Updated: Jun 4
Getting a handle on the 4 German cases isn't as hard as you might think, and it shouldn't be! Below is my simple breakdown to gain a basic understanding of the cases.
*It is important to note that before you familiarize yourself with the 4 cases, it helps to also have a general understanding of the German articles. Click here for a refresher.
*It is also important to note that there are of course other rules and exceptions to these cases, but here is a general understanding and starting point for each. Do not get overwhelmed! Having a basic grasp on what they are is a great place to start.
The Nominativ (or nominative) is the case of the subject. The subject of a sentence is the person or thing we're talking about. In other words, the subject is what is completing an action (doing something!). For example:
Die Person lernt Deutsch. The person is learning German.
In the above example, the person is the subject. They are what is learning German, therefore the person (die Person) is in the Nominativ. Whatever the sentence is about (in this case, it is about the person/die Person learning German) is always in the Nominativ (der/die/das/die).
2. Akkusativ (den/die/das/die)
The Akkusativ (or accusative) case is the case of the direct object. The direct object is what is receiving an action. Or, what an action is being done to. For example:
Die Person liest das Deutschlehrbuch. The person is reading the German textbook.
In the above example, the German textbook is what is being read, or receiving the action (reading). Therefore, the German textbook (das Deutschlehrbuch) is in the Akkusativ, das.
SIDE NOTE: I think it is also important to point out here that the masculine (der) is the only change you see when moving from the Nominativ into the Akkusativ. Also remember, the article is not changing, the case is changing. If the person were reading a newspaper article (der Zeitungsartikel) the sentence would read: Die Person liest den Zeitungsartikel.)
3. Dativ (dem/der/dem/den)
The Dativ (or dative) is the case of the indirect object. An indirect object is the receiver of the direct object. It shows to whom or for whom something is done. For example:
Die Person liest das Deutschlehrbuch den Kindern. The person reads the German textbook to the children.
In the above example, the children are the indirect object, or what/whom the German textbook is being read to. Therefore, they are the recipient of the German textbook being read, making them the indirect object in this example.
Also note that in the Dativ, the meaning of the articles is (almost always) 'to/for whom'.
4. Genitiv (des/der/des/der)
The final German case, the Genitiv (or genitive) is the case of possession. Here we are expressing what belongs to someone or something. For example:
Das Deutschlehrbuch der Person. The German textbook of the person. OR The person's German textbook.
As you see in the example above, this case expresses what we use the 's for in English. In other words, the possessive.
Nominativ= subject (who/what?)
Akkusativ= direct object (who/what is something done to?)
Dativ= indirect object (to whom/for what is something being done?)
Genetiv= possession ('s)
Most importantly: These skills take time and practice. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you expose yourself to these topics. No one can master these in one day, and that is okay. Gaining a basic understanding of, and recognizing what they are is the first step to becoming more fluent, and you've just done that.
PS- Want to advance your German? Book a free consult for German language coaching & lessons with me today!
About the Author
Noelle is an experienced German teacher and coach. After having lived and worked in Germany in 2014, she returned to the US and earned a Second Bachelor of Arts degree in German, from an AATG German Center of Excellence. Currently, she is pursuing her Master of Arts in Translation and Interpretation Studies and learning Spanish, French and Russian in her free time. When she is not teaching or traveling, you can find her exploring Texas or spending time with her partner and their two cats.