In this series I explain how we use the 4 different cases in German starting with the nominative case or “Nominativ “.
One thing learners of the German language find really difficult are the cases.
One reason for this is that in German we assign genders to nouns – masculine, feminine and neuter. And in order to get the cases right you need to know the gender and how to decline the noun in each of the cases.
In German we have 4 cases: the nominative case, the genitive case, the accusative case and the dative case. The grammatical function of the noun in the sentence predicts which of these cases you should use.
Before I explain the nominative case I want to talk about nouns.
What is a noun?
A noun or “Nomen” names a living being, thing, idea and in German nouns are always written with a capital letter at the beginning of the word.
As I mentioned in the beginning nouns can either be feminine, masculine or neuter and it’s important to know the gender, because that affects the form of the adjectives describing them, the articles preceding them and also the pronouns used instead of the nouns.
die Frau – feminine
der Mann – masculine
das Kind – neuter
The definite article in front of the noun tells you what gender it is – this is why you should learn your vocabulary together with the definite article.
Unfortunately, the gender of German nouns is not always predictable. However, there are a few rules you can remember.
Nouns referring to seasons, days of the week and cardinal points are always masculine.
der Herbst – Autumn (or Fall in America)
der Mai – May
der Donnerstag – Thursday
der Süden – south
Nouns referring to male animals and people are also masculine.
der Junge – the boy
der Kater – the tomcat
Nouns referring to things that perform an action are also masculine.
der Printer – the printer
der Staubsauger – the vacuum cleaner
Nouns with the endings –ich, -ling and –ig are also masculine.
der Bereich – the area
der Lehrling – the apprentice
der König – the king
Most nouns ending with –e are feminine.
die Katze – the cat
die Matratze – the mattress
Except: der Löwe – the lion and das Getreide – the cereal crop
Numbers are also feminine.
die Eins – one
die Fünf – five
Nouns with the endings: -heit, -keit, -schaft, -ung and –ei are all feminine.
die Gesundheit – health
die Heiterkeit – cheerfulness or merriment
die Leidenschaft – passion
die Leistung – performance
die Sauerei – obscenity
Some masculine nouns can change gender and become feminine by adding –in.
der Journalist – die Journalistin – journalist
der Architekt – die Architektin – architect
And for the feminine plural you just add –innen.
die Journalisten – die Journalistinnen
Infinitives that are used as nouns are neuter.
das Spielen – playing
das Tanzen – dancing
das Malen – painting
Nouns referring to young humans and animals are also neuter.
das Kind – child
das Ferkel – piglet
das Baby – baby
das Küken – chick
Fractions are always neuter.
das Viertel – a fourth of it
das Drittel – a third of it
Most nouns beginning with Ge– are neuter.
das Gebäude – the building
das Gehäuse – the housing or casing
das Geflügel – poultry
Nouns ending with –lein and – chen are also neuter and refer to small people, animals or things. They are called diminutive form.
der Hund – das Hündchen – puppy
der Vogel – das Vöglein – little bird
And finally – words ending with –nis and –tum are also neuter.
das Erlebnis – experience
das Banausentum – philistinism
A noun made up of two or more words is called a compound noun. And in most cases the last part of the compound determines the gender of the whole noun.
das Waffeleisen – waffle maker
der Tennisspieler – tennis player
die Bundestagswahl – general election
die Fussballweltmeisterschaft – football world cup
Abbreviations often follow the gender of the words they derive from.
die DW – die Deutsche Welle
der HSV – der Hamburger Sport Verein
but: die ARD – das Erste Deutsche Fernsehen
As you can see there are a few rules which make it easier to determine the gender. If in doubt always check your dictionary.
Let’s talk about the cases.
The nominative case is the easiest to remember and form.
Masculine Feminine Neuter
der Kühlschrank (fridge) die Tomate (tomato) das Buch (book)
ein Kühlschrank eine Tomate ein Buch
die Kühlschränke die Tomaten die Bücher
The nominative case is always used for two things.
- After the verb “sein” (to be) and “werden” (to be or to become).
- As the subject of the sentence, i.e. person, thing or animal doing something.
Er ist ein schlechter Schüler. – He is a bad pupil.
Das wird ein heisser Sommer. – This is going to be a hot summer.
Der Vogel sitzt auf dem Ast. – The bird sits on a sprig.
Die Tasche liegt auf dem Tisch. – The bag is on the table.
Der Hund bellt ziemlich laut. – The dog barks very loudly.
And that’s it for part 1 about German cases. In the next part I will talk about the genitive case or “Genetiv”.
I hope you found this post useful.
Thanks for reading
- German general elections in a nutshell
- The 4 cases in German. Part 2 – The genitive case.