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Thread: German Language: What are 'Cases'...?

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    Question German Language: What are 'Cases'...?

    Schòne Grüße,

    I am of 25% German blood and have been studying German for 5 years.
    Genders are easy if one just memorizes the gender with the word. There are only three genders so memorizing the gender when one memorizes the word is easy.
    Cases are another thing. Nominative, accusative, genitive and dative, I look these up but get some technical answer a German teacher would understand but not me. I understand cases so poorly I am even unable to formulate an intelligent question. But what are cases? Are there cases in English? If so compare them so I can get an idea of a base for my German language studies about cases.


    Thank you...


    J. Winters von Knife

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    Senior Member Neophyte's Avatar
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    Simply put accusative is what you do it with, dative whom you do it to; nominative is the doer. Genitive expresses possession or quality.

    Regarding direction: what you are actively moving towards is accusative, what is stationary is dative. Except when the preposition determines case like in "wir farhen zum Bahnhof", no amount of active travel and direction will make zu take an accusative.

    Prepositions for verbs is the tricky part, and as far as I understand it that is something that we just have to memorize.

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    Senior Member Heinrich Harrer's Avatar
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    I'll try to explain it, but I'm no linguist so my explanations might be half-baked.

    Cases mark the grammatical function of words in a sentence and thereby their relation to the rest of the sentence - i.e. whether the word in question is the subject / direct object / indirect object / etc.

    So they answer questions like:
    Who is doing something? -> the subject (indicated by the nominative case)
    To whom is something done? -> the direct object (indicated by the accusative case)

    For example if you have the words: "Peter, cake, gives, Tom"
    You have one verb/action and three "objects", and you have to make clear what role each object plays in the sentence. Is Peter giving the cake to Tom? Is Tom giving the cake to Peter? Is the cake giving Peter to Tom? The case system is used to assign these roles.

    -> Peter (subject, nominative case) gives Tom (indirect object, dative case) the cake (direct object, accusative case).

    Of course the same could also be done by using the word order (for example if you simply say that the subject always comes first), or by using prepositions. If you use a case system to mark the subject, you have a little more flexibility with the word order, as the subject doesn't have to come first.

    Different languages use slightly different approaches to solve this problem.

    English mainly uses the word order and prepositions now, German still has 4 cases and uses prepositions for everything else, some languages like Magyar (Hungarian) and Suomi (Finnish) have even more cases - I think I've heard that they have something like 15 different cases, so a lot more than german does. For example when we would say "into the house" or "out of the house" they would inflect the word "house" as they have a case with that meaning. In Japanese they use particles/postpositions, which are basically like prepositions, just that they come after the word they accompany and not before it.

    Neophyte has mentioned another aspect of the case system in German:
    the prepositions usually expect the noun they accompany to be in a certain case, which can vary for some prepositions depending on the context.

    For example:
    Ich gehe in die Schule. (in + accusative) (you're moving into the school)
    Ich bin in der Schule. (in + dative) (you're already in the school)

    Some prepositions always expect the same case. I guess you have to memorize along with the prepositions just like you memorize the gender of nouns.

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    The cases were always my bugbear at school, where I failed quite abjectly at German

    TBH, I think if you can crack these then you're a good 75% of the way there! If you are totally unable to grasp the concept, however, then another method would be to listen to German radio (I do this quite often on the Internet) and just memorise the phrases you hear as complete blocks without trying to break them down.

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    Gentlemen,

    I am amazed at the three answers each one of which is perfectly clear.
    I understand ... well no, I have 'found the answers' and will print them out and frame them and hang them on my wall, right there! {I am serious}
    This is very exciting. I realize that I have the answers now and I have an idea of what cases are, but I'm excited that I will learn cases!

    A friend on the Sheriffs department here in Texas said to another Deputy: "I was stationed in Germany for three years.
    {at the time I had only been studying German for one year}
    I studied German every day 3-4 times a week with a tudor, and I probably know more German words than 'Jack' does, but 'Jack' understands German better than I do, a lot better".

    All I had done was to mention cases and name them.
    It struck terror in the first Deputies eyes, "cases"!
    He then said: "Cases were the great wall of China to my learning the German language. I never understood cases," and he was so impressed with my 'German', I didn't know anything about cases and still don't but I will now. I suspected and am now sure {thanks Godwinson} that cases are 75% of understanding the German language!

    Three brilliant answers.


    Thank you...


    J. Winters von Knife
    {My name is Jack and I make knives}
    {need a knife?}

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    Senior Member Linda Trostenhatten's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jacktheknife View Post
    But what are cases? Are there cases in English? If so compare them so I can get an idea of a base for my German language studies about cases.
    I think you only have cases in English in the personal pronouns. I me mine he him his. me is accusative I presume rather than dative.

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