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Most learners of German seem to struggle with the language’s grammar cases. In this post I am going to explain why these cases exist and what they mean.
The crucial element of every sentence is the verb, since it names a particular action. In this action, there are always specific subjects and objects (nouns) involved in. Since German word order is very changeable all nouns have to slip into particular roles, so that we have the chance to realize how each noun is related to the verb. These roles are the language’s grammar cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative.
Usually, we cannot realize the role or case by the form of the noun. Therefore, German nouns are preceded by other parts of speech, e.g. definite articles, indefinite articles, pronouns, and adjectives, which have the function to indicate the specific grammar case of the following noun.
As I cannot cover all parts of speech in a single post I will focus on the definite articles in the following. Below you can find an overview of all definite articles.
Here is a short description of what each case indicates, that is, how a particular noun is related to the verb or action.
|Nominative = DOER
|(indicates who or what carries out the action)|
|Genitive = POSSESSION
|(indicates that something belongs to the doer, instrument, OR target of an action)|
|Dative = INSTRUMENT||(indicates with what the action is carried out)|
|Accusative = TARGET||(indicates who or what receives the action)|
Here are some example sentences:
Der Mann der Nachbarin liest das Buch mit der Brille. – The man/husband of the (female) neighbor is reading the book with the glasses.
Die Frau schreibt den Brief mit dem Stift des Chefs. – The woman is writing the letter with the pen of the boss.
Das Kind spielt das Spiel des Jahres mit der Freundin. – The child is playing the game of the year with the (female) friend.
From these example sentences, we can deduce the following two general rules:
1) English “of the” corresponds always to the German articles of the genitive case. That is, there are only two options to express “of the” in German: “der” or “des”
2) The preposition “mit” (with) requires always the dative case of the following noun. That is, it is either “mit dem” or “mit der” (for singular nouns) or “mit den” (for plural nouns).
Here is a list of all the nouns, which I have just used, with their nominative articles, so that you can check my explanations.
der Mann – man; husband
die Nachbarin – (female) neighbor
das Buch – book
die Brille – glasses
die Frau – woman; wife
der Brief – letter
der Stift – pen
der Chef – boss
das Kind – child
das Spiel – game
das Jahr – year
die Freundin – (female) friend