Declension (Overview)

Need a Hand with the Dative?


What is Dative?

The dative is the third German case. There are four cases in the German language.

A "case" is the function a noun has within a sentence. If words were actors, we could say the "case" is the role each word plays. The dative shows us who we are listening to, who we give something to, or who we are dealing with.

The German dative question is: "To whom, from whom, with whom, etc...?"
The dative usually shows that something is given TO SOMEBODY or received FROM SOMEBODY. It is also used for locations, to say where things are.


Ich gebe meiner Schwester einen guten Rat.
I give my sister good advice.

WEM gebe ich einen guten Rat?
WHO do I give good advice TO?



Dative - Overview

In the following table you can see what different words look like in the dative case. After that, there will be a more thorough explanation of how the dative is formed.
 definite articleindefinite article
der Hund - masculine   dem roten Fuchseinem roten Fuchs
die Kanne - feminine   der hübschen Kanneeiner hübschen Kanne
das Schwein - neutral   dem kleinen Schweineinem kleinen Schwein
die Kannen - plural   den hübschen Kannenhübschen Kannen

How to Form the Dative

To know what form a noun takes, we need to know whether it is masculine, feminine, or neutral, plural, or singular. These are the criteria according to which the ending of the noun, as well as articles and adjectives that belong to this noun, change. (see next paragraph)

To find out whether a noun is masculine, feminine, or neutral, we have to look at the definite article in the nominative singular (the "normal case"). "Normally" we would say "die Schwester" (the sister), so "Schwester" is feminine.

Wrong Example 1:
Mein tägliches Gitarreüben wurde die Schwestern bald zu viel.
My daily practice on the guitar soon became too much for the sisters.

WEM oder WAS wurde mein tägliches Gitarreüben bald zu viel?
My daily practice on the guitar became too much FOR WHOM?

This is a dative question. "Normally" we would say: "Die Schwestern" (nominative, feminine, plural), but as this is dative, we have to say: den Schwestern

Correct Example 1:
Mein tägliches Gitarreüben wurde den Schwestern bald zu viel.

Let's look at another example...

Wrong Example 2: Marie gab der Hund einen Knochen.

WEM oder WAS gab Marie einen Knochen?
Marie gave a bone TO WHOM?

This is a dative question. "Normally" we would say: "der Hund" (nominative, masculine, singular). But as this is dative, we have to say: dem Hund

Correct Example 2: Marie gab dem Hund einen Knochen.

Other Words that Change: Articles, Adjectives, Pronouns

All words that belong to the noun also need to change according to the case it stands in.


Ich hörte meinen beiden Schwestern zu.
I listened to my two sisters.


WHO did I listen TO? - MY TWO SISTERS

MEINEN BEIDEN SCHWESTERN: dative, feminine, plural

The words "MEINEN" and "BEIDEN" have to adjust to "SCHWESTERN" and be dative, feminine, and plural, too. "Meinen" is a pronoun, "beiden" is an adjective, and "Schwestern" is the noun.

Inseparable Friends

Some words feel close to the dative and are always with it. If you want to honor the dative, you should take some time to learn them.

Some of the Dative's Best Friends:

(dem Dativ) nahe stehen - to be close to (the dative)
(seiner Freundin) böse sein - to be angry with (one's girlfriend)
(meinem Lehrer) glauben - to believe (my teacher)
(meinem Sohn) gratulieren - to congratulate (my son)
(mir) gehören - to belong to (me)
(seiner Freundin) vertrauen - to trust (one's girlfriend)
(meiner Schwester) gefallen - to please (my sister)
aus (dem Ärmel schütteln) - (to shake) out of (one's sleeve)*
dank (der guten Erklärung) - thanks to (the good explanation)
mit (der Maus) - with (the mouse)
nach (der Schule) - after (school)
von (meiner Mutter) - from (my mother)
hinter (dem Haus) - behind (the house)
neben (der Spur) - next to/ off (the tracks)**
zwischen (den alten Häusern) - between (the old houses)

*Aus dem Ärmel schütteln - German idiom that means: doing something like it's easy.

** Neben der Spur - German idiom that means: being absent minded or "out of it".

Example Sentences:

Das rosa Kleid gefiel meiner Schwester sehr.
My sister really liked the pink dress.

Dank meiner Mutter ist die Küche jetzt wieder sauber.
Thanks to my mother the kitchen is clean again.

Der kranke Hund tat mir leid.
I felt sorry for the sick dog.

Ich machte mit meiner Freundin eine Fahrradtour.
I went on a bike ride with my girlfriend.

Nach den Nachrichten tranken wir ein Bier.
After the news, we had a beer.

Er wusste, dass er ihr vertrauen konnte.
He knew that he could trust her.

Declension (Overview)

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