Did you start studying German? Now, you probably already met “Accusative”. 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 “Accusative” and ready for our upcoming adventure called “Dative”.
German grammar – the cases
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 the concept of German grammar. 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 idea, you have already won half the battle.
In the last article – The Ultimate Guide to understand the German Nominative! – I discussed the concept of the first German case Nominative. As a quick reminder: Its role is to describe the subject – somebody or something that does something in the sentence.
Now, when we want to start building sentences that are a little more complex and include a second person or object besides the mentioned subject, we need to find a way to express the relation the issue has with this object. Therefore we use Accusative, Dative, and Genitive in German. In this article, we will only focus on Accusative as the other two cases will be relevant in the next two pieces of this article series.
The concept of Accusative
To understand when to use Accusative (Akkusativ) you need to internalize the following idea:
- An accusative object is always a direct object.
- It never does something itself, but moreover, something is done with it by the subject.
An example for Accusative:
Der Mann trinkt den Kaffee. – Subject + Verb + Accusative object
As you can see, the man is doing something with the coffee – he drinks it. Therefore the coffee becomes the direct object. 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). Also in English one would not ask “Whom does the man drink?” as he drinks coffee and therefore one would ask “what”. Accordingly, in classical German Grammar one can ask “was” (what) to find your subject but unfortunately, you can also use “was” to find out the nominative case. During my work as a German online teacher, I realized that this is very confusing and will become even worse when adding Dative. As a result, I suggest using “wen” at the beginning for every Accusative object, until you are more confident and therefore will not get lost within the cases.
For our example above the question would be: Wen (was) trinkt der Mann?
And the answer would be: den Kaffee
Besides, there are several verbs which always ask for an Accusative object for instance: lieben, fragen, essen, kaufen, kennen, lernen, mögen, machen, möchten, kosten or hängen, legen, stellen, setzen.
Above all, another possibility to realize that you need to use the Accusative case are prepositions. When you use the following prepositions, you can be 100 % sure that you will have to use Accusative: bis, durch, für, gegen, ohne or um.
Genders in Accusative
As you have already learned, the German language offers its speakers three Genders: male, female and neuter which all can be the Accusative object of your sentence. As you might have already realized, there is “den” and “einen” which somehow smuggled themselves into the story. Well, the male gender (der, ein) changes and becomes “den” and accordingly “einen” which is the proper way to express the direct male object in a German sentence. In contrast, all the other genders stay as you already know them from Nominative. Remember: The “n” describes the male gender through the whole case – also, you ask “wen” to aks for the object.
The gender look as follows:
|Defined article||Undefined article|
|Male||den (the)||einen (a)||Der Mann trinkt den/einen Kaffee.|
|Female||die (the)||eine (a)||Das Kind isst eine Pizza.|
|Neuter||das (the)||ein (a)||Die Schüler lesen das Buch.|
|Plural||die (the)||/||Ich kenne die Menschen.|
Similar as in English, there are also plenty of sentences in German, where the subject is not necessarily “the” something but “me” or “him”. These little words are called “Personalpronomen”.
Personal pronouns in Accusative
|mich||me||Du liebst mich.|
|dich||you||Ich kenne dich.|
|ihn||him||Ich mag ihn.|
|sie||her||Ich trinke sie.|
|es||it||Die Kinder lesen es.|
|uns||us||Ihr grüßt uns.|
|euch||you||Wir kennen euch.|
|sie||them||Wir haben sie.|
|Sie||you (formal)||Ich unterrichte Sie.|
Finally, the last possibility to name a subject is the help of “Possesivpronomen” (possessive pronouns). As their name already reveals, they show the relation or respectively the possession of a noun. Again, only the male will change.
Possessive pronouns in Accusative
|meinen||mein||meine||Du hast meinen Laptop.|
|deinen||dein||deine||Ich kenne deinen Vater.|
|seinen||sein||seine||Die Kinder lieben ihre Mutter.|
|ihren||ihr||ihre||Der Hund frisst ihre Schuhe.|
|seinen||sein||seine||Ich kaufe sein Fahrrad.|
|unseren||unser||unsere||Ich mache unsere Hausaufgaben.|
|eueren||euer||eure/ euere||Die Lehrerin kennt euren Bruder.|
|ihren||ihr||ihre||Die Frau mag ihren Beruf.|
|Ihren (formal)||Ihr||Ihre||Ich brauche Ihren Namen.|
Summary of Accusative
- It is always the direct object of your sentence, and this can be:
- Noun (den Mann, die Frau, das Kind, die Autos)
- Personal pronouns (mich, dich, ihn, sie, es, uns, euch, sie, Sie)
- Possessive pronouns (mein/e/n, dein/e/n, sein/e/n, ihr/e/n, sein/e/n, unser/e/n, euer/e/n, ihr/e/n, Ihr/e/n)
Summary of Accusative
|Male||Ich kenne Maik.||Ich kenne den Mann.||Ich kenne ihn.||Ich kenne meinen Mann.|
|Female||Ich kenne Sabine.||Ich kenne die Frau.||Ich kenne sie.||Ich kenne meine Frau.|
|Neuter||Ich kenne Jan.||Ich kenne das Kind.||Ich kenne es.||Ich kenne mein Kind.|
|Plural||Ich kenne Marie und Paul.||Ich kenne die Schüler.||Ich kenne sie.||Ich kenne meine Schüler.|
Congratulations! Now, that you understood Accusative, you can start to build more complex sentences. In the next round, we will have a date with “Dative”.
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