Did you start studying German? Most likely you already 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 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 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 called Accusative. As a quick reminder: Nominative’s role is to describe the subject – somebody or something that does something in the sentence. In contrast, 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. As a result, we use Accusative, Dative, and Genitive in German. Therefore, we will focus on the German Dative in this article.
To understand when to use the German Dative (Dativ) you need to internalize the following idea:
- A Dative object is always an indirect object.
- It never does something itself, but moreover, it is the place of something and normally nothing is really done to it.
An example of Dative:
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”. Consequently she is the Dative object. As we have already 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).
Dative question words
Now, in German Grammar, the question words “wer”, “wen” and “wem” only refer to a human being. Accordingly, if one would ask for Nominative, Accusative or Dative not referring to a person, one would use “was” (what). As a consequence, this is a bit confusing since you can ask the same question 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 as an online German teacher, I realized that this is very confusing. 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.
Another possibility to realize that you need to use the German Dative case is prepositions. The following will be always appear in combination with 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”. 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.|
Finally, 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
|meinem||meiner||meinem||meinen||Du gibst meinem Vater den Laptop.|
|deinem||deiner||deinem||deinen||Ich danke deinem 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:
- Noun (dem Mann, der Frau, dem Kind, den Autos)
- Personal pronouns (mir, dir, ihm, ihr, ihm, uns, euch, ihnen, Ihnne)
- 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)
|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”.
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