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German Cases
A Guide to the German Case System

Content

German Cases

What are cases?

Now, before diving into the particular cases and their quirks, let's step back for a minute and consider the German case system more generally: Why are the cases so important in German?

The most straightforward answer has to do with word order.

German sentences work a little bit like a puzzle: Each word has to be put into the correct form, in order to smoothly dock into the sentence.

In English, you wouldn't say:

the walking I dog am.

That looks more like a Duolingo exercise than a sentence. What would you say instead? You would bring those words into the correct order, so that everything makes sense:

I am walking the dog.

This works exactly the same in German, only that the German puzzle is a little bit more complicated.

Whereas English derives the role of a word from its position in the sentence, the German language uses case.

Let's see how that works. In English, you could say:

The woman teaches the man.

Now let's flip that around:

The man teaches the woman.

Changing the word order results in a change of meaning: The second sentence means the exact opposite of the first.

Now I hear you say: "Well, we've just changed the word order? Of course that changes the meaning!".

But that's the point: In German, it doesn't. The role each word plays in a sentence is also conveyed through the case it is in.

Die Frau unterrichtet den Mann.

Den Mann unterrichtet die Frau.

Nominative

Accusative

Dative

Genitive