German has four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.
German grammar can be extremely complex, but it does not have to be. You can express yourself in German without the need to over complicate sentence structure. The following examples are simple sentences to help show the basic usage of the four German cases. As you begin to learn German, keep this thought in mind. If it is possible to say a phrase in an simple manner using simple language, do so. Later, when you are an advanced speaker, you can flex your language expertise and formulate intricate and complicated sentence structures if you feel it is necessary. For the rest of us new German learners, communicating with simple language is more than good enough.
The nominative case indicates the subject of a sentence. Who is doing the action? What is doing the action?
In the following sentences, “Der Mann” is the subject of the sentence.
Der Mann geht. (The man walks.)
Der Mann redet. (The man talks.)
Der Mann sitzt. (The man sits.)
Der Mann kauft. (The man buys.)
Der Mann ist. (The man is.)
Accusative (direct object)
The accusative case indicates the direct object of a sentence. The direct object is the noun/noun phrase denoting the person or thing that is the recipient (the receiver) of the action. Who is receiving the action of the verb? What is receiving the action of the verb?
The man kicked the ball.
Who did the kicking? The man kicked.
What was kicked? The ball was kicked?
The man is the subject (the doer of the action).
The ball is the direct object (the receiver of the action).
In the following sentences “das Fahrrad” is the direct object of the sentence.
Der Mann kauft das Fahrrad. (The man buys the bicycle.)
Der Mann braucht das Fahrrad. (The man needs the bicycle.)
Der Mann repariert das Fahrrad. (The man repairs the bicycle.)
Der Mann verkauft das Fahrrad. (The man sells the bicycle.)
Der Mann bekommt das Fahrrad. (The man gets the bicycle.)
Dative (indirect object)
The dative case indicates the indirect object in a sentences that has two objects. The indirect object is often the beneficiary of the action.
In the following sentences, the indirect object is in bold.
Der Mann gibt dem Mädchen das Fahrrad. (The man gives the girl the bicycle.)
Der Mann gibt der Frau das Geschenk. (The man gives the woman the present.)
Der Mann gibt dem Hund das Futter. (The man gives the dog the food.)
Der Mann gibt dem Postboten den Brief. (The man gives the mail man the letter.)
Der Mann gibt dem Kind das Eis. (The man gives the child the ice cream.)
Genitive (indirect object)
The genitive case in German indicates a noun that is a possessor of another noun. The genitive case, therefore, corresponds roughly to the possessive case in English.
The genitive case is also used in sentence constructions using the preposition “of”. For example, the following phrase in bold use the genitive case.
Das ist die Tochter des Mannes (That is the daughter of the man.)
Das ist das Fahrrad des Mädchens (That is the bicycle of the girl.)
Das ist das Buch des Lehrers (That is the book of the teacher.)