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Sentence Structure When Using the Accusative and Dative

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Knowing when to use the dative and accusative in a German sentence is a major hurdle for many students. Equally as important is the sentence structure when using the accusative and dative cases. Compared to English, there are more options available depending on your word choice.
For instance, "I'm giving the mouse to the cat" translates to Ich gebe die Maus zur Katze. (Maus is in the accusative, Katze is in the dative). Without the preposition zur (zu + der), you would translate the sentence as follows:

Ich gebe der Katze die Maus. (Katze -> dative, Maus -> accusative)

or with a pronoun:

Ich gebe ihr die Maus. (ihr -> dative, Maus -> accusative)

or

Ich gebe sie der Katze. (sie-> accusative, Katze-> dative)

So to sum up, keep the following rules in mind when positioning your dative and accusative objects in a sentence:
  • The dative object will always come before the accusative object.
  • If the accusative object is a pronoun, it will always be before the dative object.

Applying these rules with the correct grammatical case endings is essential. It will help avoid misconstrued sentences such as Ich gebe der Maus die Katze - unless of course you really did mean to say that you wanted to give the cat to the mouse…
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