Recently, a Cantonese student (beginner) asked me, what the (grammatical) case is and what someone needs it for? Since the Chinese languages basicy don’t decline their nouns I shortly introduce here the “case” in German.
Introduction to “cases”:
We have the nominative, possessive, accusative and dative in German. Simply speaking the noun, which is in nominative mostly provides the action, is the active part, the noun in accusative (object) is mostly the passive part in the action, often it is even a thing, not a person. The noun in dativ case often is the person, who receives something (or the one, from whom is taken something). The noun in possessive case obtains something.
–> But that’s not to generalize!! It should help you to understand, that the nouns can represent different roles in the sentence (or statement) and that every specific role has a different case.
So why do we need to decline the nouns?
Take this example: Hans likes Anna:
Hans mag Anna.
So, Hans likes Anna, but, does Anna like Hans. In Chinese language we wouldn’t know about if Anna likes Hans as well. Because in Chinese language the word order in the sentence is relatively fixed and in that way can indicate the role of the noun (the case).
But: The German word order is very flexible! In German, the example above could also mean that Anna likes Hans; it depends on where you put the stress. So Anna could be the nominative noun and Hans the accusative noun, it is also possible.
The above mentioned example in fact is ambiguous, because personal names in general don’t change in German.
And just because the word order is flexible and therefore wouldn’t indicate the role of the noun, we have the cases, that means: declination and endings. “We have to ‘label‘ the nouns.” said my student Brian today.
Note one futher example here: Anna gives the baby to the aunti:
Anna gibt der Tante das Baby.
Anna gibt das Baby der Tante.
Das Baby gibt Anna der Tante.
Der Tante gibt Anna das Baby.
All sentence structures are possible in German. And we don’t get confused because the cases indicate us, which role a specific part of the sentence “plays”.
Most demanding: How can we decide, if an object (noun) in German is in accusative case or in dative case?
This is what my advanced students often ask me: When should I apply the dative, when the accusative?
Especially the verbs and the prepositions will let you know, if an accusative object or a dative object will follow.
The best way to learn the verbs, which are followed by accusative, which are followed by dativ, or which can be followed by both accusative and dative is through practice.
Here is a link, that lists some German verbs and the case that follows:
That’s for the verbs. Now, the prepositions: Some of them take the accusative, some of them the dative.
But there are also some prepositions that can change the case they reign; we call them “Wechselpräpositionen” (“changing praepositions“) in German. For them it is good to know, that the prepositions which answer the German question “wo?” (“where?”), and therefore refer to a situational meaning, are followed by dative. Those prepositions which answer the German question “wohin?” (“whereto?”), and therefore refer to a directive meaning, are followed by accusative.
Here is a link to a graphic that shows the prepositions and their cases:
Tricks to figure out what case to use (please don’t generalize!)
- The person is mostly the dative object, the thing is mostly the accusative object.
- The object that is closer to the verb is mostly the dative object, more distant one is the accusative object.
- about the prepositions that reign either accusative or dative: Do you like teachers singing and rhyming? Here are two videos (thank you Sean from Denmark!) You can learn the prepositions through a rhyme, if that is easier for you to remember:
Further questions? Book me, ask me on http://www.italki.com/valeria.may I will do everything to help you.