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Dative case in German

der Dativ

This lesson contains topics:

  1. What is dative case?
  2. Rules of declension (articles) in dative
  3. Declension of definite articles in dative case
  4. Sentence structure in dative
  5. Verbs followed by accusative and dative
  6. Declination of indefinite articles in dative case
  7. Declension of kein in dative case


What is dative case?

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

While learning English grammer, the topic of indirect objects is not much emphesized because English articles and pronouns do not change their shape (decline) in datvie case. In German however, articles and pronouns show strong declension in accusative and dative cases. Translation of the above sentence, "I bring a pen to you." in German is:
Ich bringe Ihnen einen Kuli.
First notible difference is that indirect object in German comes directly after the verb. Second difference is the declension of pronouns and articles. This above sentence is in polite form. The second person pronoun "Ihnen" doesn't change in the dative case, but if we use famillier form:
Ich bringe dir einen Kuli.
Note that we are not using "dich" here. In dative case, second person pronoun "dich" declines to "dir".

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

Rules of declension

In dative, the masculine and neuter endings changes into "-em". Faminine and plural ending changes into "-er" and "-en" respectivly.

Nominative Accusative Dative
Masculine -er -en -em
Faminine -e -e -er
Neuter -es -es -em
Plural -e -e -en

Declension of definite articles in dative case

In dative case, masculine and neuter articles decline to "dem". Feminine article declines to "der", and plural to "den".

Nominative Accusative Dative
Masculine der den dem
Faminine die die der
Neuter das das dem
Plural die die den

As we have seen in the above table that masculine and neuter definite articles declines to "dem", for example,

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

Word order in dative case

Sentence in which verb is followed by a direct and an indirect object, if direct and indirect objects are nouns, the indirect object precedes the direct object.

Object Verb Dative
(Indirect Object)
(Direct Object)
Ich bringe dem Mann einen Kuli.


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 pen to a man.)
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 direct object (accusative) and somebody is indirect object (dative).

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

Declination of indefinite articles in dative case

Masculine and neuter indefinite articles “ein” decline to “einem”. Feminine indefinite articles “eine” declines to "einer".

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

Examples: We are using only nouns in these examples as we haven't learn pronoun declination in Dative.

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.)
Noun "die Leute" (people) is always used as plral. Here we see a change in spellings i.e. "den Leuten". That is declension of noun in dative. This topic is disscussed in next chapter.

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.)

Declension of kein in dative case

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

Nominative Accusative Dative
Masculine kein keinen keinem
Faminine keine keine keiner
Neuter kein kein keinem
Plural keine keine keinen