Indirect Objects & the German Dative Case
Do you know how to use the dative case in German? The German dative case is used with indirect objects, certain prepositions, certain verbs and certain phrases. This lesson will teach you what indirect objects are and how you can use them in German with the dative case. This lesson includes definite and indefinite articles.
Introduction Skit for the Dative Case
Confused Student: Wait. Feminine nouns use the article “der”? What is “dem”? And why is there an N at the end of the word “Kinder”?
Herr Antrim: That’s dative. It’s like nominative and accusative on steroids. The dative case is used with indirect objects, dative prepositions, dative verbs, and certain phrases.
Confused Student: Sounds complicated.
Herr Antrim: Lots of people think that, but it doesn’t have to be. Over the next several lessons I will teach you all of the things you need to know about the dative case. Today we will tackle the dative case as it is used with indirect objects. This includes definite and indefinite articles (der-words and ein-words). In the next video I’ll explain how to use dative pronouns. In the following videos I will show you the other uses of the dative case including dative prepositions, dative verbs and a variety of dative phrases.
Confused Student: Alright, get on with it. I’ll let you know if you were successful at the end.
What is an Indirect Object?
Der Mann gibt deiner Mutter Blumen.
The man gives your mother flowers.
Der Mann gibt deiner Mutter eine Halskette.
The man gives your mother a necklace.
Der Mann gibt deiner Mutter einen Kuss.
The man gives your mother a kiss.
Dein Vater verpasst dem Mann ein blaues Auge.
Your father gives the man a black eye.
In the first three examples, your mom is the indirect object.
Confused Student: Haha. Your mom’s an indirect object.
Student 2: Got ‘em. (high five’s the confused student)
Confused Student: What’s an indirect object?
When to Use Nominative, Accusative & Dative
Herr Antrim: So, if you don’t already know, the nominative case is used for the subject of the sentence. That’s the person or thing that is doing something in the sentence. This is also the person or thing that decides how the verb needs to be conjugated.
The accusative case is used with direct objects. These are the things or people that are being acted upon by the subject of the sentence. If you buy something, that something is the direct object and in German that’s accusative.
If the direct object goes in the direction of someone or something, that someone or something is an indirect object. The indirect object receives the direct object. The indirect object in German uses the dative case.
Definite Articles in the Dative Case
You have probably seen a chart that looks something like this before. What I consider the baseline for all cases is the nominative case. Words for “the” are called definite articles. The only change between nominative and accusative articles occurs with masculine nouns. “der” becomes “den”. When we get to the dative case, everything changes. “die” becomes “der”, “der” and “das” become “dem” and the plural “die” becomes “den”.
Confused Student: So feminine is now masculine, masculine and neuter have merged into one super gender and the plural has become the masculine accusative?
No. That’s not at all what is going on here. The genders of nouns, while represented by the article are not the articles themselves. The gender of the noun is determined by the noun itself. The article that is put in front of that noun is determined by the gender and the way in which it is used.
Don’t think “der” means it is masculine, but rather masculine nouns when used as the subject of the sentence, are represented with the word “der”. When that same noun is used as the direct object, it is represented by “den”. Then when it is used as an indirect object, it is represented with “dem”. Trust me, this is a lot easier for your brain to handle than thinking up some convoluted way of remembering whatever that gender bender thing you were trying to do was.
Examples with Nominative, Accusative and Dative
Let’s try an example to start this off. We will use “der Mann” to keep things simple. Again, I don’t say “der Mann” to say it is always “der”, but rather as the starting point for the way the articles change from here on out with the word “Mann”.
Der Mann geht ins Lebensmittelgeschäft.
The man goes (is going) into the grocery store.
The man is the one doing something in the sentence, which makes him the subject and therefore nominative.
Dein Vater schlägt den Mann.
Your father hits the man.
Your father is the one doing something in this sentence, which makes him the subject and nominative. The man is now on the receiving end of the action, i.e. the verb “schlagen” (to hit). In other words, the man is being hit. This makes him the direct object and therefore accusative.
Dein Vater verpasst dem Mann ein blaues Auge.
Your father gives the man a black eye.
Your father is still the subject, as he is still the one doing something. The action, however, is transferred to “ein blaues Auge” (a black eye). That makes the eye the direct object and therefore accusative. Let me know in the comments if you know why the Germans give a blue eye, while the English speakers give a black eye.
The one receiving the direct object is the man. This means he is indirectly being acted upon by your father through the direct object. This is why we call it the indirect object and it takes the dative case.
Now, throughout all of those examples, we had the same noun, “Mann”. It went from “der” in the first one to “den” and “dem”. The gender of the noun didn’t change. The article preceding it did.
Can all sentences have an indirect object?
No. Not all verbs have the ability to take indirect objects. This is due to the action that the verb expresses. Obviously you can buy or sell someone something, give them it, or send them it, but you can’t be them something or go them something.
Confused Student: Cool. Cool. I think I have it, but just in case, can I see a few more examples? Hopefully with a bit more variety than what you have done so far.
The word for “timey-wimey stuff” in German is “schnibbedi-schnick wibbelig-wabbeliges Zeugs”. Bet you can’t say that 3 times fast.
Confused Student: Hmm. I figured you would be more of a Matt Smith kind of guy, what with the bow ties and such.
Herr Antrim: Stylistically speaking, I like Matt Smith’s Doctor, because bow ties are cool, but acting and storytelling-wise I prefer David Tennant.
Herr Antrim erzählt der Prinzessin ein Märchen.
Herr Antrim tells the princess a fairy tale.
Der Makler zeigt der Kundin das Haus.
The realtor shows the customer the house.
Der Kellner bringt dem Mädchen ein Eis.
The waiter brings the girl an ice cream.
Der Lehrer stellt dem Schüler eine Frage.
The teacher asks the student a question.
Confused Student: Why didn’t you use the verb “fragen” in that sentence?
Herr Antrim: dem Schüler eine Frage fragen? Das ist ein bisschen doppelt gemoppelt. – Questioning a question? That’s a bit redundant.
Add N to Plural Nouns in the Dative Case
Die Lehrerin gibt den Schülern eine Hausarbeit auf.
The teacher assigns the students a term paper.
Confused Student: Halt! Stopp! Where did the N at the end of “Schüler” come from? The word “Schüler” is already plural. You don’t have to double pluralize it do you?
Herr Antrim: Haha. No. That N is there to indicate the plural dative. Most of the time this will happen. If the noun already ends with N or it ends with S, you don’t add the N to the end in the dative case.
Weak Nouns in the Dative Case
Meine Schwester sagt dem Polizisten die Wahrheit.
My sister tells the police officer the truth.
Confused Student: WAIT! Why did “Polizist” suddenly get an extra two letters? I understand that the plural of “Polizist” is “Polizisten”, but you just said “dem Polizisten”, which means it is masculine and not plural. What’s up with that?
Herr Antrim: Have you heard of “weak nouns” before? These are certain nouns that simply take -n or -en when they are used in any case that isn’t nominative. “Polizist” is on that list. If you want a better list of them, I have that built into my accusative, dative and genitive case master classes. For a few more examples, however, here are a few popular ones. der Neffe – Neffen (nephew), der Held – Helden (hero), der Herr – Herrn (gentleman), der Name – Namen (name) and a bunch more.
Confused Student: Are they all masculine?
Herr Antrim: Yep.
Confused Student: Well, at least that part is simple. I get the der-words now. What happens with the ein-words?
Indefinite Articles with the Dative Case
Herr Antrim: The dative case is the first case that uses the same endings for all of the indefinite articles as the definite articles. By that I mean that the masculine and neuter endings are -m, feminine is -r and plural is -n.
Der Richter schickt einer Zeugin eine Vorladung.
The judge sends (is sending) a witness a subpoena.
Der Experte kocht einem Spion ein Ei.
The expert cooks (is cooking) a spy an egg.
Laura leiht meinem Vater den Hut.
Laura loans my father the hat.
Meine Kinder erzählen einem Mädchen Witze.
My children tell a girl jokes.
Sophia schreibt ihren Großeltern Briefe.
Sophia writes her grandparents letters.
Confused Student: I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. Is there anything else I should know?
Words Like Der-Words
Herr Antrim: Just a quick reminder. Don’t forget that there are other words that act like definite articles. By that I mean they use the same endings. Things like “dieser”, “jeder” and “welche”. For example:
Meine Mutter gibt jedem Kind ein Stück Schokolade.
My mother gives every child a piece of chocolate.
Der Mann verkauft dieser Frau eine Halskette.
The man is selling this woman a necklace.
Words Like Ein-Words
Also, the possessive articles such as “mein”, “dein” and so on, use the same endings as the indefinite articles and the negative word “kein” follows the same pattern. For example:
Mein Bruder kauft unserem Vater einen Golfschläger.
My brother is buying our father a golf club.
Seine Freundin schenkt ihrer Tochter ein Fahrrad.
His girlfriend is giving her daughter a bicycle.
Confused Student: Great. I think I’m good for today.
Indirect Objects and the Dative Case: 3 Minuten Deutsch Version
As explained in the video, the dative case is used with indirect object. An indirect object is generally a person (sometimes an animal or, rarely, an inanimate object) that receives the direct object of the sentence. In case you don’t remember, the direct object of a sentence is the thing that is being verbed. It is what receives the action of the sentence.
There is a relatively limited list of German verbs that can use indirect objects, as certain verbs simply don’t make sense with an indirect object. Here is a short list of verbs that can take an indirect object and their meanings followed by an example of how to use them.
Was bringt Herr Antrim den Schülern bei?
What does Herr Antrim teach the students?
Herr Antrim bringt den Schülern Deutsch bei.
Herr Antrim is teaching the students German.
Ich bringe meinem Hund den Knochen.
I bring my dog the bone.
Warum bringt der Hund dem Mann den Knochen nicht?
Why doesn’t the dog bring the man the bone?
Ihre Tochter erzählt meiner Freundin die besten Geschichten.
Her daughter tells my girlfriend the best stories.
Was für Geschichten erzählt ihre Tochter deiner Freundin?
What kind of stories does her daughter tell your girlfriend?
Sophia gibt dem Hund etwas Hundefutter.
Sophia gives the dog some dog food.
Was gibt Sophia dem Hund?
What is Sophia giving the dog?
Ich kaufe der Obdachlose etwas Gutes zum Essen.
I am buying the homeless woman something good to eat.
Warum kaufst du dem Obdachlose etwas auch nicht?
Why don’t you buy the homeless man something, too?
Der Lehrer sagt dem Schüler, dass er im Flur nicht rennen darf.
The teacher tells the student that he is not allowed to run in the hall.
Warum sagt der Lehrer dem Schüler, dass er nicht rennen darf?
Why does the teacher tell the student that he isn’t allowed to run?
to give (as a gift)
Der Reisender schenkt seiner Familie Andenken zu Weihnachten.
The traveller is giving his family souvenirs for Christmas.
Wann schenkt der Reisende seiner Familie Andenken?
When is the traveller giving his family souvenirs?
Der Politiker schickt den Wählern eine Postkarte.
The politician is sending the voters a postcard.
Was schicken Politiker den Wählern?
What do politicians send the voters?
Die Mutter sendet dem Kind fast nie eine SMS.
The mother rarely sends the child a text message.
Warum sendet die Mutter dem Kind keine SMS?
Why doesn’t the mother send the child a text message?
to read to someone
Ein guter Vater liest seinem Kind jeden Tag ein Buch vor.
A good father reads his child a book every day.
Wie oft liest ein schlechter Vater seinem Kind ein Buch?
How often does a bad father read his child a book?
As I mentioned at the beginning of the lesson, this is the first of several lessons about the dative case. Next week I’ll explain how to use the dative pronouns again focusing on indirect objects. Das ist alles für heute. Danke fürs Zuschauen. Bis zum nächsten Mal. Tschüss.