The Ultimate Guide to understand the German Dative!

The Ultimate Guide to understand the German Dative!

Did you start studying German? Now, most likely you got to know the “German Dative”. German cases often unsettle students as they do not fully understand their meaning. After reading this article, you will be a pro in terms of “Dative” and ready for our upcoming adventure called “Genitive”. 

German sentences are built up by four cases. Depending on your first language or the ones which you have already studied, it will be easier or harder for you to understand their concept. However, you should be aware of the fact that you cannot (!) run away from studying the four cases (4 Fälle) if you wish to accomplish a level anywhere higher than A1. Also, you should know that once you have understood their concept, you have already won half the battle.

In the last two articles – The Ultimate Guide to understand the German Nominative! and The Ultimate Guide to understand the German Accusative! – I discussed the concept of the first German case Nominative and the second case Accusative. As a quick reminder: Nominative’s role is to describe the subject – somebody or something that does something in the sentence. Accusative describes the direct object – somebody or something that does not do something active, but something is done to it.

What is the German Dative?

Now, when we want to start building sentences that are more complex and include a second or third person or object besides the mentioned subject, we need to find a way to express the relation the issue has with this object which we can do by using Accusative, Dative, and Genitive. In this article, we will focus on the German Dative as Genitive will be relevant in the last piece of this article series.

To understand when to use the German Dative (Dativ) you need to internalize the following idea:

  • A Dative object is always an indirect object.

Therefore:

  • It never does something itself, but moreover, it is the place of something and normally nothing is really done to it.

An example of this is:

Der Mann gibt der Frau einen Stift – Subject + Verb + Dative object + Accusative Object

As you can see, the man is doing something with the pen – he gives it, and therefore the pen becomes the direct object aka. Accusative. But he is nothing really doing to the woman. He does not touch or move her but she is the “place” which receives his direct object “einen Stift”.  As we learned in the first article of this series, you can ask for Nominativ by using “who” (wer). For Accusative, you can ask “whom” (wen) and for Dative you can ask “for whom” (wem).

Now, in German Grammar, the question words “wer”, “wen” and “wem” only refer to a human being so if one would ask for Nominative, Accusative or Dative not referring to a person one would use “was” (what). As you can see, you can ask it for all the three cases and basically, this is a problem if you study German and still aren’t too confident with its grammar. During my time teaching German, I realized that this is very confusing and this is why I would suggest using “wem” at the beginning for all your German Dative objects until you are more confident and therefore will not get lost within the cases.

For our example above the question would be: Wem gibt der Mann einen Stift?

And the answer would be: der Frau

German Dative Verbs

Besides, there are several verbs which always ask for a Dative object for instance: helfen, antworten, passen, schmecken, gratulieren, verzeihen, gehören, danken, folgen, gefallen or hängen, liegen, stehen, sitzen.

Dative prepositions

Another possibility to realize that you need to use the German Dative case are prepositions of which the following will be always followed by the Dative case. Prepositions that belong to the German Dative case are: ab, aus, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu.

The German Dative and gender

As you have already learned, the German language offers its speakers three Genders: male, female and neuter which all can be the Dative object of your sentence. Now, as you might have already realized, there is “dem” and “einem” as well es “der” and “einer” or “den”. Now, if you read the article about Accusative, you will be already familiar with the concept of changing articles as “der” becomes “den” in Accusative. Now, in Dative, all the genders change. Male “der” becomes “dem” and accordingly “einem“, the female “die” becomes “der” (I know this is confusing!) and accordingly “einer“, neuter is the small brother of male and therefore it does the same, so “das” becomes “dem” and accordingly “einem“. The plural “die” becomes “den“. This is the proper way to express the indirect objects in a German sentence. Remember: The “m” describes the male gender through the whole case – also, you ask “wem” to aks for the object.

The gender look as follows:

  Defined article Undefined article  
Male dem (the) einem (a) Der Mann hilft dem/einem Hund.
Female der (the) einer (a) Die Hose passt der/einer Frau.
Neuter dem (the) einem (a) Die Schüler danken dem/einem Mädchen.
Plural den (the) / Ich folge den Menschen.

 

But as like as in English, there are also plenty of sentences in German, in which the subject is not necessarily “the” something but rather “me” or “him”. These little words are called “Personalpronomen” – personal pronouns in English.

The German Dative personal pronouns

 

mir me Du hilfst mir.
dir you Ich folge dir.
ihm him Du sitzt auf ihm.
ihr her Der Stift ist von ihr.
ihm it Ich gehe zu ihm.
uns us Das Kind ist bei uns.
euch you Wir danken euch.
ihnen them Wie geht es ihnen?
Ihnen you (formal) Ich helfe Ihnen.

 

The last possibility to name a subject is the help of “Possesivpronomen” which are possessive pronouns in English and consequently, they show the relation or respectively the possession of a noun.

The German Dative possessive pronouns 

 

der die das die plural  
meinem meiner meinem meinen Du gibst meinem Vater den Laptop.
deinem deiner deinem deinen Ich danke deinen Vater.
seinem seiner seinem seinen Die Kinder sind in seinem Zimmer.
ihrem ihrer ihrem ihren Sie läuft in ihren neuen Schuhen.
seinem seiner seinem seinen Ich fahre auf seinem Fahrrad.
unserem unserer unserem unseren Ich mache Essen in unserer Küche.
eurem eurer eurem euren Die Lehrerin dankt eurem Bruder. 
ihrem ihrer ihrem ihren Die Frau sitzt auf ihrem Stuhl.
Ihrem Ihrer Ihrem Ihren Wie geht es Ihren Kindern?

 

Summary of the German Dative

  • It is always the indirect object of your sentence, and this can be:
    1. Name
    2. Noun (dem Mann, der Frau, dem Kind, den Autos)
    3. Personal pronouns (mir, dir, ihm, ihr, ihm, uns, euch, ihnen, Ihnne)
    4. Possessive pronouns (mein/em/er/en, dein/em/er/en, sein/em/er/en, ihr/em/er/en, sein/em/er/en, unser/em/er/en, euer/em/er/en, ihr/em/er/en, Ihr/em/er/en)

Dativ overview

Male Ich danke Maik. Ich danke dem Mann. Ich danke ihm. Ich danke meinem Mann.
Female Ich danke Sabine. Ich danke der Frau. Ich danke ihr. Ich danke meiner Frau.
Neuter Ich danke Jan. Ich danke dem Kind. Ich danke ihm. Ich danke meinem Kind.
Plural Ich danke Marie und Paul. Ich danke den Schülern. Ich danke ihnen. Ich danke meinen Schülern.

Congratulations! Now, that you understood the concept of the German Dative, you can start to build more complex sentences. In the next round, we will have a date with “Genitive”.

Bis bald!

Steffie

 

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