The 4 cases in German. Part 1 – The nominative case.

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.

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.

Example:

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.

Masculine nouns:

Nouns referring to seasons, days of the week and cardinal points are always masculine.

Example:

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.

Example:

der Junge – the boy

der Kater – the tomcat

 

Nouns referring to things that perform an action are also masculine.

Example:

der Printer – the printer

der Staubsauger – the vacuum cleaner

 

Nouns with the endings –ich, -ling and –ig are also masculine.

For example:

der Bereich – the area

der Lehrling – the apprentice

der König – the king

Masculine nouns

Feminine nouns:

Most nouns ending with –e are feminine.

Example:

die Katze – the cat

die Matratze – the mattress

Except: der Löwe – the lion and das Getreide – the cereal crop

 

Numbers are also feminine.

Example:

die Eins – one

die Fünf – five

 

Nouns with the endings: -heit, -keit, -schaft, -ung and –ei are all feminine.

For example:

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.

For example:

der Journalist – die Journalistin – journalist

der Architekt – die Architektin – architect

 

And for the feminine plural you just add –innen.

For example:

die Journalisten – die Journalistinnen

Feminine nouns

 

Neuter nouns:

Infinitives that are used as nouns are neuter.

Example:

das Spielen – playing

das Tanzen – dancing

das Malen – painting

 

Nouns referring to young humans and animals are also neuter.

Example:

das Kind – child

das Ferkel – piglet

das Baby – baby

das Küken – chick

 

Fractions are always neuter.

Example:

das Viertel – a fourth of it

das Drittel – a third of it

 

Most nouns beginning with Ge– are neuter.

Example:

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.

Example:

der Hund – das Hündchen – puppy

der Vogel – das Vöglein – little bird

 

And finally – words ending with –nis and –tum are also neuter.

Example:

das Erlebnis – experience

das Banausentum – philistinism

Neuter nouns

Compound nouns:

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.

Example:

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.

Example:

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

Plural form:

die Kühlschränke              die Tomaten                             die Bücher

Nominative case

The nominative case is always used for two things.

  1. After the verb “sein” (to be) and “werden” (to be or to become).
  2. As the subject of the sentence, i.e. person, thing or animal doing something.

Example:

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

Helen 🙂

 

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Helen White

I am a bilingual journalist, jewellery designer, German tutor, and translator – and I am passionate about cats.

Helen White – who has written posts on Helen Kaut Press.


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