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Dative Case in German

(der Dativ)


This lesson contains topics:

  1. What is a dative case?
  2. Rules of (articles) declension in dative
  3. Declension of definite articles in the dative case
  4. Sentence structure in the dative
  5. Verbs with dative and accusative
  6. Declination of indefinite articles in the dative case
  7. Dative case examples
  8. Declension of kein in the dative case

1. What is a dative case?

Dative is the indirect object, for example, in English we say,
I bring a pen. In this sentence "I" is the subject, "to bring" is the verb, and "pen" is the direct object.
Now if we add an indirect object in this sentence:
I bring you a pen. "You" is the indirect object.

While learning English grammar, the topic of indirect objects is not much emphasized because English articles and pronouns do not change their shape (decline) in the dative case. In German, however, articles and pronouns show strong declension in accusative and dative cases. The German translation of the above sentence, "I bring you a pen" is:
Ich bringe Ihnen einen Kuli.
der Kuli (ballpoint pen), bringen (to bring somebody something)
The first noticeable difference is that indirect object in German comes directly after the verb. The second difference is the declension of pronouns and articles. The above sentence is in polite form. The second person pronoun "Ihnen" doesn't change in the dative case, but if we use the familiar form of the second person pronoun, i.e.
Ich bringe dir einen Kuli.
Please also note that we are not using "dich" here. In the dative case, the second person pronoun "dich" declines to "dir".

Now if we use the above sentence with an article: I bring the man a pen.
We won't see much difference in English, but in German, we see a complete declension of articles, i.e.
Ich bringe dem Mann einen Kuli.
Notice that we are not using "der" or "den". We have already learned in lesson 13 Accusative that in accusative (direct object) masculine article "der" declines to "den". Similarly in the dative (indirect object) "den" is not used, and "den" declines further to "dem", which clearly identifies the dative (indirect object).

2. Rules of declension in accusative and dative

In the dative case, the masculine and neuter endings change into "-em". Feminine and plural endings decline to "-er" and "-en" respectively. The following table shows declension rules in the accusative and dative cases.

On small screens, please drag the following tables right or left to view the full width.
Nominative Accusative Dative
Masculine -er -en -em
Faminine -e -e -er
Neuter -es -es -em
Plural -e -e -en

3. Declension of definite articles in the dative case

In the dative case, masculine and neuter articles decline to "dem". Feminine article declines to "der", and plural to "den".
The following is the German famous "nominativ akkusativ dativ table".

On small screens, please drag the following tables right or left to view the full width.
Nominative Accusative Dative
Masculine der den dem
Faminine die die der
Neuter das das dem
Plural die die den

Examples:
As we have seen in the above table that masculine and neuter definite articles decline to "dem" in the dative case.

Ich gebe dem Mann ein Buch. (I give the man a book.)
Ich gebe dem Mädchen ein Buch. (I give the girl a book.)
In the above examples "der Mann" and "das Mädchen" are indirect objects (dative), so their definite articles "der" and "das" have changed to "dem".
Similarly, the feminine definite article "die" declines to "der", for example, ich gebe der Studentin ein Buch. (I give the (female) student a book.)
The plural definite article "die" changes into "den"
Ich gebe den Studenten die Bücher. (I give the books to the students.)
"die Studentin" (female student), "die Studenten" (students)

4. Word order in the dative case

In the sentence in which the verb is followed by both, a direct and an indirect object, if direct and indirect objects are nouns, the indirect object (dative) precedes the direct object (accusative).

On small screens, please drag the following tables right or left to view the full width.
Object Verb Dative
(Indirect Object)
Accusative
(Direct Object)
Ich bringe dem Mann einen Kuli.
I bring the man a pen.

The above-explained sentence structure is the word order a normal condition. However, to emphasize the dative (indirect object) or accusative (direct object) can be placed in the first place. This is the beauty of declension.

Please note that in any type of emphasized sentence structure the verb must remain the second element in the word order, followed by the object.
Dem Mann bringe ich einen Kuli.
Einen Kuli bringe ich dem Mann.

5. Verbs with dative and accusative

(Verbs followed by accusative and dative)
There are some verbs that are followed by both accusative (direct object) and dative (indirect object), like we have discussed above,
ich bringe dem Mann einen Kuli. (I bring the man a pen.)
bringen (to bring) is a verb that is followed by both accusative and dative.
Some other verbs that are followed by accusative and dative are:

geben (to give)
zeigen (to show)
schicken (to send)
kaufen (to buy)
liefern (to deliver, to supply)
erklären (to explain)
erzählen (to tell, to narrate)
All these verbs have common characteristics, for example, we can say: to give somebody a something, to show somebody a something, to send somebody a something.
In all these verbs, something is the direct object (accusative) and somebody the is indirect object (dative).

Some verbs are just followed by the dative. This topic will be discussed after learning the declension of pronouns in the dative case.


6. Declination of indefinite articles in the dative case

In the dative case, masculine and neuter indefinite articles “ein” decline to “einem”. Feminine indefinite articles “eine” declines to "einer".
Please see the following nominativ akkusativ dativ table to understand the declination of indefinite articles in the dative case.

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Nominative Accusative Dative
Masculine ein einen einem
Faminine eine eine einer
Neuter ein ein einem

7. Dative case examples

We are using only nouns in the following examples as we haven't learned pronoun declination in the dative case yet.

geben (to give)

Without dative: Ich gebe das Buch. (I give this book.)
With dative: Ich gebe einem Freund das Buch. (I give the book to a friend.)

zeigen (to show)

Without dative: Ich zeige das Auto. (I show the car.)
With dative: Ich zeige der Frau das Auto. (I show the car to the woman.)

schicken (to send)

Without dative: Ich schicke ein Geschenk. (I send a gift.)
With dative: Ich schicke dem Freund ein Geschenk. (I'm sending a gift to the friend.)

kaufen (to buy)

Without dative: Ich kaufe die Pizza. (I am buying the pizza.)
With dative: Ich kaufe der Frau Wolfgang die Pizza. (I am buying the pizza for Mrs. Wolfgang.)

liefern (to deliver, to supply)

Without dative: Du lieferst die Pizzen. (You deliver the pizzas.)
with dative: Du lieferst den Leuten die Pizzen. (You deliver the pizzas to the people.)
The noun "die Leute" (people) is always used as a plural. Here we see a change in spellings i.e. "den Leuten". That is the declension of a noun in the dative. This topic is discussed in the next lesson.

erklären (to explain)

Without dative: Er erklärt die Wahrheit. (He explains the truth.)
With dative: Er erklärt dem Boss die Wahrheit. (He explains the truth to the boss.)

erzählen (to tell, to narrate)

Without dative: Sie erzählt eine Geschichte. (She tells a story.)
With dative: Sie erzählt einem Mädchen eine Geschichte. (She tells a story to a girl.)

8. Declension of kein in dative case

From previous lessons, we know that “kein” behaves similar to indefinite articles (ein and eine). So, in the dative case, the declension of “kein” is also similar to indefinite articles i.e. when used with a masculine and neuter indirect object, the word “kein” declines to “keinem”, feminine to "keiner" and plural to "keinen".

On small screens, please drag the following tables right or left to view the full width.
Nominative Accusative Dative
Masculine kein keinen keinem
Faminine keine keine keiner
Neuter kein kein keinem
Plural keine keine keinen

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