Giskismet how to stroke it

A Simple Introduction to German Nominative and Accusative Cases

Can you find the difference between the two bolded words in the following sentences?

The boy plays with his dog joyfully. "

“The dog sloppily licks the boy all over his face. "

I'll give you a hint — it's not the capitalization!

Need another hint? Try saying them in German!

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

Common Confusion Betweenthe, the, the, the other the

A super important difference between German and English is that German has several different words for the English "the."

In English, we use one definite article (“the”) for plurals, animals, furniture, places ... absolutely everything! The indefinite article (“a”) doesn’t change either (except when used with words beginning with a vowel, when it becomes “an”).

In German, there are many different articles. If you've already started studying the language, you've probably already encountered some of the different ways to say "the:"the, the, the, the otherthe.

But you probably aren't sure when to usethe, the, the, the orthe with certain nouns and prepositions. It can be difficult to understand why you hear one instead of another when watching German TV shows or German movies.

It all has to do with the German cases, one of the most notoriously tricky parts of learningGerman.

Don’t worry, everything will start to make a little more sense soon!

In this article, I'll quickly break down just what the different cases in German entail, with a particular look at the German nominative and accusative cases — and give you an easy summary of how to use them.

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What Are Grammatical Cases, Anyways?

Despite having only “the” as an indefinite article, English does have different cases! If you grew up speaking English, and have never studied grammar extensively, you may not be aware of what grammatical cases mean for a sentence or how to use them.

If you're like I was before I started learning a second language, you may not even really know what a grammatical case is!

However, an explanation of English pronouns can provide an easy demonstration of case changes, which will make the German cases a whole lot easier to understand.

Take a look at the following two sentences about a man and a dog:

He pets the dog.

The dog bites him.

What changes in these sentences? Well, “he” and “him” both refer to the same thing: the man who is interacting with the dog. But in the first sentence, the man (“he”) is nominative, whereas in the second sentence, the man (now "him") is accusative.

The change in cases from nominative to accusative means that the pronoun referring to the man changes. Let's look at this in a bit more detail now, so that you can figure out the difference between the German nominative and accusative cases.

To keep things simple, we'll show you how the nominative and accusative cases work using the English example above, because the grammatical concept is the same in German and English. Once you understand each case, we'll show you how they impact articles and other words in German.

What is the nominative case?

In the first sentence above, the man is the subject of the sentence. He is the one doing the action (petting) to the dog.

This means that the man, “he,” is in a nominative case. The nominative word in a sentence is the subject: the person or thing that is doing the action indicated by the verb.

More examples are:

The girl is running. "

The House is on fire. "

What Is the Accusative Case?

The dog, having an action done to it, is accusative in the first sentence. We call this the “direct object” in English.

The accusative word in a sentence is the direct object: the person or thing that is being acted upon. In the second sentence, the dog is now the subject, and the man is accusative.

Therefore “he” becomes “him” in English, changing from nominative to accusative. “The” does not change because, as discussed above, it is the only definite article in English.

English Pronoun Changes Are Similar to German Pronoun Changes

The same case change happens when “she” becomes “her,” and “I” becomes “me.” These changes may seem totally easy and intuitive to you if you have been speaking English all your life. Imagine how weird it would sound if you said, "Her drives the car" instead of "She drives the car," or "The professor talked to I" instead of "The professor talked to me."

When you use the wrong case in German, it sounds equally confusing and wrong. But now that you understand the German pronoun changes from nominative to accusative are similar to those in English, keeping track of German pronouns shouldn’t be too hard!

How Exactly Do German Pronouns Differ in Nominative and Accusative Cases?

Let's look at the same example in German, for a specific demonstration of how German articles are different depending on their cases:

He is stroking the dog. (He pets the dog.)

The dog ateat him. (The dog bites him.)

First off, let's look at the difference between he (he) and him (him). As I just pointed out, you don’t have to worry too much about this part because we just learned the difference between “he” and “him,” and it is the same for the German pronouns!

Male, Female and Plural German Personal Pronouns

He is nominative in the first sentence, and the man becomes accusative in the second sentence, switching to him. But what happens if we change these sentences to be about a woman?

She is stroking the dog. (She pets the dog.)

The dog bites her. (The dog bites her.)

The female pronoun does not actually change in the accusative case — it is exactly the same as the nominative. You can use you (she, her, they) for both sentences here. Although this is not quite like English, it shouldn’t be too hard to remember.

The German plural pronoun you (“They” in English) is the same as the female pronoun: they are both you. So, just as the female you is the same in accusative and nominative case, the plural you is also the same in both cases.

Neutral German pronouns

What if we wanted to talk about a robot (or any other non-gendered entity) and a dog?

It strokes the dog. (It pets the dog.)

The dog ateat it. (The dog bites it.)

The neutral pronoun, it (it), also remains the same in nominative and accusative. This is the same as you (she, her, they). These two should be fairly easy to keep track of.

More German pronouns

Below is the same example for "I" and "me:"

I stroke the dog. (I pet the dog.)

The dog is biting me. (The dog bites me.)

I (I) becomes me (me). Similarly, you (you) becomes you (you):

You pet the dog. (You pet the dog.)

The dog is biting you. (The dog bites you.)

Just as the English "we" becomes "us," we becomes us:

We pet the dog. (We pet the dog.)

The dog is biting us. (The dog bites us.)

What about the formal pronouns?

They pet the dog. (They pet the dog.)

The dog is biting you. (The dog bites them.)

Here we have the formal pronoun, which you may know as your (formally “you”), in the nominative case, changing to you (formally “you”) in the accusative case. Pretty straightforward.

German Definite Articles in Different Cases

Now that we have gone over the indefinite articles, let's take another look at this sentence. Something has happened to the definite articles — a change we don't see in English.

He caresses the dog. (He pets the dog.)

The Dog bites him. (The dog bites him.)

The dog is straightforward enough. Obviously that means "the dog." But what does the dog mean? Why isn't the used here? Dog is a masculine noun in German, and masculine nouns use the as their definite article, or a as their indefinite article:

He caresses one dog. (He pets a dog.)

A Dog bites him. (A dog bites him.)

The same thing happens when we put the indefinite article in these sentences: we recognize a dog (a dog), but what about a dog?

The explanation for this change in noun article is that the case of dog changes. Just as the man changes, in the second sentence, from nominative to accusative position, so does the dog, from accusative to nominative.

a dog, the dog = nominative

a dog, the dog = accusative

When the dog changed from being the thing being acted upon in the sentence to the subject, it changed from accusative to nominative. In German, in the case of the dog, its article changes as well.

Definite Articles in the German Nominative Case

The nominative articles for German nouns are the ones you may have already learned if you are a German beginner:

the, a = masculine

the one = feminine

to be there = neutral

the = plural

Definite Articles in the German Accusative Case

Unfortunately, I have to let you know that your knowledge isn’t quite complete: when nouns are in the accusative case, they have different articles ... at least, some of them do.

the one = masculine

the one = feminine

to be there = neutral

the = plural

It turns out that, in fact, only masculine nouns actually change pronouns in accusative case. So you only need to worry about new articles when masculine nouns are involved.

This lets you off the hook some of the time, but when it comes to nouns that use the In the nominative case, you’ll have to remember that this changes to the when the noun in question is the direct object of a sentence.


This has been a quick introduction to what the German nominative and accusative cases look like, what they mean, and how to use them. Simple foundational rules like these will be useful to know once you really start getting into learning German grammar.

Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)

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