5 Ways To Get German Cases Right

If you want to sound like a German native speaker. The first thing you must do is getting your German cases right. If your articles don’t exactly match their cases, it doesn’t matter if your German is perfect another way. It may sounds too strong but getting German cases right can make or break your fluency.

As you all know in German, It has 4 cases (Nominativ – 1, Genitiv – 2, Dativ – 3, Akkusativ – 4)
Noname

Pretty frustrating, right?

In English, you always know where you stand with your articles. Regardless of gender, quantity or who’s doing what action, “the” will always be “the.” German is far more specific.

Here are FIVE important rules you need to master to always identify the correct case in German:

  1. The nominative case isn’t always straightforward.

The nominative case is the subject of the sentence. That is, the person or thing which is doing the action in the sentence. Though that sounds simple enough, here are some examples of sentences where it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on:

Double nominative

One thing that might trip you up on a test is that, generally, if the sentence only uses some form of the verb “sein” (to be), then both nouns in the sentence are in the nominative case. It makes sense if you think about it, because the sentence doesn’t actually have an object – it just has the same subject twice.

Die neue Schülerin war eine Französin aus dem Süden.

Das Praktikum war die beste Erfahrung meines Lebens.

However, keep in mind that, as with any rule, there are exceptions and this is not always the case 100% all of the time.

Sentences without nominative

One of the first things that learners of German should learn not to say is ich bin kalt. Rather than meaning that the room temperature isn’t comfortable for you, this means that your body is cold.

The proper German way to express discomfort when the window is open is mir ist kalt. This sentence is unusual because it only has one noun in the dative case. I think you can imagine the rather indirect relationship between you and the cold – by putting the noun in the dative case, it shows that the environment is cold for you, rather than just you being cold.

There are also some verbs where what might seem to be the subject is instead in the dative case: Eigentlich gefällt es mir, früh aufzustehen.

  1. You need to know the difference between direct and indirect objects.

Direct object – An object which directly receives the effect of an action and is the primary object.

Example: “Please write the essay.” The essay is the direct object in this sample sentence.

Indirect object – An object which is passively affected by an action and is not the primary object.

Example: “Tell him the news.” News is the direct object because it is being told, while him is the indirect object because he is not performing an action, he is passively being informed and the news could be told to anyone else.

  1. You have to learn which verbs are always dative.

Accusative or Dative?

Accusative case is the object of the sentence, and dative is the indirect object of the sentence. In sentences that have both a direct object and an indirect object, it’s usually pretty clear which noun has a more direct relationship to the verb:

Ich hab ihm (Dat) das Geschenk (Acc) gegeben.

Er hat mir(Dat) leider stundenlang die Photos(Akk) von seiner Reise nach Thailand gezeigt.

Here, the photos and the gift are being directly “given” or “shown,” while the person they are being given or shown to is the indirect object.

If someone says something to you, it’s always dative.

Ich sagte dir, dass du dir etwas warmes anziehen solltest.

Sie hat mir gar nicht gesagt, dass sie nur veganisches Essen isst.

You will also find that certain verbs are always dative.

danken fehlen folgen gefallen gehören glauben helfen passieren erlauben bleiben

Kannst du mir helfen?

Dieses blaue Auto folgte mir den ganzen Tag.

Ich muss dir für deine Hilfe mit meiner Autoreparatur danken.

When you learn a new verb, you actually need to know a few things in order to use it correctly. Is it reflexive? What prepositions does it use? And is it dative or accusative? Make a note every time you learn a new verb about whether the verb is dative or accusative, and even try to find a good, memorable sample sentence that you can refer to when you’re not sure.

  1. The genitive case is worth knowing, but is often neglected.

Basically, the genitive adds possession. Instead of needing to write Die Spezialität vom Haus (vom is a contraction of von dem) for “the specialty of the house,” you can instead write: Die Spezialität des Hauses so the des literally means “of the.”

Genitive adds a suffix –s or –es to masculine and neuter nouns, but not to feminine nouns.

  • Masculine: Das Bellen des Hundes.
  • Feminine: Ein Bild der Welt.
  • Neuter: Magst du den Geschmack des Bieres?
  1. The most common 30 prepositions can be defined by these four groups.

(1) Dual Prepositions

Dual prepositions, which all describe location, are usually the first set that are taught in German classrooms. They include: an, auf, hinter, in, neben, über, unter, vor and zwischen.

If the subject of the sentence is not moving, then the nouns that these prepositions form prepositional phrases with are in the dative case.

Dein Glas steht auf dem Tisch in der Küche.

Hinter meinem Haus wachsen viele Kastanienbäume.

Das Mädchen hatte über den Augen keine Augenbrauen, nur Tätowierungen.

If the subject of the verb is moving, then these prepositions give their nouns the accusative case.

Er rannte in das Zimmer hinein, ohne seine Schuhe auszuziehen.

Er lag sein Handy auf den Tisch.

Wir segelten über das Mittelmeer in nur einer Woche.

(2) Dative Prepositions

The next set of prepositions are always in the dative: ab, aus, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu, and gegenüber.

Bei ihr gibt’s immer leckere Kuchen.

Von mir aus, können wir gerne eine Reise nach Spanien planen.

Wir werden Probleme mit deinem Chef kriegen, wenn wir in September weggehen.

Be careful to note that gegenüber is used a little differently; it comes after the noun that it refers to:

Dem Platz gegenüber gab es eine kleine Gruppe von Breakdancern.

(3) Accusative Prepositions

The accusative prepositions are: bis, durch, für, gegen, ohne, um and entlang.

Ohne dich wäre das Projekt kein Erfolg gewesen.

Ich wurde durch seine Argumente überzeugt.

(4) Genitive prepositions

Finally, the fanciest prepositions of all – the genitive prepositions. Please note, all of the previous lists of prepositions were exhaustive, but the list of genitive prepositions is a bit long, so I’ve just gathered a few of the most common ones:  außerhalb, innerhalb, jenseits, während, trotz, and dank

Trotz seines schlechten Atems hat er immer eine hübsche Freundin gehabt.

Während seiner Zeit in Deutschland hat er immer versucht, Deutsch zu sprechen.

Die Wienerische Vorstadt befindet sich außerhalb der Ringstraße.

So, Viel Glück! Once you master using all of these prepositions with the correct case, you’ll be able to start writing and speaking German with real fluency.

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