Deciphering the German Dative Case: The Complete Guide to Indirect Objects

In this enlightening lesson, we introduce you to the German dative case, an essential aspect of the language used for indirect objects, certain prepositions, verbs, and phrases. Join us as we demystify this crucial grammatical element.

Dative Case with Indirect Objects in German

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

The Role of Nominative, Accusative, and Dative Cases

  • Nominative Case: Used for the subject of the sentence, the doer of the action.
  • Accusative Case: Applies to direct objects, the receivers of the action.
  • Dative Case: For indirect objects, those receiving the direct object.

What is an Indirect Object?

An indirect object typically receives the direct object of a sentence. Consider these examples:

  • Der Mann gibt deiner Mutter Blumen. (The man gives your mother flowers.)
  • Dein Vater verpasst dem Mann ein blaues Auge. (Your father gives the man a black eye.)

In these sentences, ‘deiner Mutter’ and ‘dem Mann’ are the indirect objects.

Definite Articles in the Dative Case

Dative case articles transform from their original form in the nominative case. Note the following changes:

  • Nominative “der” (masculine) becomes Dative “dem”
  • Nominative “die” (feminine) becomes Dative “der”
  • Nominative “das” (neuter) becomes Dative “dem”
  • Nominative “die” (plural) becomes Dative “den”
German Definite Articles in Nominative Accusative and Dative Cases
German Definite Articles in Nominative, Accusative and Dative Cases

Remember, these changes reflect the function of the noun in the sentence, not a change in gender.

Example Sentences: Nominative, Accusative, and Dative

Let’s see ‘der Mann’ in different roles:

  • Der Mann geht ins Lebensmittelgeschäft. (Nominative: subject)
  • Dein Vater schlägt den Mann. (Accusative: direct object)
  • Dein Vater verpasst dem Mann ein blaues Auge. (Dative: indirect object)

Can Every Sentence Have an Indirect Object?

Not necessarily. The presence of an indirect object depends on the verb’s action. Some verbs inherently cannot have indirect objects.

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.

Expanding on Dative Case Usage

Let’s explore how dative case is utilized across various contexts:

  • Herr Antrim bringt dem Doktor Deutsch bei. (Teaching German to the Doctor)
  • Der Kellner bringt dem Mädchen ein Eis. (The waiter brings the girl an ice cream.)
  • Die Lehrerin gibt den Schülern eine Hausarbeit auf. (The teacher assigns the students a term paper.)

Plural Dative Nouns Require N

When you use a plural noun in the dative case, the article has an N at the end of it. In addition to this, however, you will also usually add N to the noun.

  • Die Lehrerin gibt den Schülern eine Hausarbeit auf. (“der Schüler” becomes “die Schüler” in the plural, but in the dative case we use “den Schülern”)

The Unique Case of Weak Nouns

Certain masculine nouns, like ‘Polizist’, take an -n or -en ending in all cases except nominative.

  • Meine Schwester sagt dem Polizisten die Wahrheit. (“der Polizist” becomes “den Polizisten” in the accusative and “dem Polizisten” in the dative case.

Indefinite Articles and the Dative Case

The indefinite articles in the dative case align with the definite articles, making learning them simpler. The last letter of each of the definite articles is the same as the last letter of the indefinite article in the same place on the chart.

German Indefinite Articles in Nominative Accusative and Dative Cases
German Indefinite Articles in Nominative, Accusative and Dative Cases

Comprehensive Practice: Worksheet and More

For hands-on practice, join the Deutschlerner Club to download our indirect objects worksheet and engage with exercises that solidify your understanding of the dative case.

More Examples with Indirect Objects

beibringen
to teach

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.

bringen
to bring

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?

erzählen
to tell

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?

geben
to give

Sophia gibt dem Hund etwas Hundefutter.
Sophia gives the dog some dog food.

Was gibt Sophia dem Hund?
What is Sophia giving the dog?

kaufen
to buy

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?

sagen
to say

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?

schenken
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?

schicken
to send

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?

senden
to send

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?

vorlesen
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?

Other Dative Case Lessons in This Series

Indirect Objects with the Dative Case
What is a dative sentence?
Personal Pronouns of the Dative Case
Word Order with Direct & Indirect Objects
Prepositions Used with the Dative Case
Dative Prepositions and Their Common Verb Partners
Wechselpräpositionen (Two-Way Prepositions)
Wechselpräpositionen and Their Common Verb Partners with the Dative Case
Special Dative Phrases
Dative Verbs
Everything Dative Case Materials

If you are really wanting to put your German learning on track, consider joining Herr Antrim’s Deutschlerner Club! For just $14.99 per month you will get access to his full A1 and A2 courses plus new materials as he creates them. You will go from knowing zero German to being able to have a short conversation in a short few weeks. Before you know it, you will be conversational in German on a variety of important topics, all while mastering German grammar.

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