The four cases

English also has cases, but they are only apparent with pronouns, not with nouns, as in German. When he changes to him in English, that's exactly the same thing that happens when der changes to den in German (and er changes to ihn). This allows German to have more flexibility in word order, as in the examples below.

Der Hund beißt den Mann.
(The dog bites the man.)
Den Mann beißt der Hund.
(The dog bites the man.)
Beißt der Hund den Mann?
(Is the dog biting the man?)
Beißt den Mann der Hund?
(Is the dog biting the man?)

Since English does not have the same case markers (der,den), it must depend on word order. If you say man bites dog in English, rather than dog bites man, you change the meaning. In German the word order can be changed for emphasis (as above) — without altering the basic meaning.

Nominative

The nominative case - in German and in English - is the subject of a sentence. The term nominative is from Latin and means to name (think of nominate).

The following list shows how the nominative forms are used in various situations.

Masculine

der neue Bleistift
(the new pencil)
der neue Wagen
(the new car)
der nette Junge
(the boy)

Feminine

die junge Frau
(the young woman)
die nette Verkäuferin
(the nice shop assistant)
die Lampe
(the lamp)

Neuter

das große Haus
(the big house)
das neue Auto
(the new car)
das kleine Mädchen
(the little girl)

Plural

die neuen Bleistifte
(the new pencils)
die netten Jungen
(the nice boys)
die jungen Frauen
(the young women)
die netten Verkäuferinnen
(the nice shop assistants)
die großen Häuser
(the big houses)
die neuen Autos
(the new cars)

Dative (indirect object)

The dative case is a vital element of communicating in German. In English, the dative case is known as the indirect object. Unlike the accusative, which only changes in the masculine gender, the dative changes in all genders and in the plural. The pronouns also change accordingly.

In addition to its function as the indirect object, the dative is also used after certain dative verbs and with dative prepositions. In the examples below, the dative word or expression is underlined:

The indirect object (dative) is usually the receiver of the direct object (accusative). In the first example above, the driver got the ticket. Often the dative can be translated with to - the policeman gives the ticket to the driver. The following list shows how the dative forms are used in various situations.

Masculine

dem neuen Bleistift
(to the new pencil)
dem neuen Wagen
(to the new car)
dem netten Jungen
(to the nice boy)

Feminine

der jungen Frau
(to the young woman)
der netten Verkäuferin
(to the nice shop assistant)
der Lampe
(to the lamp)

Neuter

dem großen Haus
(to the big house)
dem neuen Auto
(to the new car)
dem kleinen Mädchen
(to the little girl)

Plural

den neuen Bleistiften
(to the new pencils)
den netten Jungen
(to the nice boys)
den jungen Frauen
(to the young women)
den netten Verkäuferinnen
(to the nice shop assistants)
den großen Häusern
(to the big houses)
den neuen Autos
(to the new cars)

Some masculine nouns add an -en or -n ending in the dative and in all other cases besides the nominative.

In the dative, plural nouns add an -en or -n if the plural does not already end in -n, except for plurals ending in -s.

Accusative (direct object)

Masculine

den neuen Bleistift
(the new pencil)
den neuen Wagen
(the new car)
den netten Jungen
(the boy)

Feminine

die junge Frau
(the young woman)
die nette Verkäuferin
(the nice shop assistant)
die Lampe
(the lamp)

Neuter

das große Haus
(the big house)
das neue Auto
(the new car)
das kleine Mädchen
(the little girl)

Plural

die neuen Bleistifte
(the new pencils)
die netten Jungen
(the nice boys)
die jungen Frauen
(the young women)
die netten Verkäuferinnen
(the nice shop assistants)
die großen Häuser
(the big houses)
die neuen Autos
(the new cars)

Notice that the endings shown here in the accusative (direct object) case are identical to those in the nominative (subject) case / with the sole exception of the masculine gender (der/den). The masculine gender is the only one that looks any different when the case changes from nominative (der) to accusative (den).

In the sentence Der blaue Wagen ist neu, the subject is der Wagen and der Wagen is nominative. But if we say Ich kaufe den blauen Wagen. (I'm buying the blue car.), then der Wagen changes to den Wagen as the accusative object. In the accusative case with the definite article (the/den, die, das) the adjective ending is always -en for the masculine (den) form. But it remains -e for die or das. So we would get

...den blauen Wagen...
(...the blue car...),
but
...die blaue Tür..
(...the blue door...)
or
...das blaue Buch...
(...the blue book...)

When the adjective is used with an ein-word (einen, dein, keine, etc.), the accusative adjective ending must reflect the gender and case of the noun that follows.

The adjective endings -en, -e, and -es correspond to the articles den, die and das respectively (masculine, feminine, and neuter). Once you notice the parallel and the agreement of the letters n, e, s with den, die, das, it makes the process a little clearer.

Genitive

The genitive case in German shows possession and is expressed in English by the possessive of or an apostrophe-s ('s). The genitive case is also used with some verb idioms and with the genitive prepositions.

The genitive is used more in written German than in spoken form. In spoken, everyday German, von plus the dative often replaces the genitive: Das Auto von meinem Bruder (My brother's car.)

You can tell that a noun is in the genitive case by the article, which changes to des/eines (masculine and neuter) or der/einer (feminine and plural). Since the genitive only has two forms (des or der), you only need to learn those two. However, in the masculine and neuter, there is also an additional noun ending, either -es or -s:

das Auto meines Bruders
(my brother's car (the car of my brother)) ,
die Bluse des Mädchens
(the girl's blouse (the blouse of the girl)
der Titel des Films
(the title of the film)

Feminine and plural nouns do not add an ending in the genitive. The feminine genitive (der/einer) is identical to the feminine dative. The one-word genitive article usually translates as two words (of the / of a/an) in English.

When showing possession with the names of people, countries or cities, German adds an s (without an apostrophe):

Karls Haus
(Karl's house)
Marias Buch
(Maria's book)
die Geschichte Deutschlands
(Germany's history)

Genitive expressions

The genitive is used in some common expressions.

Ende der Woche gehen wir.
(At the end of the week we're going.)
Ich muss das Anfang des Monats bezahlen.
(I have to pay that at the beginning of the month.)
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