What Is the Dative?The dative’s main purpose is to point out an indirect object. That’s a person or thing that’s being affected by a verb’s action.
Ich habe das der Frau gesagt. (I told that to the woman.)
In the above sentence, “the woman” is the one being told. So she is the indirect object.
“I” is the subject of the sentence and
“that” is the direct object.
One reason learners grapple with the German dative so much more than any other case is because it changes every definite and indefinite article. In the example above, you’ll notice how die Frau has changed to der Frau. This is because the dative changes the feminine definite article from die to der.
Dastardly Dative Definite and Indefinite ArticlesIf a sentence or clause is in the dative case, you need to make sure you’re using dative articles with nouns. As we don’t change articles in English, this can be tricky for learners to get their heads around. However, once you remember the following pattern of changes, you’ll find your understanding of German improves by leaps and bounds.
Masculine Definite ArticleIn the dative case, instead of taking their usual der, masculine nouns need to use dem as their definite article.
Er hat das dem Hund gegeben. (I gave it to the dog.)
Ich bin mit dem Mann ins Kino gegangen. (I went to the cinema with the man.)
Feminine Definite ArticleWe also need to change the feminine definite article. Der is used instead of die.
Wir backen der Julia einen Kuchen. (We’re baking a cake for Julia.)
Germans will often precede male names with the masculine definite article, and female names with the feminine definite article.
Er hat der Oma den Tisch gekauft. (He bought the grandma the table.)
Neuter Definite ArticleThe definite article for neutral nouns, das, changes to dem. Just like the masculine one did!
Ich habe dem Mädchen Witze erzählt. (I told the girl jokes.)
Er gibt dem Pferd das Heu. (He gives the horse the hay.)
Plural Definite ArticleAs well as changing the plural definite article to den, we also need to add an “-n” or “-en” ending to the plural noun.
Sie spricht mit den Brüdern. (She speaks with the brothers.)
Ich habe den Hunden das Fleisch gefüttert. (I fed the meat to the dogs.)
Masculine Indefinite ArticleIt’s not just definite articles that are changed by the dative—indefinite ones get in on the action too! When it comes to masculine nouns, ein becomes einem.
Er macht es mit einem Computer. (He’s doing it with a computer.)
Sie werden einem Franzosen alles sagen. (They’ll tell a Frenchman everything.)
Feminine Indefinite ArticleThe pattern with indefinite articles follows that of the definite articles. So, die changes to der. That means eine will change to…einer.
Sie hat einer Tante das Geld gegeben. (She gave the money to an aunt.)
Ich habe das in einer Geschichte gelesen. (I read that in a story.)
Neuter Indefinite ArticleNeuter nouns need einem instead of ein.
Ein Esel ist einem Pferd sehr ähnlich. (A donkey is very similar to a horse.)
Ich habe nichts außer einem Fenster gebrochen. (I didn’t break anything except a window.)
KeinAs in English, there is no indefinite article for plurals. However, we do use the article kein to negate plurals. In English, this is usually translated as “not a” or “not any.” The translations below will help you get a grasp on the grammar.
Ich habe mit keinem gesprochen. (I spoke with nobody. / I didn’t speak to anyone.)
Das Mädchen hat keinen Verwandten das Geheimnis gesagt. (The girl told no relatives the secret. / The girl didn’t tell any relatives the secret.)Whereas in English, there are a few different constructions that get across the same idea, in German you’ll always be using kein.
Der Wemfall: Is That “Who” or “Whom”?Der Wemfall could be translated into English as “the whom-case.” Indeed, English used to have a dative case and “whom” is a remnant of this—but who really knows how to use “whom” correctly? Germans get help remembering which case to use by asking which interrogative is being used:
- Nominative (who) .... subject : Wer. The subject case is known as the Werfall.
- Accusative ( (who) ... direct object: Wen. The Wenfall.
- Dative (whom) ... indirect object: Wem. The Wemfall.
- Genitive (whose) possessive: Wessen. The Wessen Fall.
So you see, wer is changed to wem in the dative, and the name of the dative case simply as der Wemfall. Whenever wer (who) is found in a dative clause, it changes to wem.
Wem hat er das Ticket gegeben? (To whom did he give the ticket?)
Dastardly Dative VerbsSome German verbs always require the dative case—whether the following noun is the indirect object or not. These are as follows:
- helfen (to help)
- danken (to thank)
- gefallen (to like)
- gehören (to belong to)
- schmecken (to taste)
- passen (to match)
Kannst du mir bitte helfen? (Can you please help me?)In this instance, even though “me” is the direct object and would usually take the accusative, helfen forces it to be in the dative.
Dastardly Dative PrepositionsThere is also a group of German prepositions that must be followed by the dative case.
Try this handy version of “On the Beautiful Blue Danube” for remembering these prepositions:
- aus (from/out/over)
- außer (except/besides)
- bei (with/by)
- mit (with)
- nach (after/to)
- seit (since)
- von (from/of)
- zu (to/too)
Sie kommt aus der Turkei. (She comes from Turkey.)
Dastardly Mixed PrepositionsHere we have a group of prepositions that, just to confuse things, can take either the accusative or dative case. If there is no movement or direction in the sentence, you’ll need to use the dative.
So, for example:
Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch. (The book is lying on the table.)
Ich lege das Buch auf den Tisch. (I lay the book on the table.)In the top sentence, the book is lying still on the table. There is no movement in the sentence, so auf triggers the dative case. Therefore, der Tisch changes to dem Tisch. Whereas in the bottom sentence, the book is being moved onto the table. Der Tisch needs to change to den Tisch because the movement along with auf requires the accusative case.
Here’s a list of these pesky prepositions:
- an (on)
- auf (on/upon)
- hinter (behind)
- in (in/into)
- neben (near/next to)
- über (over/above)
- unter (under)
- vor (in front of/before/to)
- zwischen (in between)
Hopefully, this article has given you all the weapons needed to tackle the dastardly dative case!
Eventually, knowing all the cases will help you to better understand and speak German.
So time to get cracking on that dative!