Confused about der, die, das? An explanation of the German cases

Many students get frustrated about the German cases. Learn how to use the "der, die, das" here.

Cases represent the function that a noun performs in a given sentence. A simple sentence usually consists of a subject (also known as "Nominativ"), a verb and a direct object ("Akkusativ"), e.g. Ich (NOM) kaufe ein Buch (AKK). If someone or something is benefitting from the action that the verb represents, then an indirect object can be added after the verb in order to express this, e.g. Ich kaufe dem Freund (DAT) ein Buch (AKK). Finally, if you want to express that there is a possessive relationship between two consecutive nouns, you can add a Genitiv after the noun that is being owned, i.e. in someone’s possession, e.g. Die Tasche der Frau (GEN). Cases are therefore adding layers of complexity to a sentence. From the most basic unit (subject+ verb+ direct object) to a sentence containing all four cases, which is rare. What is more common is that sentences contain a subject, a verb, a direct object and either a dative (put after the verb and before the accusative normally) or a genitive. So native speakers tend to add either a dative or a genitive, depending on what they want to communicate. Otherwise, the sentence might be too complex.

Let's look at some examples of the German cases:

Other examples:

Der Hund (NOM) beißt den Mann (AKK) Den Mann (AKK) beißt der Hund (NOM) - inverted due to emphasis on Den Mann

Der Mann gibt dem Hund (DAT, INDIR O) einen Knochen (AKK, DIR O)

Das ist der Hund (NOM) des Mannes (GEN).

There are two exceptions to the above. Some verbs arbitrarily take the Dativ case, e.g. helfen, gut gehen, schmecken. These just need to be memorised. Prepositions follow their own rules, which should be learnt separately.

Articles – Cases

In order to memorise the articles, remember the following pattern: For the masculine, you need to look at the question words that go with a particular case (see “wer?”, “wen?”, “wem?”, “wessen?” above), and replace the “w” with a “d”, e.g. wer-> der etc. For the feminine, there are always two repetitions, which produce a very robotic sound. The neuter is a combination of masculine and feminine. From the feminine it takes the fact that nominative and accusative are the same; from the masculine it takes the same articles for dative and genitive. In the plural, there is only one set of articles for all three genders, and here the pattern is that they are the same as the feminine singular, except for the dative. If you are struggling to remember the datives, bear in mind that the dative is the “drama” case, sing “demderdemden”.

Once you have mastered the logic of the German cases, it is important to learn the most common gender rules. Here they are:

Contact me with comments and questions. Once you have given the cases some practice, you might want to learn German pronouns as they build on the cases. You will find my explanation here:

My blog posts on other grammar topics:

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