The previous unit has familiarized you with nouns and verbs, thus, it would only be logical to learn how to form sentences now!
In English forming sentences is pretty easy; all you have to do is put the words in the right order. It doesn't work this way in German though; as word order isn't that crucial in German. That's because the German language depends on its 'cases' system to determine the role of each word within the sentence.
In any language, a noun can play different roles in a sentence. For example, a noun can be the person or thing carrying out an action (Boy plays guitar), or it can be the person or thing affected by the action (Boy plays guitar). These different roles are known as 'the German cases', which dictate the form of the noun.
In German, there are 4 such roles, or cases, which are Nominative, Accusative, Dative, and Genitive.
Nominative is the case of the subject of the sentence, that is, the case of the noun performing the action of the verb. Simply think of the nominative as the 'who' or 'what' carrying out the action in the sentence.
- Der Mann schläft - The man is sleeping
The accusative case is used with the direct object. Think of the accusative case as expressing the 'whom' or 'what' being affected by the verb.
- Die Frau liest ein Buch - The woman is reading a book
The dative case is used to indicate the indirect object. The indirect object is often the receiver of the direct object (to whom or to what the action is being done).
- Er schickt seinem Bruder einen Brief - He sent his brother a letter
The last of the German cases is the genitive, which is used to indicate possession, that is, it indicates that one item belongs to the other. It's similar to the English 'apostrophe s' ('s)
- Das ist die Tasche meines Vaters - This is my father's bag
To indicate the role of a word in a sentence, you have to indicate its case. Cases dictate the ending of the words attached to the noun, such as definite articles, indefinite articles, and adjectives. Here's a quick overview of how the four cases affect the definite article.
Factors Determining the Case
Some might find the title a bit strange; as the case should always be indicated by the intended role of the noun within the sentence. However, there are two other factors that decide which of the four German cases must be used, these are 'verbs' and 'prepositions'.
The verb determines which case is used for the object. The majority of verbs require the accusative case, while some always require the dative case, and very few take the genitive case.
If you have a verb that requires the dative case, then the object in the sentence must be in the dative, even if it would be a direct object in English.
Prepositions in German (words like 'at', 'on', 'for') require a certain case. Most of the prepositions take the accusative or the dative case, while very few take the genitive case.
It's particulary important to learn which verbs take the dative case, and which prepositions govern which case.
Now that you have a basic idea about each German case, you're ready to study each one in detail!
Each of the four following lessons explains one of the four cases in full details, so make sure to check them out!