|Handout: Nominative, Accusative, and Dative: When to Use Them|
• for the subject of a sentence: who or what is doing this?
• for predicate nouns: when the main verb is sein or werden, use the nominative for both subject and predicate nouns.
• for the direct object of a sentence: who or what is being <verbed>?
Note that the very common expression "es gibt" (there is/are) requires that the noun be in the accusative case because it is grammatically a direct object.
• after the accusative prepositions and postpositions: durch, für, gegen, ohne, um (memory aid: dogfu), as well as the postpositions bis and entlang . If a noun follows these prepositions, it will ALWAYS be in the accusative!
• time expressions in a sentence are usually in accusative: jeden Tag, letzten Sommer, den ganzen Tag, diesen Abend, etc. We haven’t officially learned this yet, but it’s good to know.
• for the indirect object of a sentence. An indirect object is the beneficiary of whatever happens in a sentence. It’s usually a person, although it doesn’t have to be. If you ask yourself: “TO whom or FOR whom is this being done?”, the answer will be the indirect object, and in German it will need the dative case. Remember that not every sentence will have an indirect object -- only some verbs allow an indirect object: to give (to), to bring (to), to tell (to), to buy (for), to send (to) are some examples of verbs that will almost always have an indirect object. In English, we don't distinguish the direct and indirect object in the forms of words; instead, we often use "to" or "for" to mark these.
• after the dative prepositions: aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu (memory aid: Blue Danube Waltz). A noun immediately following these prepositions is ALWAYS in the dative case. There are many possible translations of these prepositions, depending on exactly what the context of the sentence is. Please refer to your textbook, pp. 239-240, for more detailed explanation of the meanings of each preposition.
• after dative verbs: helfen, danken, gefallen, gehören, schmecken, passen. See your book for more details on each verb. There's no direct translation that explains why these verbs take a dative object, it's just an idiosyncrasy of German -- it's best just to memorize these verbs as requiring the dative, even though the following noun doesn't 'feel' like an indirect object.
• with some adjectives which describe a condition. You'll just need to know these as fixed phrases.
• the preposition “in” often uses the dative case. Later this week you will be learning more about this preposition and how to use it correctly. For now, the most you need to know is that when ‘in’ is used with a stationary verb (e.g. He’s in the house), it takes the dative case.
Summary: When to use which case
So, when you're trying to decide which case to use, consider the following things:
If you need reference to these, here's a table of the different endings and pronouns in the three cases:
It may help you to remember these changes with the mnemonic device “rese nese mr mn” -- in other words, der-die-das-die, den-die-das-die, dem-der-dem-den.
The question words wer - wen - wem
To ask “who” in German, you need to decided whether the “who” is the subject, the direct object, or the indirect object. The forms of ‘wer’ are just like the masculine article: wer - wen - wem.