German Part 6 — Case And Declension

What are case and declension?

Note — not every possible aspect of case and declension is covered here; only the more important ones. Further information will be given in articles to be published.

If you’re not sure what case and declension is, let me assure you that you have been using it all your life. In German, case and declension are applied to adjectives, and to a lesser degree, nouns.

In German, there are four cases, like so:

Nominative — the subject of the sentence, the one who is doing the action.

Accusative — the direct object, the thing “done to”.

Dative — the indirect object, the one who benefits from the action. And

Genitive — a possessor – like Bill’s boss.

As an example, consider the following lyrics from the classic rock song, Then He Kissed Me: The case and declension are shown in the colors just above.

Well, he walked up to me and he asked me if I wanted to dance

He looked kinda nice and so I said I might take a chance

When he danced he held me tight, and when he walked me home that night

All the stars were shining bright, and then he kissed me

Each time I saw him I couldn’t wait to see him again

I wanted to let him know that he was more than a friend

I didn’t know just what to do, so I whispered I love you

And he said that he loved me too, and then he kissed me

He kissed me in a way that I’ve never been kissed before

He kissed me in a way that I wanna be kissed forever more

I knew that he was mine so I gave him all the love that I had

And one day he took me home to meet his mom and his dad

Then he asked me to be his bride

And always be right by his side

I felt so happy I almost cried

And then he kissed me

Then he asked me to be his bride

And always be right by his side

I felt so happy I almost cried

And then he kissed me

And then he kissed me

And then he kissed me

Declension of nouns

Some German nouns change their endings depending on what case they are. For purposes of declension, consider that there are seven genders, not three or four. They are: neuter, masculine, feminine, plural, masculine second declension, neuter second declension, and plural second declension. About 6% of all German (singular) nouns fall into the second declension category; they follow a separate set of rules for and most of them refer to some sort of male person. Only a handful of these are neuter (like Herz, Jahr, Kind); the rest are masculine. There are no feminine second declension nouns.

Always start from the (i Nominative singular — which is what you can find in the dictionary — and add an ending to that. Use the following table of endings:

Notes:
[1] A few words, like Haus (house) or Volk (the people) can add an optional -e in the Dative case — example: I am going homeIch gehe nach Hause.
[2] Generally, if the singular Nominative ends with an e, add an -s; otherwise if it ends with an s or z, add an -es — this is similar to English, but never add an apostrophe
[3] These plurals have a wide variety of possible endings
[4] Generally, if the singular Nominative ends with an e, add an -n; otherwise, add an -en — since all of these endings finish with an n, this is also called “N-declension”

Declension of pronouns

Pronouns are a bit simpler. There are only a limited number of declensible pronouns, so the rules are easy to learn.

Personal pronouns

   Nominative          Accusative         Dative         [5]
ich (I) mich (me) mir (for/at/to me)
es (it) es (it) ihm (for/at/to it)
er (he) ihn (it) ihm (for/at/to him)
sie (she) sie (her) ihr (for/at/to her)
du (you [6]) dich (it) dir (for/at/to you)
ihr (you [7]) euch (you) euch (for/at/to you)
Sie (you [8]) Sie (you) Ihnen (for/at/to you)
sie (they) sie (them) Ihnen (for/at/to them)

Notes:
[5] Genitive personal pronouns are archaic and rarely used
[6] you familiar singular
[7] you familiar plural
[8] you formal, singular and plural

Reflexive pronouns

      Accusative                          Dative            [9]
mich (myself) mir (for/at/to myself)
sich (himself/herself) sich (to/for/at himself/herself)
sich (itself/one's own self) sich (to/for/at itself/one's own self)
dich (yourself [6]) dir (for/at/to yourself)
euch (yourselves [7]) euch (for/at/to yourselves)
sich (yourself [8]) sich (for/at/to yourself)
sich (themselves) sich (for/at/to themselves)

Notes:
[6] yourself familiar singular
[7] yourselves familiar plural
[8] yourself formal, singular and plural; for the plural that would be themselves
[9] Nominative pronouns are not reflexive; there are no genitive reflexive pronouns

Interrogative, relative, possessive, demonstrative, and indefinite pronouns are not discussed here.

Declension of Articles

definite articles (corresponding to the)

             Nominative   Accusative   Dative   Genitive
neuter das das dem des
masculine der den dem des
feminine die die der der
plural die die den der

indefinite articles (corresponding to a or an)

             Nominative   Accusative   Dative   Genitive
neuter ein ein einem eines
masculine ein einen einem eines
feminine eine eine einer einer
plural [10]

Notes:
[10] As in English, by definition, there are no plural indefinite articles

negative indefinite articles (meaning not a, like not a cloud in the sky)

             Nominative   Accusative   Dative   Genitive
neuter kein kein keinem keines
masculine kein keinen keinem keines
feminine keine keine keiner keiner
plural [10]

Notes:
[10] As in English, by definition, there are no plural indefinite articles

Declension of Adjectives

Adjectives are declensed by adding a suffix to the corresponding adverb, usually -e plus another letter or just-e. See if there’s an article preceding the adjective, and use the appropriate table below:

adjective endings following definite articles (e.g, das)

            Nominative   Accusative   Dative   Genitive
neuter -e -e -en -en
masculine -e -en -en -en
feminine -e -e -en -en
plural -en -en -en -en

adjective endings following indefinite articles (e.g, eine, keinem)

            Nominative   Accusative   Dative   Genitive
neuter -es -es -en -en
masculine -er -en -en -en
feminine -e -e -en -en
plural -en -en -en -en

Adjective endings where there is no preceding article

            Nominative   Accusative   Dative   Genitive
neuter -es -es -em -en
masculine -er -en -em -en
feminine -e -e -er -er
plural -e -e -en -er

There are many exceptions to the adjective endings rule. Some of these are:

Some adjectives, like lila (purple) never take endings.
◆ When an adverb ends in -e, remove the e first, then add the ending from the table — so ende (end) becomes endes, not endees, for example.
◆ When an adverb ends in -en or -el, like München (Munich — in this case, a noun used as an adjective), squeeze out the e before the r or l, giving Münchner (resident of Münich).
◆ A few adjectives, such as gut (good) or hoch (high), are highly irregular and have to be learned on a case-by-case basis.

Look for Jennie’s German Language Classroom for English Speakers on the last Wednesday of every month.

Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Freeman. In particular, permission is not granted to assemble the parts of this series together and distribute them. You may of course post links to the individual posts.

One Reply to “German Part 6 — Case And Declension”

  1. Hi there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted too
    give a quick shout out and say I trul enjoy reading your articles.

    Many thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *