Der Die Das: Your Essential Guide


The genitive case in German is a strange phenomenon these days. It’s currently being wiped out of the language… but in the meantime is still used sometimes.

Its weird, on-its-deathbed status means that the genitive is rarely used in common, everyday German; but it is still hanging on by its fingernails in academia and other formal registers.

If you want to be able to say more than “Guten Morgen! Ich möchte ein Brötchen!”, then learning the dative case is essential.

The dative case has a standard, basic function: signaling the indirect object of the sentence. BUT, in German, it has many, many side gigs, too.

If you want to say simple, everyday, might-be-relevant-to-your-life things such as I hurt my leg, I’m feeling cold, That’s important to me, or You can kiss my ***, then you need to learn the dative case.

Learning what the German accusative case is (and how and when to use it) is essential. Since it’s not a grammar topic we really deal with in English, it might seem hard (or even dumb) at first.

But, there is a rhyme & reason to why German has a case system (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive) and you are going to learn the crucial ins-and-outs of [the accusative part of] it in this article!

When I first started learning German, I remember discovering noun genders and thinking ‘OK, got it! Some nouns are masculine (der), some are feminine (die) and some are neuter (das). That’s not so hard. What’s all the fuss?!’

THEN, I started noticing that a noun I learned as masculine — for example, der Stein (stone) — was sometimes written in a sentence as den Stein, dem Stein, or even des Steines. WaitWHAT?!

Sound familiar?

What ARE those differences about anyway?

Why would der sometimes change to den, dem or des?

Well, my friend, welcome to the wonderful topic of German Noun Cases.

So, what is case? What do the terms nominativeaccusativedative, and genitive mean?

It’s a solid start with adjectives to be able to describe things by saying the house is small, the tree is tall, the flower is red, whatever.

But we often need to use slightly altered adjectives to compare two things — to be able to say that something is (or isn’t) smaller or bigger or redder than something else. 

While we’re at it, we also sometimes want to say that something is the smallest or the biggest or the reddest, etc., which is another slight alteration to a basic adjective.