The 4 CASES in German – SIMPLY explained

The 4 CASES in German - SIMPLY explained

Hallo und willkommen bei Spring German. Ich bin Denisa. In the German language, we have the vier Fälle (4 cases in German). They are called Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ and Akkusativ.

In this video, you will learn to tell them apart and when to use every single one of them. And the end of this video, we will also do a quiz. But keine Sorge (no worries) if you watch this video carefully, it will be easy for you. Let’s start with the first one. Los geht’s!

1. Nominativ

In English, this is equivalent to the subject of a sentence. In the following dialogue, I underlined every noun that is in the Nominativ in German or the subject in the sentence.

Wie viel verdienst du eigentlich?
(How much money do you actually make?)

Das geht dich nichts an.
(That’s none of your business.)

Ach, komm schon.
(Oh, come on.)

Daniel verdient zwanzig Euro die Stunde. Er ist ein Jahr länger in der Firma als ich.
(Daniel makes 20 euros per hour. He is one year longer than me in the company.)

So how do you now recognize the first case?

The first case is called Nominativ and you can ask with “Wer oder was?” (Who or what?) is doing something.

  • Wer verdient zwanzig Euro die Stunde? → Daniel (Who makes 20 euros per hour? → Daniel)
  • Was geht dich nichts an? → Das (What is none of your business? → That)

Here are some other examples:

  • Der Junge sitzt auf dem Stuhl. → Wer oder was sitzt auf dem Stuhl? -> der Junge (The boy sits on the chair. → Who or what sits on the chair? the boy)
  • Morgens geht mein Papa zur Arbeit. → Wer oder was geht morgens zur Arbeit? -> mein Papa (In the morning, my dad goes to work. → Who or what goes to work in the morning? my dad)
  • Das Mädchen spielt Fußball. → Wer oder was spielt Fußball? → das Mädchen (The girl plays soccer. → Who or what plays soccer? → the girl)

So remember that the first case is called “Nominativ” and is used to indicate the subject of a sentence.

Chunk alert!

The chunk for today is “Das geht dich nichts an” (That’s none of your business). It would be hard to come up with this translation because in English it doesn’t even make sense. Literally, it would be “That concerns you nothing”. So the good thing is, you can just learn it as a whole, and you will sound like a native speaker. And furthermore, you can also remember it as an example for the Nominativ.

If you want to learn more helpful chunks like this, check our free essential German chunking kit. The link is in the video’s description.

2. Genitiv

The second case is called Genitiv and you ask for it with “Wessen?” (whose?). This case is used to indicate possession or a relationship between two nouns. In English, this is usually indicated by using an apostrophe and the letter “s”, for example “John’s car”.

Let’s look at this dialogue:

Das ist das Oberteil. Ist es nicht schön?
(That’s the top. Isn’t it pretty?)

Ja, aber wessen Oberteil ist das?
(Yes, but whose top is that?)

Das ist das Oberteil meiner Schwester. Ich hab’s mir ausgeliehen.
(That’s my sister’s top. I borrowed it.)

You don’t need to know it all by heart, but chunks will help you to remember the right declination.

A common mistake is to say “Das ist das Kleid meine Schwester” (That’s my sister’s dress). So remember: when the noun is feminine like die Schwester (the sister), you have to add an R to meine (my), so it’s Das ist das Kleid meiner Schwester (That’s my sister’s dress). When the noun is masculine or neuter, an S is added.

Examples for that are:

  • Dort liegt das Buch des Schülers. -> Wessen Buch liegt dort? -> des Schülers (The student’s book is there. → Whose book is there? → the student’s)
  • Das ist das Haus meines Vaters. → Wessen Haus ist das? → meines Vaters (That’s my father’s house. → Whose house is that? → my father’s.)
  • Das ist das Auto meines Bruders. → Wessen Auto ist das? → meines Bruders (That is my brother’s car. → Whose car is that? → my brother’s)

Don’t forget that we will do a quiz at the end, so stay tuned.

3. Dativ

This case is used to indicate the indirect object of a sentence. It typically indicates the person or thing that is affected by the action of the verb. In English, this is usually indicated by using the preposition “to” or “for” (e.g. I gave the book to him).

You ask with the question word “Wem” (whom, who… to) to get the indirect object and the noun in the Dativ.

Mein Geschenk ist fast fertig.
(My present is almost finished.)

Wem schenkst du das Bild?
(Who are you giving the picture to?)

Das Bild schenke ich meiner Schwester. Sie hat bald Geburtstag.
(I’m giving this picture to my sister. Her birthday is coming up.)

Das ist süß. Sag ihr alles Gute von mir.
(That’s sweet. Wish here all the best from me.)

Wem (whom) can be translated as “whom” or “who … to”. This case has to come after verbs like:

  • schenken (to give a gift)
  • geben (to give)
  • helfen (to help)

There are other verbs, too, that need the Dativ, but you shouldn’t just learn them separately. Instead, try to learn with chunks.

Here are some other examples for the third case:

  • Der Vater schenkt dem Sohn ein Buch. → Wem schenkt der Vater ein Buch? → dem Sohn (The father gives a book to the son. → Who is he giving the book to? → the son)
  • Sie hilft ihrer Schwester bei den Hausaufgaben. → Wem hilft sie bei den Hausaufgaben? → ihrer Schwester (She helps her sister with her homework. → Whom is she helping with the homework? → her sister)
  • Ich gebe dem Kind ein Geschenk. → Wem gebe ich ein Geschenk? → dem Kind (I give the present to the child. → Who do I give the present to? → the child

Here, you will notice that words with the articles der or das will get an “M” in the Dativ:

  • Ich gebe es dem Sohn. (I give it to the son.)
  • Ich gebe dem Hund das Spielzeug . (I give the toy to the dog.)
  • Das Haus gehört dem Vater. (The house belongs to the father.)

While feminine words, which you can determine by the article “die”, will get an “R” or the definite article changes to “der”. Some examples:

  • Die Blume richtet sich nach der Sonne. (The flower follows the sun.)
  • Sie hilft ihrer Schwester. (She helps her sister.)
  • Ich spreche von der Mutter. (I talk about the mother.)

4. Akkusativ

The Akkusativ is used to indicate the direct object of a sentence. In English, this is usually indicated by using the noun in its base form (e.g. I ate the sandwich).

In German, you ask for this case with the question Wen oder was? (Who or what?). Let’s see it in a dialogue:

Kommst du zu der Party heute Abend?
(Are you coming to the party today evening?)

Ja. Ich bringe Kuchen mit.
(Yes. I’ll bring cake.)

Was bringst du mit?
(What are you bringing?)

Kuchen. Außerdem rufe ich meine Schwester an. Vielleicht kommt sie mit.
(Cake. Also, I’ll call my sister. Maybe she’s coming along.)

Wen rufst du an? Entschuldige, die Verbindung ist schlecht.
(Who are you calling? Excuse me, the connection is bad.)

Meine Schwester.
(My sister.)

Ah, cool. Ich freu mich auf euch.
(Oh, cool. I’m looking forward to seeing you.)

Here are some other examples in German:

  • Ich esse einen Apfel. → Was esse ich? → einen Apfel (I eat an apple. → What do I eat? → an apple)

Einen Apfel (an apple) is in the accusative case, because it is the direct object of the verb “essen” (to eat).

  • Sie hat das Buch gelesen. → Was hat sie gelesen? – Das Buch (She has read the book. → What has she read? → the book)

Das Buch (the book) is in the accusative case, because it is the direct object of the verb “lesen” (to read).

  • Ich sehe den Mann. → Wen sehe ich? → den Mann (I see the man. → Who do I see?→ the man)

Den Mann is the direct object of the verb “sehen” (to see).

The Akkusativ case doesn’t change anything whenever the object is feminine, neuter or plural. But did you realize how the article changed a bit with the masculine object? It’s not der Mann (the man (masculine)) anymore, but den Mann (the man). That’s because when the object is masculine, the article gets an “N” added.

  • Ich sehe den Mann. (I see the man.)
  • Ich pflücke den Apfel. (I pick the apple.)
  • Ich packe den Koffer. (I pack the suitcase.)

Before we get to the summary of all of this, let’s do a quick quiz.

5. Quiz

Now I will show you some sentences with all the cases in it. I hope you get them all. Pause the video for some extra time. Let me know in the comments how you did.

Hallo! Ich bin heute mit dem Zug aus Berlin gekommen.
(Hello! I arrived from Berlin by train today.)

Is “Ich” (I) in this sentence the first case Nominativ or the fourth case Akkusativ? Yes. It’s the first case Nominativ because Ich (I) the subject of the sentence.

Das ist das Buch meines Vaters. Er hat es mir empfohlen.
(That’s my father’s book. He suggested it to me.)

Is meines Vaters (My father’s) in the second case Genitiv oder the third case Dativ? It’s Genitiv because it’s indicating the possession and you ask Wessen Buch ist das? (Whose book is that?)

Last question: I will show you the first sentence again in a second: I want to know in which case “dem Zug” (the train) stands?

Hallo! Ich bin heute mit dem Zug aus Berlin gekommen.
(Hello! I arrived from Berlin by train today.)

It’s the third case Dativ because it’s the indirect object in this sentence.

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