Accusative Case Master Class
What are grammatical cases?
In order to understand how to use the accusative case and why you need to use it, you first need to understand what cases even are. While Wikipedia will tell you some complicated definition, the basic idea is that cases identify the way in which a noun or pronoun is used. It generally does this through the use of articles such as “der”, “die” and “das” or adjective endings (more on that later in this lesson).
In German the grammatical cases and the articles which represent them allow you to move around nouns in sentences without affecting the meaning. In the examples below, you can see that we use different words in different cases in the German sentences, each of which can be used at the beginning of the sentence, but the English translation never changes. This is possible in German, because of the case system. In English, however, the article “the” doesn’t allow this flexibility. Word order dictates meaning in English, whereas in German the case system helps express how a word is being used.
Der Mann gibt dem Jungen einen Lutscher.
The man gives the boy a sucker.
Dem Jungen gibt der Mann einen Lutscher.
The man gives the boy a sucker.
Einen Lutscher gibt der Mann dem Jungen.
The man gives the boy a sucker.
Accusative Case with Direct Objects
Now that we know what cases are, we can get into the accusative stuff. The accusative case is primarily used with direct objects. A direct object is the person or thing that is acted upon in a sentence. The subject of the sentence is the one acting or doing something in the sentence. Those word(s) are in the nominative case, which is basically the default case. The direct object is being acted upon by the subject. They are being “verbed”. This makes them accusative. This is represented in the sentences below by the accusative masculine article “den” and the accusative personal pronoun “dich”. Both of those will be explained in more detail later in this lesson.
Ich werfe den Ball.
I am throwing the ball.
“den Ball” is the direct object. It is being “thrown”.
Er mag dich.
He likes you.
“dich” is the direct object, as it is being “liked”.
Cases vs Word Order
In the examples below we have two new subjects in the nominative case “der Mann” and “das Mädchen”. The direct objects are “den Traktor” and “das Buch”. In the first example “den Traktor” indicates the accusative case, as “den” is the accusative version of “der”. Those are both masculine articles. “das Buch” on the other hand, doesn’t indicate the accusative case with the article, so we have to rely on the word order to tell us the use, like we would in English.
Der Mann kauft den Traktor.
The man is buying the tractor.
Das Mädchen liest das Buch. –
The girl is reading the book.
Accusative Case Definite Articles
Below you will see your first grammar chart. This one shows you the definite articles, which are translated as “the” in English. The only change from nominative to accusative is in the masculine form, which changes from “der” to “den”.
There are several words that take the same endings as the definite articles. They are “dieser” (this, these, those), “jeder” (every), “manche” (some), “solche” (such, that kind of), welcher” (which), and “alle” (all). As you can see in the chart below the last letters match.
Definite Articles Examples
The examples below show these words in action in the nominative and accusative cases.
Der Mann hat den Ball.
The man has the ball.
Diese Frau weiß jede Antwort. –
This woman knows every answer.
Das Mädchen sagt das Wort.
The girl says the word.
Diese Kinder finden alle Hinweise. –
These children find all clues.
Relative and Demonstrative Pronouns
The definite articles also double as relative and demonstrative pronouns. The main difference between relative pronouns and demonstrative pronouns is that demonstrative pronouns are generally not used in the same sentence in which the noun to which they refer is used. Relative pronouns are used within a relative clause, which is attached to a main clause that includes the noun to which the relative pronoun refers. This is illustrated in the sentences below. There are no examples below for demonstrative pronouns, but if you move the relative clause into a sentence of its own, you now have a demonstrative pronoun.
Ich sehe den Film, den dieser Man sieht.
I see the film, that this man sees.
Ich weiß die Antwort, die diese Frau weiß.
I know the answer, that this woman knows.
Accusative Case Indefinite Articles
Indefinite articles are words for “a” or “an”. They identify non-specific things. The chart below shows you the difference between nominative and accusative. Again, the only change is for the masculine form, which changes from “ein” to “einen”. The plural doesn’t have an indefinite article, as it wouldn’t make sense to say “a books”, but there are several words that take the same endings as the indefinite articles (listed in a bit). This is the reason for the (k) in the plural form. This indicates that it could be any of the words on the list of indefinite article-like things.
The same endings are applied to the following words as well: mein (my), dein (your), sein (his/its), ihr (her/their or you when capitalized), unser (our), euer (your), and kein (no – used to negate nouns). Below is an example chart using “mein.
Indefinite Articles Examples
Below you will find example sentences with real indefinite articles and the indefinite article-like things (mostly possessive words). Notice again that the only one that changes from nominative to accusative is the masculine form, which changes from no ending to -en.
Sein Vater fragt einen Kellner.
His father asks a waiter.
Eine Lehrerin unterrichtet eine Klasse.
A teacher teaches a class.
Unser Kind kennt ein sprechendes Pferd.
Our child knows a talking horse.
Meine Kinder bringen ihre Spielzeuge.
My children bring their toys.
German Adjective Endings in the Accusative Case
Adjective endings in German change a bit based on what precedes the adjective and the case and gender in which the noun is used. If there is a definite article or definite article-like word the nominative singular forms take an -e as well as the accusative forms for feminine and neuter nouns. All of the plural forms and the accusative masculine forms require -en on the adjective.
Adjectives After Indefinite Articles
If the adjective is preceded by an indefinite article or indefinite article-like word, there are a few differences. Mainly, the gender identifying letter at the end of the article is transferred from the article onto the adjective. This means that the masculine and neuter forms in the nominative case now have an -r and -s respectively. In the accusative case, the masculine adjective and article still have -en, but the neuter form retains the -s it had in the nominative case. The rest of the endings are the same as they were with definite articles. After the chart there are some example sentences with adjectives and their endings.
Adjective Endings Examples
Dieser neugierige Mann sieht jeden neuen Film.
This curious man sees every new film.
Eure schöne Mutter stellt eine gute Frage.
Your beautiful mother asks a good question.
Dieses coole Mädchen lässt dieses alte Buch zu Hause.
This cool girl leaves this old book at home.
Ihre kleinen Kinder spielen meine neuen Brettspiele.
Their small children play my new board games.
Weak German Nouns
Certain nouns in German require either -n or -en at the end of them in any case other than the nominative case. There are a ton of words that do this. They are called “weak nouns”. Below are a few examples of these nouns in action.
Ich mag seinen Namen.
I like his name.
Der Elefant trifft den Löwen.
The elephant meets the lion.
There are some ways to figure out if a noun is a weak noun. The vast majority of weak nouns are masculine nouns that end with -e. There are a lot of weak nouns with Latin or Greek endings. This would include: -ent (Assistent), -ant (Emigrant), -ist (Kapitalist), -at (Diplomat), -aut (Astronaut), -ad (Komerad). The most vague and also least reliable category are single syllable masculine nouns. There are quite a few weak nouns that fall into this category, but a lot of single syllable masculine nouns are not weak nouns, which makes it difficult to tell. The more you memorize these the better your ear for this will be trained and you will eventually be able to figure out if a noun is weak or not just by looking at it.
Time in the Accusative Case
Most of the time when you use a time element in a German sentence without a preposition, it is used in the accusative case. This is true as long as the time mentioned is a specific time and not an indefinite time. If you say “one day” in German, it isn’t a specific time, so you use the genitive case. If you say “today”, “this afternoon”, “every day” or any other time, you need the accusative case. The examples below show this in action.
Jeden Tag esse ich Wurst.
Every day I eat sausage.
Jede Nacht schlafe ich sechs Stunden.
Every night I sleep six hours.
Nächsten Dienstag spiele ich Fußball.
Next Tuesday I am playing soccer.
You are likely well aware of what the nominative case personal pronouns are, as they are the ones that you need in order to learn to conjugate German verbs. In the accusative case most of them change, which you can see in the chart below and in the example sentences that follow.
|Nominative Case||Accusative Case|
Du brauchst mich.
You need me.
Ich liebe dich.
I love you.
Sie hasst ihn.
She hates him.
Accusative Case Question Words
A lot of people don’t realize that question words are actually pronouns. Their official name is “interrogative pronouns”. If you are asking a question about people, you need either “wer” (who) or “wen” (whom). The former is used to ask about people in the nominative case and the latter for people in the accusative case. The question word “was” (what) can be used to inquire about the nominative or accusative cases. Below, you can see examples of this.
Wer ist das?
Who is that?
Wer lädt dich ein?
Who is inviting you?
Wen lädst du ein?
Whom are you inviting?
Was ist das?
What is that?
Was hast du in der Tasche?
What do you have in the bag?
Personal Pronouns vs Reflexive Pronouns
Personal pronouns and reflexive pronouns only differ in two places. Instead of individual gender specific pronouns for “er”, “sie” and “es”, you only need one pronoun for all of them, “sich”. For both “sie” meaning “they” and the formal “you” “Sie”, you use “sich”.
Reflexive pronouns are used to restate the subject as an object. This can be done as a direct object, which is the focus for this lesson. The use of reflexive pronouns as indirect objects would require the dative case. Certain verbs in German require or are often used with a reflexive pronoun. A lot of the confusion about reflexive pronouns in German is that they often don’t translate to sentences with reflexives in English. You simply have to memorize which verbs require these reflexive pronouns and then use them.
The reflexive pronoun should always match the subject of the sentence. Think of it as the subject being reflected around the verb. The verb is our mirror. Don’t forget, reflections don’t look exactly like the original image, which is also true of these reflexive pronouns. Below you will find examples with reflexive pronouns. The English translations mostly don’t have a reflexive, but if you were to force on into the sentence, you would put it where the parentheses are.
Examples of Reflexive Pronouns
Ich ärgere mich über mich.
I am getting angry (upsetting myself) at myself.
Freust du dich auf das Wochenende?
Are you looking (yourself) forward to the weekend?
Er konzentriert sich auf seine Hausaufgaben.
He is concentrating (himself) on his homework.
Accusative Case Prepositions
There are a lot of prepositions in German. Some of them require you to use the accusative case after them. The prepositions that always take the accusative case are listed below with their translations. I use the mnemonic device “BO FUDGE” to remember the accusative case prepositions. Think of it as if you had body odor (BO) so bad that it physically manifested itself in the form of fudge. Yes, that is incredibly gross, but it does help you put a memory tool to the prepositions that take the accusative case. They can be seen in action in the examples after the prepositions.
Examples of Accusative Prepositions
bis – until
Bis nächsten Donnerstag habe ich viel zu tun.
Until next Thursday I have a lot to do.
ohne – without
Ich gehe nicht nach draußen ohne meinen Mantel.
I am not going outside without my coat.
für – for
Er gibt viel Geld für die Karten aus.
He is spending a lot of money for the tickets.
um – around
Mein Vater fährt um die Ecke.
My father is driving around the corner.
durch – through
Der Rennkuckuck rennt durch den Tunnel.
The roadrunner runs through the tunnel.
gegen – against
Was hast du gegen meinen Bruder?
What do you have against my brother?
entlang – along
Ich laufe den Strand entlang.
I am walking along the beach.
Be careful with the preposition “entlang”. When it is used after the object (technically called a postposition instead of a preposition), it uses the accusative case. When “entlang” is used before the object, you need the genitive case.
Ich laufe entlang des Weges.
I am walking along the path.
One of the most requested video topics on my YouTube channel is the two-way prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen). These prepositions can take either the accusative or dative case. Most German teachers over simplify the use of these prepositions and tell you if there is motion use accusative and if there is no motion use dative.
The problem with this thinking is immediately apparent when you ask yourself which case to use if you are playing a game on a field. Playing clearly means you are moving, so a lot of student assume this means you have to use the accusative case. Unfortunately, the dative case is actually needed here, as you aren’t changing location, which is what the teachers really mean to say. If there is a change in the location or the state of being, you use the accusative case with these prepositions.
To be more precise, if the person or thing to which the prepositional phrase is referring is moving from one location to another or changing its state of being through the action created in the prepositional phrase, you need the accusative case. If there is no change of location or state, you need the dative case.
Examples of Wechselpräpositionen in the Accusative Case
Ich hänge das Bild an die Wand.
I am hanging the picture onto the wall.
Er legt das Blatt Papier auf den Tisch.
He lays the piece of paper on the table.
Der Ball rollt hinter den Kühlschrank.
The ball rolls behind the refrigerator.
Verbs with Fixed Prepositions
The term “verbs with fixed prepositions” is misleading at best. These prepositions don’t have to be used with these verbs. They are commonly used with them, however, which is why this term came to be. Sometimes, such as in the examples below, their use is pretty straight forward. The preposition requires a particular case, you use that case. That isn’t always the case, however.
Er entscheidet sich für die Pizzeria.
He decided (himself) for the pizzeria.
Wir bitten Sie um Vergebung.
We are asking you for forgiveness.
If you use a Wechselpräposition (two-way preposition) with one of these verbs, it isn’t always apparent which case to use, as the verb doesn’t immediately scream motion or non-motion. In these cases, it is best to memorize which case to use as you encounter these verbs.