Who Bought Glencot House
Learn the 4 German Noun Cases
For native English speakers, one of the most challenging aspects of learning German, at least initially, can be the fact that each noun, pronoun, and article has four cases. Not only does every noun have a gender, but that gender also has four different variations, depending on where it lands in a sentence.
Depending on how a given word is used — whether it's the subject, a possessive, or an indirect or a direct object — the spelling and the pronunciation of that noun or pronoun changes, as does the preceding article. The four German cases are the nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. You can think of these as the equivalent of the subject, possessive, indirect object, and direct object in English.
The German Nominative Case ( The Nominative or The Werfall)
The nominative case — in both German and in English — is the subject of a sentence. The term nominative comes from Latin and means to name (think of "nominate"). Amusingly, the Werfall translates literally as "the who case."
In the examples below, the nominative word or expression is in bold:
- The dogbites the man. (The dog bites the man.)
- This thoughtis stupid. (This thought is stupid.)
- My motherisArchitect. (My mother is an architect.)
The nominative case can follow the verb "to be," as in the last example. The verb "is" acts like an equal sign (my mother = architect). But the nominative is most often the subject of a sentence.
The Genitive (The Genitive or The Wesfall)
The genitive case in German shows possession. In English, this is expressed by the possessive "of" or an apostrophe with an "s" ('s).
The genitive case is also used with some verb idioms and with the genitive prepositions. The genitive is used more frequently in written German than in spoken form: It's essentially the equivalent of English speakers using the word "whose" or "whom." In spoken, everyday German,of plus the dative often replaces the genitive. For example:
- The car from my Brothers. (My brother's car or literally, the car from / of my brother.)
You can tell that a noun is in the genitive case by the article, which changes toof/one (for masculine and neuter) orthe/one (for feminine and plural). Since the genitive only has two forms (of orthe), you only need to learn those two. However, in the masculine and neuter, there is also an additional noun ending, either -it or -s. In the examples below, the genitive word or expression is in bold.
- The car mine Brother (my brother'scar or the carof my brother)
- The blouse of the girl (the girl'sblouse or the blouseof the girl)
- The titleof the film /Films (the film's title or the titleof the film)
Feminine and plural nouns do not add an ending in the genitive. The feminine genitive (the/one) is identical to the feminine dative. The one-word genitive article usually translates as two words ("of the" or "of a / an") in English.
The Dative Case (The dativ or The Wemfall)
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 with the masculine gender, the dative changes in all genders and even in the plural. The pronouns also change correspondingly.
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 in bold.
- The policeman gives the driver one Traffic ticket. (The policeman is givingthe driver a ticket.)
- I thanks them. (I thankyou.)
- We do the With one computer. (We do that with a computer.)
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 identified by adding a "to" in the translation, such as "the policeman gives the ticketto the driver. "
The question word in the dative is naturally enough,whom ([to] whom?). For example:
- Whom do you have the book given? (To whom did you give the book?)
The vernacular in English is, "Who'd you give the book to?" Note that the Germanic word for the dative case,the Wemfall, also reflects thethe-to-the change.
The Accusative Case (The accusative or The Wenfall)
If you misuse the accusative case in German, you might say something that would sound like "him has the book" or "her saw he yesterday" in English. It's not just some esoteric grammar point; it impacts whether people will understand your German (and whether you'll understand them).
In English, the accusative case is known as the objective case (direct object).
In German, the masculine singular articles the other a change to the other one in the accusative case. The feminine, neuter and plural articles do not change. The masculine pronounhe (he) changes tohim (him), in much the same way as it does in English. In the examples below, the accusative (direct object) noun and pronoun are in bold:
- The dog bitesthe man. (The dog bitesthe man.)
- He bites him. (He [the dog] biteshim [the man].)
- The manthe dog bites. (The dog bitesthe man.)
- The dog bitesthe man? (Is the dog bitingthe man?)
- Bitesthe manthe dog? (Is the dog bitingthe man?)
Note how the order of the words may change, but as long as you have the proper accusative articles, the meaning remains clear.
The direct object (accusative) functions as the receiver of the action of a transitive verb. In the examples above, the man is acted upon by the dog, so he receives the action of the subject (the dog). To give a few more transitive verb examples, when you buy (to buy) something or have (to have) something, the "something" is the direct object. The subject (the person buying or having) is acting on that object.
You can test for a transitive verb by saying it without an object. If it sounds odd and seems to need an object to sound correct, then it is probably a transitive verb, for example:I have(I have) orHe bought(he bought). Both of these phrases answer the implied question "what?" What do you have? What did he buy? And whatever that is, is the direct object and should be in the accusative case in German.
On the other hand, if you do this with an intransitive verb, such as "to sleep," "to die" or "to wait," no direct object is needed. You can't "sleep," "die" or "wait" something.
Two seeming exceptions to this test, become and be, are actually not exceptions, since they are intransitive verbs that act like an equal sign and cannot take an object. A good additional clue in German: All verbs that take the helping verbbe (to be) are intransitive.
Some verbs in English and German can be either transitive or intransitive, but the key is to remember that if you have a direct object, you'll have the accusative case in German.
The Germanic word for the accusative case, the Wenfall, reflects thethe-to-the change. The question word in the accusative iswhom (whom). such as;
- Who do you have yesterdayseen? (Whom did you see yesterday?)
Accusative time expressions
The accusative is used in some standard time and distance expressions.
- The hotel lies one kilometre of here. (The hotel lies / is located a kilometer from here.)
- Hespent one month in Paris. (He spent a month in Paris.)
German Cases Allow Flexibility in Word Order
Since English articles do not change depending on their position in the sentence, the language relies on word order to clarify which term is the subject and which is the object.
For example, if you say "The man bites the dog" in English, rather than "The dog bites the man," you change the meaning of the sentence. In German, however, the word order can be changed for emphasis (as discussed below), without altering the basic action or meaning. as in:
- The dog bitesthe man? Is the dog bitingthe man?
- Bitesthe manthe dog?Is the dog bitingthe man?
Definite and Indefinite Articles
The following charts show the four cases with the definite article (the, the, or that) and the indefinite article. Note that ka is the negative ofa, which has no plural form. Butno (no / none) can be used in the plural. For example:
- He hasno Books. (He has no books.)
- In Venice there isno Cars. (In Venice there are no cars.)
Declining German Pronouns
German pronouns also take on different forms in the various cases. Just as nominative "I" changes to the object "me" in English, the German nominativeI changes to accusativeme in German. In the following examples, the pronouns change according to their function in the sentence and are indicated in bold.
- He(the dog) bites the man. (Hey [the dog] bites the man.)
- Him The dog bit (the man). (The dog bithim [the man.])
- Whomdid he bite? (Whom did he bite?)
- who is this?( Who is that?)
- Youhas mebutseen?(Youdid seeme [didn't you?])
- TheHas no Idea. (She / That one has no idea.)
Most of the German personal pronouns have different forms in each of the four cases, but it can be helpful to observe that not all change. (This is similar to the English "you," which remains the same whether it's a subject or object, singular or plural).
Examples in German areyou (she),you (they), and the formal form of "you," you, which is capitalized in all forms. This pronoun, regardless of its meaning, remains the same in the nominative and accusative cases. In the dative, it changes tothem you, while the possessive form isher / her.
Two German pronouns use the same form in both the accusative and the dative ( us other to you). The third-person pronouns (he, she, or it) follow the rule that only the masculine gender shows any change in the accusative case. In German, neither the neuterit nor feminineyouchanges. But in the dative case, all of the pronouns take on uniquely dative forms.
The following chart shows the personal pronouns in all four cases. Changes from the nominative (subject) case are indicated in bold.
Third-person pronouns (he, she, it)
Note: The possessive (genitive) third-person pronoun forms shown here do not indicate the various additional case endings they might have in a typical sentence in various situations, such ashis(his) andtheirs(their).
Demonstrative pronouns (der, die, der)
Note: When the definite articles are used as demonstrative pronouns, only the dative plural and genitive forms are different from the normal definite articles.
Interrogative "who" –Formal "you"
*Grade:you (the formal "you") is the same in the singular and plural. It is always capitalized in all of its forms.who (who) has no plural form in German or English.
* The interrogative was (what) is the same in the nominative and accusative cases. It has no dative or genitive forms and is related tothe and it. Like who, was has no plural form in German or English.
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