Every sentence contains at least one grammatical case in German. These cases are either naturally occurring i.e subject & direct/indirect object, due to certain verbs or as a result of prepositions. Slowly walk with me while I break it down.
Grammatik can be most challenging for a lot of people when it comes to the German language. This is most likely due to the many articles used for each grammatical case. Nevertheless, it remains the easiest and most important part of the language. There are four cases in German namely;
THE NOMINATIVE CASE IN GERMAN
Nominativ is the subject of a sentence or the performer of the action/verb in a sentence. This is the “S” in SVO and most important part of a German sentence. It is most important because a sentence can not even begin without a subject since the verb can only be conjugated to it.
Apart from being the subject of a sentence, a Nominativ can also be formed as a result of certain grammatical verbs called Nominativ verbs. The usage of these verbs in a sentence makes it possible for there to be two subjects in a sentence. For example sein.
Nominativ sentences are usually called the simplest sentences because they are very short sentences. For example;
|1. I am Vicky.—— Ich bin Vicky.|
2. Sara is a girl.—— Sara ist ein Mädchen.
3. Susan is singing.——— Susan singt.
4. John is cooking.——— John kocht.
5. The dog is eating.——— Der Hund frisst.
6. We are the people. —— Wir sind die Leute.
7. No man is an island. —— Kein Mensch ist eine Insel.
THE ACCUSATIVE CASE
Akkusativ is the direct object or the action receiver in a sentence. In simple terms, it is usually who or what receives the verb directly. In standard sentences, it is placed directly after the verb, that is the third position in the standard SVO order, but can also be switched around. An Akkusativ sentence is also known as a simple sentence in English. For example;
|1. I have a pen.—— Ich habe einen Kugelschreiber.|
2. Sara is buying a bag.—— Sara kauft eine Tasche.
3. The child is eating the food.—— Das Kind isst das Essen.
4. A man is playing a piano. —— Ein Mann spielt ein Klavier.
THE DATIV CASE IN GERMAN
The Dativ of a sentence is simply the indirect object or the benefactor or indirect receiver of the action/verb in that sentence. As an indirect object, it can be an inanimate object but as a benefactor, it can only be a human or an animal. Apart from having an indirect object in a sentence, a Dativ can also be formed due to the presence of a Dativ verb e.g geben
In a sentence that contains an Akkusativ and a Dativ, the Dativ always takes the third position while the Akkusativ takes the fourth position in the SVO order. For example: “Susan is buying a bag for Tracy” is translated as “Susan kauft Tracy eine Tasche”. What this simply means is that the subject (Susan) is performing the action of buying (verb) of an object (a bag) of which Tracy is the one to receive it. Hence Tracy is the benefactor or Dativ which must take the third position.
In English, the Dativ normally goes with the preposition “for” or “to” but in German, the preposition is embedded in the article, noun or pronoun. Hence, “for/to the man” is simply “dem Mann” and likewise “for Tracy” is simply “Tracy” etc. Also, the English translation for the dativ that comes as a result of the dativ verb does not require the preposition “to” and “for”. These prepositions are mostly used literally when the direct object in the german translation is placed before the indirect object.
How is the Dative placed in a German sentence
When formulating a German sentence that involves a natural Dativ (a Dativ that is not as a result of preposition), the Dativ must always come first before the Akkusativ except the Akkusativ is a pronoun. Even when the Akkusativ and the Dativ are both pronouns, the Akkusativ pronoun must nevertheless come first before the Dativ pronoun. For example;
|1. Ich habe es ihr gegeben.—— I gave it to her. ✅ and not I gave her it. ❌|
2. Ich habe es meiner Mutter gegeben.—— I gave it to my mother.✅ and not I gave my mother it. ❌
3. I gave the woman the book.—— ich gab der Frau das Buch
4. I told them a story.—— ich erzählte ihnen ein Geschicht.
Sometimes the Akkusativ preposition “für” is used instead to make a sentence, hence, it is no longer a Dativ case. For example; “I am buying a bag for the man” can either be “ich Kaufe dem Mann eine Tasche” in the Dativ or “Ich kaufe eine Tasche für den Mann” in the Akkusativ.
|1. The woman is cooking the meat for the children. —— Die Frau kocht den Kindern das Fleisch.|
2. The man is selling the toy to the boy.—— Der Mann verkauft dem Junge das Spielzeug.
THE GENITIVE CASE
The Genitiv of a sentence shows the ownership or measurement of one noun to another noun. It is the only grammatical case that can act on every other grammatical case. What this means is that, it has the ability to merge with the rest.
In English, Genitiv always goes with the preposition “of” to show measurement or possession but in German, the “of” is naturally imbedded in the noun. This simply means, when translating from English to German, you should omit the “of”. For instance: “A plate of rice” is translated as “Ein Teller Reis” and not “Ein Teller von Reis”.
Just like the other cases, the Genitiv can also be formed with certain verbs and preposition. Sometimes, the Dativ preposition “von” which is translated “of” in English is used instead of the Genitiv to make the same expression but only in terms of ownership. For example: “The man’s son” is translated as “Der Sohn von dem Mann” which literally means “the son of the man”.
How To Decline Genitiv Endings
Genitiv masculine and neuter nouns always have endings or declension. These endings can either be “-es, -s, or -en”. The choice of these endings is dependent on the last letter and number of syllables in the word.
Masculine and neuter nouns with one Syllable that end with a consonant except “R”, “T”, and “Z” always take the ending “es”. For instance, “Der Mann” in the Genitiv becomes “des Mannes” while those with two or more syllables that end with all other letters except “E”, “S”, “T” and “Z” always take “s” at the end. Hence “Der Lehrer” in the Genitiv becomes “des Lehrers”.
Masculine and neuter nouns with two or more syllables that end with either “E” and “T” and most nouns with one syllable that end with “R” and “Z” take the ending “en” with exception of das Herz which takes up „ens“ instead. Hence, “Der Prinz” becomes “des Prinzen” while those that end with “EN“ usually take up the ending “s” e.g des Kochens etc.
Nouns With Genitiv endings
|Nominativ||Genitiv ending es||Translation|
|of the child|
of the dog
of the house
of the rice
|Nominativ||Genitiv ending s||Translation|
|of the rain|
of the driver
of the spoon
of the radio
|Nominativ||Genitiv ending en||Translation|
|der Elefant||des Elefanten||of the elephant|
|der Präsident||des Präsidenten||of the president|
|der Herr||des Herrn||of the lord|
|der Junge||des Löwen||of the lion|
|der Prinz||des Prinzen||of the prince|
- Those that end with “E” don’t require another “e” but instead take just “n” at the end.
- Apart from genitive, certain classes of masculine nouns equally take up “n” or “en” in the Akkusativ and Dativ case as well as all plural nouns in the Dativ. This is referred to as N-Deklination of nouns.