

für for
Kauf das Geschenk für sie.
Buy the gift for her.

gegen against
Der Demokratiker ist gegen den Republikaner.
The Democrat is against the Republican.

ohne without
Viele Menschen leben ohne einen Computer.
Many people live without a computer.

um around
Wir fahren um die Universität.
We are driving around the university.

Click here to practice using these prepositions.

Prepositions taking either Accusative or Dative

an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor, zwischen

accusative for motion, dative for location

with the accusative

This group of prepositions is followed by the accusative when they express a change of location.

Hänge das Bild an die Wand. Hang the picture on the wall. (It wasn't on the wall before.)
Stell die Weinflasche auf den Tisch.  Put the wine-bottle on the table. (It wasn't on the table before.)
Parken Sie das Auto hinter das Haus. Park the car behind the house.
Wir gehen ins Kino. We're going to the movies (literally, into the movie-theater).
Hänge die Lampe über den Tisch. Hang the lamp over the table.
Fahr den Wagen vor das Haus.  Drive the car in front of the house.
Setz dich zwischen ihn und mich. Sit down between him and me

In the sentences above, the prepositions are followed by the accusative because the prepositional phrases indicate a destination, or a change in location. 


 with the dative

This group of prepositions always takes the dative when used in a time expression
answering the question Wann? (when?) (am Montag, im Juni, vor einer Woche).

When used in reference to space, the dative is used to indicate
a location (not a change of location, which requires accusative).
 

Das Bild hängt an der Wand. The picture is hanging on the wall. (no change in location)
Die Weinflasche steht auf dem Tisch. The wine-bottle is (standing) on the table.
Das Auto steht hinter dem Haus.  The car is (standing) behind the house.
Der Film im Kino ist sehr gut. The movie in the theater is very good.
Die Lampe hängt über dem Tisch. The lamp is (hanging) over the table.
Der Wagen steht vor dem Haus. The car is (standing) in front of the house.
Du sitzt zwischen ihm und mir. You are sitting between him and me.

In these sentences, the prepositions are followed by the dative, because the prepositional phrases do not indicate a change in location, but simply a location.

To summarize:

change in location? use accusative

no change in location? use dative 

Wann? use dative 

accusative for motion, dative for location
Click here to practice this topic.
Subject: Nominative Case Of: Genitive

Possession
Link a Noun to a Noun

Direct Object: Accusative Case To or For: Dative Case

Other Uses of the Accusative

Accusative Prepositions
Moving across Boundaries

Other Uses of the Dative

Indirect Object
Dative Verbs
Dative Prepositions
Location in Space and Time


Prepositions with Accusative or Dative

Accusative for Destination
Dative for Location in space or time

 

 Student's Table of Cases in German

 Return to top of page


Other Uses of the Dative

Dative Prepositions

aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu

The following prepositions are always followed by the dative case.
They are the dative prepositions.

aus from
Ich komme aus den Vereinigten Staaten.
I come from the United States.

Ihre Jacke ist aus grüner Seide.
Her jacket is made of green silk.

außer except for, besides
Außer ihm denken wir alle so.
Except for him, we all think so.

bei with, near, at, at the home of
Die Party ist bei mir.
The party's at my house.
Meine Mutter arbeitet bei einer großen Firma
.
My mother works for a big company.

mit with, by 
Kommst du mit uns?
Are you coming with us?

Nein, ich fahre mit dem Taxi.
No, I'm going by taxi.

nach after, to, according to 
Nach der Klasse gehen wir ins Kaffeehaus.
After class we're going to the coffeehouse.

Nächsten Sommer fahre ich nach Deutschland.
Next summer I'm going to Germany.
Diesem Artikel nach ist das falsch.
According to this article, that's wrong.

seit for, since 
Ich studiere deutsch seit zwei Monaten.
I've been studying German for two months.
Der Patient wartet schon seit einer Stunde.
The patient has been waiting for an hour already.

von of, from, by 
Greta ist eine Freundin von meiner Schwester.
Greta is a friend of my sister.
Hier ist ein Buch von Günter Grass.
Here's a book by Günter Grass.

zu to, at
Ich bin zu Weihnachten zu Hause.
I am at home at Christmas.
Komm zu
mir.
Come to me.

For another use of the dative after prepositions, see the preceding section, "Prepositions taking either Accusative or Dative." 


Dative verbs

A number of verbs are called "dative verbs" because they require a dative object, rather than an accusative one.
Often these verbs can be translated with the idea of "to" or "for," which are the ideas associated with the dative.

For example:
helfen to help, to give help to
Du hilfst mir.
You help me.
danken to thank, to give thanks to
Ich möchte Ihnen danken.
I 'd like to thank you.
folgen to follow
Folge mir!
Follow me!
gratulieren to congratulate, to give congratulations to
Ich gratuliere Ihnen!
I congratulate you!
gefallen to be pleasing to
Der Film gefällt meinem Vater nicht.
The movie is not pleasing to my father.

(Better translated as: My father does not like the movie.)

gehören to belong to
Wem gehört dieses Buch?
To whom does this book belong?
glauben to believe, to give credence to
Ich glaube ihnen nicht. Ihm habe ich noch nie geglaubt.
I don't believe them.
Him, I never have believed.
passieren, geschehen to happen to Was ist dir denn passiert? Geschieht das dir oft?
So what happened to you? Does that happen to you often?
zuhören to listen to

Ich habe euch zugehört; jetzt hört mir doch zu.
I listened to you (guys); now listen to me.

When you learn a new verb, it is best to learn if it is a dative verb as well.
If a verb is a dative verb, practice it with dative objects.

 Return to top of page
Subject: Nominative Case Of: Genitive

Possession
Link a Noun to a Noun

Direct Object: Accusative Case To or For: Dative Case

Other Uses of the Accusative

Accusative Prepositions
Moving across Boundaries

Other Uses of the Dative

Indirect Object
Dative Verbs
Dative Prepositions
Location in Space and Time


Prepositions with Accusative or Dative

Accusative for Destination
Dative for Location in space or time

 

  Student's Table of Cases in German

Genitive Case

Reichstag, Sitz des Bundestages
Sign pointing the way to the Reichstag, the seat of the Lower House of the German Parliament

The genitive case is associated with "of." It is the case of possession.
It usually links a noun to another noun.
The genitive can be linked to a subject, an object, an indirect object,
a dative object, the object of a preposition or another genitive.

genitive with subject: Das Büro meines Vaters ist hier. My father's office (the office of my father) is here.
genitive with direct object Möchtest du das Büro meines Vaters sehen? Would you like to see my father's office?
genitive with indirect object Wir schicken der Mutter unseres Freundes ein Geschenk. We're sending a gift to our friend's mother.
genitive with dative object Wir helfen der Mutter unseres Freundes.We're helping our friend's mother.
genitive with the object of a preposition: Wir kaufen ein Geschenk für die Mutter unseres Freundes. We're buying a gift for our friend's mother.
Wir übernachten bei der Familie unseres Kollegen.
We're spending the night at the home of our colleague's family.
genitive with genitive Hier ist die Adresse des Vaters des Kindes. Here is the child's father's address.
  (This doesn't sound any better in German than it does in English. Just as in English, Germans would prefer to say: Hier ist die Adresse von dem Vater des Kindes. Here is the address of the child's father.)

Prepositions with the Genitive

(an)statt, innerhalb, außerhalb, trotz, während, wegen

These prepositions are followed by the genitive.
For most of them, the definition includes the idea "of," which we associate with the genitive.

anstatt instead of (often shortened just to "statt")

Anstatt des Bieres habe ich Wein bestellt.
Instead of beer, I ordered wine.

trotz in spite of

Trotz des Wetters war der Urlaub schön.
In spite of the weather, the vacation was nice.

während during, in the course of

Wir besuchen euch während der Ferien.
We're visiting you during the holidays.

wegen because of

Das Haus gefällt uns wegen seiner guten Lage.
We like the house because of its good location.

innerhalb inside of, within

Innerhalb der Stadt gibt es vier Universitäten.
Within the city there are four universities.

außerhalb outside of

Außerhalb seines Landes ist der Sänger nicht wohl-bekannt.
Outside of his country, the singer is not well-known.

Click here to practice using genitive prepositions.

Subject: Nominative Case Of: Genitive

Possession
Link a Noun to a Noun

Direct Object: Accusative Case To or For: Dative Case

Other Uses of the Accusative

Accusative Prepositions
Moving across Boundaries

Other Uses of the Dative

Indirect Object
Dative Verbs
Dative Prepositions
Location in Space and Time


Prepositions with Accusative or Dative

Accusative for Destination
Dative for Location in space or time

 

 Student's Table of Cases in German

Return to top of page
Homepage Workbook Links Grammatical Terms Syllabi

©A. Campitelli, Greensboro, NC, 1999-2004