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The Four German Cases

The Accusative Case

Summary | Nominative | Accusative | Dative | Genitive
Werfall | Wenfall | Wemfall | Wesfall
Nominativ | Akkusativ | Dativ | Genitiv

Der AkkusativDer Wenfall

ALSO > The accusative case with prepositions

If you misuse the accusative case in German, it could be very similar to saying something like "him has the book" or "her saw he yesterday" in English. With the confusion this might cause, you can see this is not something to take lightly! It's not just some esoteric grammar point; it impacts whether people will understand your German or not (and whether you'll understand them).

In English the accusative case is known as the objective case (direct object). In German you can tell that a noun is in the accusative case by the masculine article, which changes from der/ein to den/einen. (Since the accusative only changes in the masculine gender, you don't need to worry about the feminine, neuter or plural.) The masculine pronoun er (he) changes to ihn (him), in much the same way as English. In the examples below, the accusative (direct object) word is in red:

Der Hund beißt den Mann. The dog bites the man.
Er beißt ihn. He (the dog) bites him (the man).
Den Mann beißt der Hund. The dog bites the man.
Beißt der Hund den Mann? Is the dog biting the man?
Beißt den Mann der Hund? Is the dog biting the man?

The direct object (accusative) functions as the receiver of the action of a transitive verb. In the examples above, the man is acted upon by the dog, i.e., receives the action of the subject ("dog"). To give a few more transitive verb examples, when you buy (kaufen) something or have (haben) something, the "something" is a direct object. The subject (the person buying or having) is acting on some object.

Definite Article (the)
Masc. Fem. Neu. Plur.
Nom der die das die
Akk den die das die
den Bleistift
den Mann
den Wagen
den Präsidenten*
den Jungen*
*Note: Some masc. nouns add an -en or -n ending in the accusative and in all other cases besides the nominative.
Interrogative Pronoun (who? - whom?)
Indefinite Article (a/an)
Masc. Fem. Neu. Plur.
Nom ein eine ein keine*
Akk einen eine ein keine*
einen Bleistift
einen Mann
einen Wagen
einen Präsidenten**
einen Jungen**
*Note: keine is the negative of eine, which has no plural form. But keine (no/none) can be used in the plural: "In Venedig gibt es keine Autos." (In Venice there are no cars.)
**Note: Some masc. nouns add -en or -n in the accusative and in all other cases except the nominative.

You can test for a transitive verb by saying it without an object. If it sounds odd, and seems to need an object to sound right, then it is probably a transitive verb. Example: I have... / Ich habe...; He bought... / Er kaufte... - Both of these phrases answer the implied question "what?" What do you have? What did he buy? And whatever that is, is the direct object and in the accusative case in German.

On the other hand if you do this with an intransitive verb, such as "to sleep," "to die," or "to wait," no direct-object completion is needed. You can't "sleep," "die" or "wait" something. (Two apparent exceptions to this test, become and be, are actually not exceptions, since they are intransitive verbs that act like an equal sign, and can not take an object.) A good additional clue in German: all verbs that take the helping verb sein (to be) are intransitive. (See our German Verbs page for verbs that take sein.)

Some verbs in English and German can be either transitive or intransitive, but the key is to remember that if you have a direct object, you'll have the accusative case in German.

The Germanic word for the accusative case, der Wenfall, reflects the der-to-den change. The question word in the accusative is, naturally enough, wen (whom): Wen hast du gestern gesehen?, Whom did you see yesterday?

Accusative Time Expressions

The accusative is used in some standard time and distance expressions.

Das Hotel liegt einen Kilometer von hier. The hotel lies a kilometer from here.
Er verbrachte einen Monat in Paris. He spent a month in Paris.

Accusative Prepositions

The accusative is also used with certain prepositions. For more, see the next page.

NEXT > Accusative Prepositions

MORE > Summary | Nominative | Accusative | Genitive

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