Accusative Case in German

German noun cases are one of the most confusing topics for beginners. Here is a guide & overview, to help you master them from the start.

grammarcases
01.12.2023

  1. What is the accusative case?
  2. How do you form the accusative case? (what words change, and how) Nouns Articles
  3. How can you identify that an accusative case is needed? Direction & Movement Time
  4. Special Cases & Misc Questions and Negations
  5. What are some pitfalls

The accusative case contrasts with the nominative case: While the nominative case is used for the subject of a sentence, the accusative case is used for the object:

Der Junge wirft den Ball.

The boy throws the ball.

In this sentence, the boy (Der Junge) does something (throwing the ball).

CaseExplanationExample
Nominativeaction creatorder Junge
Accusativeaction receiverden Ball

So, in this sentence, the ball is the object because it is being thrown.

Notice that, in English, this doesn't matter: You can say "The boy throws the ball" or "The ball throws the boy". In both cases, it's the boy and the ball - it's just the position in the sentence that changes.

In German, this is very different. In German, nouns change their form depending on what role they play in a sentence. When the ball is the originator of the action, it will be in the nominative case, whereas it will be in the accusative case as the receiver of the action.

What is the Accusative case?

The Accusative case in German plays a pivotal role in sentence structure, acting as the direct object—the receiver of the action performed by the subject. Understanding its function is crucial for constructing coherent and grammatically correct sentences.

In German, the Accusative case is often used after certain verbs and prepositions. It is the case that answers the question "whom?" or "what?" in relation to the verb:

Ich sehe den Hund.

I see the dog.

Here, 'den Hund' (the dog) is in the Accusative case as it is the direct object receiving the action of seeing.

Another key function of the Accusative case is to show movement towards something:

Wir gehen in den Park.

We are going to the park.

In this sentence, 'in den Park' indicates movement towards the park, which is why 'Park' is in the Accusative case.

How do you form the accusative case?

When a noun changes its case, everything related to that noun will also change its case. The article (der, die, das) and related adjectives & adverbs will all change their case, to align with the noun:

Ich sehe den kleinen braunen Bären.

I see the small brown bear.

Articles In The Accusative Case

Nouns in the German Accusative case undergo changes depending on their gender and number.

Noun GenderDefinite Article (Nominative)Definite Article (Accusative)
Masculinederden
Femininediedie
Neuterdasdas

Masculine Articles

For masculine nouns, the definite article 'der' changes to 'den', and the indefinite article 'ein' changes to 'einen'. Consider the masculine noun der Ball (or ein Ball in its indefinite form). Let's see how the definite & indefinite articles change, once it's put into the Accusative case:

Ich werfe den Ball.

I am throwing the ball.
Ich werfe einen Ball.

I am throwing a ball.

Feminine, Neuter, and Plural Articles

Now, the good news: Feminine, neuter, and plural nouns remain largely unchanged in the Accusative case. The definite articles 'die' (feminine) and 'das' (neuter) remain the same, and the plural article 'die' also remains unchanged:

Ich sehe die Frau.

I see the woman.
Ich kaufe das Haus.

I am buying the house.
Ich kenne die Kinder.

I know the children.

Accusative Nouns & Noun Endings

Accusative Pronouns

Pronouns in German change form when used in the Accusative case. This is crucial for accurate sentence construction and clear communication. The primary personal pronouns in the Accusative case are:

Ich sehe ihn.

I see him.
Sie hilft mir.

She helps me.

This table shows the changes in personal pronouns:

PronounNominativeAccusative
Iichmich
you (singular informal)dudich
heerihn
shesiesie
iteses
wewiruns
you (plural informal)ihreuch
theysiesie
you (formal)SieSie

Accusative Adjectives

Adjectives in German change their endings based on the case, gender, number, and definiteness of the noun they modify. In the Accusative case, these endings are particularly important for masculine nouns.

For example:

Ich sehe einen alten Mann.

I see an old man.

In this sentence, 'alten' is the Accusative form of 'alt' (old), used before a masculine noun ('Mann'). The table below illustrates the adjective endings in the Accusative case:

Gender/NumberDefinite ArticleIndefinite/No Article
Masculine-en (den alten Mann)-en (einen alten Mann)
Feminine-e (die alte Frau)-e (eine alte Frau)
Neuter-e (das alte Haus)-es (ein altes Haus)
Plural-en (die alten Leute)-en (alte Leute)

Correctly using these adjective endings is crucial for accurate and fluent German communication.

When to use the accusative case in German?

Now let's explore when exactly to use the accusative case in German.

Accusative Verbs

Certain German verbs always require their objects to be in the Accusative case. Recognizing and correctly using these verbs is fundamental for fluent German communication. Some common verbs that always use the Accusative case include sehen (to see), haben (to have), and lieben (to love).

For example:

Er hat einen Hund.

He has a dog.

In this sentence, 'einen Hund' (a dog) is the direct object in the Accusative case.

Additionally, some verbs can take two objects - one in the Accusative and the other in the Dative case. These dual-case verbs include geben (to give) and schicken (to send). For instance:

Ich gebe dem Mann das Buch.

I give the man the book.

Here, 'das Buch' (the book) is in the Accusative case, while 'dem Mann' (the man) is in the Dative case.

Accusative Prepositions

Prepositions in German dictate the case of the nouns or pronouns they accompany. Some prepositions are exclusively used with the Accusative case, such as durch (through), für (for), gegen (against), and ohne (without). For example:

Wir gehen durch den Park.

We walk through the park.

In this sentence, 'den Park' (the park) is in the Accusative case, following the preposition 'durch'.

There are also dual prepositions, which can be used with either the Accusative or Dative case, depending on the context of movement (Accusative) or location (Dative). These include an (on), auf (on), hinter (behind), in (in), neben (next to), über (over), unter (under), vor (in front of), and zwischen (between).

For instance:

Das Bild hängt an der Wand.

The picture hangs on the wall.
Sie stellt das Bild an die Wand.

She puts the picture on the wall.

Time Expressions in the Accusative Case

The Accusative case is also used in German to express durations or lengths of time. This is a unique aspect of the Accusative case, setting it apart from other cases.

For instance:

Ich bleibe für zwei Wochen.

I am staying for two weeks.

Here, 'zwei Wochen' (two weeks) is a time expression in the Accusative case. It indicates the duration of the action. Time expressions in the Accusative case do not require prepositions, which makes them easy to identify.

Another example:

Sie lernt den ganzen Tag.

She studies the whole day.

'Den ganzen Tag' (the whole day) is another example of a time expression in the Accusative case, indicating the time span of the action.

Accusative Case in Questions and Negations

The Accusative case retains its function in questions and negations, making it a consistent element in German sentence structure.

In questions, the Accusative case can be identified by the object of the inquiry. For example:

Siehst du den Mann?

Do you see the man?

Here, 'den Mann' (the man) is the direct object in the Accusative case. In negations, the Accusative object remains unchanged, even when the sentence is negated. For instance:

Ich sehe den Mann nicht.

I do not see the man.

The object 'den Mann' stays in the Accusative case despite the negation.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

When learning the Accusative case, students often make certain mistakes. Common ones include:

  • Confusing the Accusative with the Nominative case, especially for masculine nouns.
  • Using the wrong articles or adjective endings for Accusative objects.
  • Misidentifying the direct object in a sentence.

To avoid these mistakes, practice identifying the direct object in sentences and remember the changes in articles and adjective endings for the Accusative case.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. When do I use the Accusative case in German?

    • The Accusative case is used for direct objects, certain prepositions, and time expressions.
  2. How do I know if a noun is in the Accusative case?

    • Look for the direct object in a sentence, the noun that receives the action of the verb. Also, check for changes in articles (especially for masculine nouns).
  3. Do all prepositions require the Accusative case?

    • No, some prepositions require the Dative case, and some can be used with both cases, depending on the context.

By understanding these distinctions and common pitfalls, learners can improve their mastery of the German Accusative case.


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