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My German tutor recently told me that the only real way to learn the cases - Accusative/Dative/Nominative/Genitive - is just to memorize which verbs are which. She suggests memorizing the Dative and Nominative verbs because there are less of them, and then assuming the rest are Accusative.

Is this really the best way for a new German-learner to identify the cases? Have other people had success with this method vs any other?

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I as a native speaker had success with the following method: Make sure you hear/read german during a great portion of the day (for example, buy yourself a "Hörbuch" and listen to it while driving). Use the rest of the day to actually speak german to someone who can correct you immediately. If you get corrected, repeat the correct sentence at least 3 times. –  Ingo Sep 13 '11 at 15:06

3 Answers 3

"Rules" in languages mostly have an exception or are better understood as rules of thumb when it comes not to specific fixed grammar rules. So I doubt this "ruling out" and assuming the rest are Accusative works pretty well.

The best you can probably do is to learn and observe which prepositions are used with distinct verbs. Here is a big list for this:

German Verbs with Prepositions 1, 2, 3 and Index of German Verbs.

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@Gigili ? How do you summarize a table?!? Have you watched the links? Also he asked for recommendation, not exact details, but feel free to add... –  Hauser Sep 12 '11 at 14:16
    
Okay right, I've deleted my comment. It's enough in this case. –  user508 Sep 12 '11 at 14:19
    
@Gigili no prob, i dont watch every link too to prove a answer –  Hauser Sep 12 '11 at 14:21
    
I've watched the links you provided, it's not nice to paste the results you got when you google it. anyway, it can be accepted as an answer. –  user508 Sep 12 '11 at 14:26

I can only tell you the way we learnt it (as native speakers) in our first years of school:

Nominativ (1. Fall) - Ask "Wer?" (oder "Was?")

  • z. B. "Peter hat den Kuchen gemacht." -> "Wer hat den Kuchen gemacht?" -> "Peter."
  • oder "Der CO2-Ausstoß hat globale Konsequenzen." -> "Was hat globale Konsequenzen?" -> "Der CO2-Ausstoß."

Genitiv (2. Fall) - Ask "Wessen?"

  • z. B. "Das war die Geschichte deines Bruders." -> "Wessen Geschichte war das?" -> "Die deines Bruders."

Dativ (3. Fall) - Ask "Wem?"

  • "Das Buch gehört doch deiner Freundin." -> "Wem gehört das Buch?" -> "Deiner Freundin."

Akkusativ (4. Fall) - Ask "Wen?" (oder "Was?")

  • "Der Direktor hat Tanja geschimpft." -> "Wen hat der Direktor geschimpft?" -> "Tanja."
  • "Bernhard hat den Bildschirm kaputt gemacht." -> "Was hat Bernhard kaputt gemacht?" -> "Den Bildschirm."

This solution works for every sentence in the German language I've ever come across. For me, the biggest complication was to decide, if it's Nominativ or Akkusativ: It's ambiguos, if the question is "Was?" - but the solution is: "Was?" is never used for Nominativ, when the target is a person. So just make it a habit to replace the target with a person, and the solution presents itself (because if it's a person, you will always ask "Wer?" for Nominativ and "Wen?" for Akkusativ).

BTW, I will never forget, that we had to colour all the words in countless pages with this code: Nomitativ=red, Genitiv=blue, Dativ=green, Akkusativ=yellow.

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I asked earlier on this site about how these sort of questions are supposed to help non-native speakers, and the conclusion is that the questions help only when your Sprachgefühl is already well developed. –  Stovner Sep 12 '11 at 21:11
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Well, you could roughly translate "Wer?" (Nominativ) into "Who/what was the actor?", and "Wen?" (Akkusativ) into "Who/what was the target of an action?". For "Wessen?" (Genitiv) it's most often "Whose?" (English often uses the apostrophy, as in "your brother's..."), and for "Wem?" (Dativ), it's most often: "Who does it belong to?" (but this is probably the most imprecise translation of the four, so maybe ask it last) - I really believe, that these English versions of the questions should still match most of the cases. –  Chris Lercher Sep 12 '11 at 21:32
    
Interesting remark, I think you're right! The exceptions are the verbs with prepositions, though: "An wem zweifeln Sie?" and "In wen sind Sie verliebt?" do not quite fit. –  Stovner Sep 12 '11 at 21:53

Your teachers advice is good so follow it. The list of verbs which take only the dative or only the nominative case is short so you can learn it in a matter of minutes.

In addition to the verbs which take only the dative or only the accusative case you have verbs which can take both kind of objects at once. The good thing is that sentences with these verbs all have the same structure; let me demonstrate it with the verb geben which is the prime example of these kind of verbs:

Ich gebe dem Mann [dative] den Brief [accusative].

By thinking of this example you can find the cases for almost all other verbs with two objects. For example: "I passed the ball to the man" becomes "Ich habe dem Mann den Ball zugespielt."

So far so good. The real problems arise with the verbs which are used with prepositions. Let me give two examples which highlight the absurdity of these verbs. They are both verbs which are used with the preposition in:

sich in dem Mann (dative) täuschen (to be wrong about somebody)
sich in den Mann (accusative) verlieben (to fall in love with somebody)

To me (and many others) there is no logic behind this and the classical wisdom is that they should all be learned by rote. However, there was a recent question about these verbs on this site and some rules of thumb for figuring out the case were given there.

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Very nice explanation, +1. –  user508 Sep 13 '11 at 13:51

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