When it comes to formulating a sentence in German, I like to first of all make my expression in my head. This is one way I have been able to maintain the order of making a perfect german sentence. Of course, this is first possible because I know the English rules as well as that of German and because I believe them to be closely related, I can easily translate from one to another, paying attention to the variation in their rules.

Content in this post
1. Definition of a sentence
2. Types of a german sentence
3. The components of a german sentence
4. The four cases in german grammar
5. The rules of a german sentence formation
6. Sentence illustration
Table of content for germaan sentence formation

A sentence is simply defined as the combination of words which makes a complete sense or can be understood. It can either be simple, compound or even complex. It can as well be straight forward or be flexed. A perfect german sentence requires a subject, a verb and/or an object. It must begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop.

Picturing a sentence as the human body, the subject would be considered as the Skeleton, with the verb considered as the brain box while the Object would be the muscles. There are basically two types of sentences;

  • Main sentence (Hauptsatz)
  • Relative sentence (Nebensatz)

A sentence is said to be the “Hauptsatz” when the conjugated verb is in the second position. For exam; “Ich kaufe einen Apfel”. Here the conjugated verb “kaufe” is in the second position. A “Nebensatz” on the other hand is one in which the conjugated verb is placed at the end of the sentence as a result of certain factors such as using subordinate conjunctions. For example; “Ich kaufe einen Apfel, wenn ich Geld habe”.

The normal order of a simple German sentence is; S+V+O where “S” means subject, “V” is the verb while “O” means the object. This other can sometimes be reversed but still the verb must remain in the second position. The object is usually of three types namely;

The arrangement of the three kinds of objects when present in a sentence is usually; indirect object ➡️ direct object ➡️ prepositional object. In the absence of any one of the three objects, the order remains the same. All you have to do is lift out the absent one in the sequence.

**Note that it is possible to flex this order by switching positions between the S and O so it becomes O+V+S.

To formulate a german sentence, there are four grammatical cases which I like to refer to as the skeleton of a german sentence that should be well constructed and used. They are:

  • Nominativ
  • Akkusativ
  • Dativ
  • Genitiv

**Note that it is possible to use all four cases in one sentence (complex compound sentence) but the most important is the Nominativ since it is possible to form a sentence with just the Nominativ and the verb.

NOMINATIV

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 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;

Usage
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.
Nominativ sentences

**Note: see why “is” and “are” were not translated here

AKKUSATIV

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;

Usage
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.
Akkusativ sentences

DATIV

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

The Dativ always takes the third position while the Akkusativ takes the fourth position in the standard 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.

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;

Usage
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.
Dativ sentences

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.

More examples;

  • The woman is cooking the meat for the children. —— Die Frau kocht den Kindern das Fleisch.
  • The man is selling the toy to the boy.—— Der Mann verkauft dem Junge das Spielzeug.

GENITIV

A Genitiv of a sentence is used to show ownership or measurement of one noun to another noun. Genitiv unlike the first three cases is not influenced by the verb. 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 others.

The position for Genitiv in the standard SVO order is directly after the grammatical case it is influencing or possessing in the sentence. That means, when it possesses the Nominativ, it becomes one position (I.e the S in SVO) instead of two. This principle also applies when it possesses the other grammatical cases as well.

In English, Genitiv always goes with the preposition “of” to show measurement or possession but in German, the “of” is naturally imbedded. This simply means, when translating from English to German, the “of” should be omitted. For instance: “A plate of rice” is translated as “Ein Teller Reis” and not “Ein Teller von Reis”.

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”.

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”.

More examples;

NominativGenitivTranslation
das Kind
der Hund
der Mund
das Haus
der Reis
des Kindes
des Hundes
des Mundes
des Hauses
des Reises
of the child
of the dog
of the mouth
of the house
of the rice
comparison of nominativ to genitiv ending with es

Masculine and Neuter nouns with two or more Syllables that end with consonants and vowels except “e”, “s”, “t” and “z” always take “s” at the end. Hence “Der Lehrer” in the Genitiv becomes “des Lehrers”.

More examples;

NominativGenitivTranslation
das Mädchen
der Teller
der Regen
der Fahrer
der Löffel
der Vater
das Wetter
das Radio
des Mädchens
des Tellers
des Regens
des Fahrers
der Löffel
des Vaters
des Wetters
des Radios
of the girl
of the plate
of the rain
of the driver
of the spoon
of the father
of the weather
of the radio
comparison of nominativ to genitiv ending with s

Masculine and neuter nouns with two or more syllables that end with either “e” and “t” and nouns with one syllable that end with “r” and “z” always take the ending “en”. Hence, “Der Prinz” becomes “des Prinzen”.

**Note that those that end with “E” don’t require another “e” but instead take just “n” at the end.

Examples;

NominativGenitivTranslation
der Elefant
der Präsident
der Herr
der Junge
der Prinz
der Löwe
der Nachbar
der Kollege
des Elefanten
des Präsidenten
des Herrn
des Jungen
des Prinzen
des Löwen
des Nachbarn
des Kollegen
of the elephant
of the president
of the lord
of the boy
of the prince
of the lion
of the neighbour
of the colleague
comparison of nominativ to genitiv ending with e, t, and z

Classification of Genitiv

There are several classifications of Genitiv in German as listed below:

  • Genitiv with the subject (Nominativ)
  • Genitiv with direct object (Akkusativ)
  • Genitiv with indirect object (Dativ)
  • Genitiv with names

GENITIV WITH NOMINATIV shows possession of the Genitiv to the subject there by acting as one entity and takes the first position together with the subject in the standard SVO order. For example: “The man’s son is dancing”. This simply means the owner of the son is the man or the man owns the son. Hence, the man here is the Genitiv. The literal translation in German becomes “Der Sohn des Mannes tanzt” in Genitiv.

Usage
1. The President’s daughter is getting married.—— Die Tochter des Präsidenten heiratet.

2. The teacher’s child is crying.—— Das Kind der Lehrerin weint.

3. The man of the people is speaking.—— Der Mann der Leute spricht.
Genitiv with Nominativ sentences

GENITIV WITH AKKUSATIV is used to show possession or ownership of the Genitiv to the direct object. It is similar to that of the subject except that the direct object is treated like it is in every way. What this means is that, the necessary Akkusativ rules (such as the correct declension of articles etc.) must abide with the noun which is possessed by the Genitiv. For example;

Usage
1. Tania is singing the man’s song.—— Tania singt das Lied des Mannes.

2. I am taking the boy’s dog.—— ich nehme den Hund des Jungen.
Genitiv with Akkusativ sentences

GENITIV WITH DATIV shows the possession of the indirect object and is positioned in the standard SVO order for Dativ. For example;

Usage
1. Max is buying a flower for his son’s mother.—— Max kauft der Mutter seines Sohnes.

2. Ruth is preparing the contract for her friend’s sister.—— Ruth bereitet der Schwester ihrer Freundin den Vertrag vor.
Genitiv with Dativ sentences

**Note that it is possible to have a very complex sentence with all grammatical cases being possessed by the Genitiv. For example;

Usage
1. The president’s daughter is singing the man’s song to the woman’s child.—— Die Tochter des Präsidenten singt dem Kind der Frau das Lied des Mannes.

2. I would like to speak to the old man’s son.–– ich möchte mit dem Sohn des alten Mannes sprechen.
Genitiv with Dativ sentences

GENITIV WITH NAMES is divided into two;

  • Names of people and job positions
  • Names of places

With names of people and job positions, the Genitiv in deutsch adds an “s” to the end of the name but without an apostrophe. For example “Mara’s book” and “The Boss’ office” in deutsch becomes “Maras Buch” and “Der Chefs Büro” respectively. But when the name ends already with an “s”, then there is no need to add another “s”. For example; “Lucas’ book” is translated as “Lucas Buch” in deutsch.

With names of Places, Genitiv in English always use the preposition “of” but in deutsch, the literal translation of “of” is omitted. Hence, “The university of Hamburg” is translated as “Die Universität Hamburg” in deutsch.

Usage
1. Sara’s shoes.—— Saras Schuhe.

2. Matias’ Eyeglasses.—— Matias Brille

3. The queen of England.—— Die Königin England.

4.The president of the federal republic of Germany.—— Der Präsident der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.r.
Genitiv sentences
Additional relevant links
Grammatical Verbs
How to use articles with the gramatical cases
relevant links

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