The German Dative (Part 1)

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First of course you need to know What is the Dative right?

Well, the dative’s main purpose is to point out an indirect object. That’s a person or thing that’s being affected by a verb’s action.

For example:

Ich habe das der Frau gesagt. (I told that to the woman.)

In the above sentence, “the woman” is the one being told. So she is the indirect object. “I” is the subject of the sentence and “that” is the direct object.

One reason learners grapple with the German dative so much more than any other case is because it changes every definite and indefinite article. In the example above, you’ll notice how die Frau has changed to der Frau. This is because the dative changes the feminine definite article from die to der.

Now we come to Dative Definite and Indefinite Articles

If a sentence or clause is in the dative case, you need to make sure you’re using dative articles with nouns. As we don’t change articles in English, this can be hard at first for learners. However, once you remember the following pattern of changes, you’ll find it easier to understand.

Masculine Definite Article

In the dative case, instead of taking their usual der, masculine nouns need to use dem as their definite article.

Er hat das dem Hund gegeben. (I gave it to the dog.)

Ich bin mit dem Mann ins Kino gegangen. (I went to the cinema with the man.)

Feminine Definite Article

We also need to change the feminine definite article. Der is used instead of die.

Wir backen der Julia einen Kuchen. (We’re baking a cake for Julia.)

Germans will often precede male names with the masculine definite article, and female names with the feminine definite article.

Er hat der Oma den Tisch gekauft. (He bought the grandma the table.)

Neuter Definite Article

The definite article for neutral nouns, das, changes to dem. Just like the masculine one did!

Ich habe dem Mädchen Witze erzählt. (I told the girl jokes.)

Er gibt dem Pferd das Heu. (He gives the horse the hay.)

Plural Definite Article

As well as changing the plural definite article to den, we also need to add an “-n” or “-en” ending to the plural noun.

Sie spricht mit den Brüdern. (She speaks with the brothers.)

Ich habe den Hunden das Fleisch gefüttert. (I fed the meat to the dogs.)

Masculine Indefinite Article

It’s not just definite articles that are changed by the dative—indefinite ones get in on the action too! When it comes to masculine nouns, ein becomes einem.

Er macht es mit einem Computer. (He’s doing it with a computer.)

Sie werden einem Franzosen alles sagen. (They’ll tell a Frenchman everything.)

Feminine Indefinite Article

The pattern with indefinite articles follows that of the definite articles. So, die changes to der. That means eine will change to…einer.

Sie hat einer Tante das Geld gegeben. (She gave the money to an aunt.)

Ich habe das in einer Geschichte gelesen. (I read that in a story.)

Neuter Indefinite Article

Neuter nouns need einem instead of ein.

Ein Esel ist einem Pferd sehr ähnlich. (A donkey is very similar to a horse.)

Ich habe nichts außer einem Fenster gebrochen. (I didn’t break anything except a window.)

Kein

As in English, there is no indefinite article for plurals. However, we do use the article kein to negate plurals. In English, this is usually translated as “not a” or “not any.” The translations below will help you get a grasp on the grammar.

Ich habe mit keinem gesprochen. (I spoke with nobody. / I didn’t speak to anyone.)

Das Mädchen hat keinen Verwandten das Geheimnis gesagt. (The girl told no relatives the secret. / The girl didn’t tell any relatives the secret.)

Whereas in English, there are a few different constructions that get across the same idea, in German you’ll always be using kein.

Der Wemfall: Is That “Who” or “Whom”?

Even Germans find the dative hard to master! And for one reason in particular—its effect on the word wer (who). This aspect has even led to Germans coining the nickname der Wemfall for the dative. Der Wemfall could be translated into English as “the whom-case.” Indeed, English used to have a dative case and “whom” is a remnant of this—but who really knows how to use “whom” correctly? Germans also have trouble remembering that wer is changed to wem in the dative, and that’s why they’ve come up with the nickname der Wemfall.

Whenever wer (who) is found in a dative clause, it changes to wem.

Wem hat er das Ticket gegeben? (To whom did he give the ticket?)

To be continue…

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