I'm starting to learn German and I'm confused with usage of those two. Should I use accusative or dative in the following?

In dem Kino sitzen Bürger. – dative


In das Kino sitzen Bürger. – accusative

That is, is Kino an indirect object (dative, im Kino) or a direct object (accusative, ins Kino)?

  • Neither is accusative. I mean, your last sentence is wrong if you think you're using accusative. Kino is neuter.
    – c.p.
    Jun 10, 2014 at 20:33
  • 1
    well our teacher is not teaching well, i guess. But i need this for the test.
    – aljazerzen
    Jun 10, 2014 at 20:47
  • 1
    I find this a strange use of the word "Bürger". I would rather think of the words "Menschen" oder "Zuschauer".
    – stevenvh
    Jun 11, 2014 at 9:09
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    I clarified the question by asking whether Kino is the direct or indirect object, and wonder if the question can be reopened in its current form.
    – Tom Au
    Jun 16, 2014 at 22:46
  • It is direct object
    – aljazerzen
    Jun 19, 2014 at 8:45

7 Answers 7


In your example, the grammatical case of the noun „Kino“ depends on the preposition „in“. The difficulty here is that „in“ may require dative or accusative, depending on the sense of the sentence:

  • If „in“ indicates a direction/movement, you'll have to use accusative:

    Wir gehen in das Kino“ (or, commonly, „ins Kino“ - merging „in“ and „das“).
    Wir setzen uns in den Sessel“ (i.e. we are going to sit in the chair).

  • If „in“ indicates a localisation/static situation, you'll need the dative:

    Wir sitzen in dem Kino.“ (same here - in spoken language, you would use „im Kino“, merging „in“ and „dem“).
    Wir sitzen in dem Sessel

So, you will have to start with the verb. In my examples, „gehen“ describes a movement, and „sitzen“ a "static" situation. So, in your example, you would have to use dative:

Die Bürger sitzen im [in dem] Kino“ or „Im Kino sitzen Bürger“.

  • 1
    "Wir sitzen in den Sessel" is wrong. "Sitzen" is always a localisation; the movement would be "wir setzen uns in den Sessel".
    – celtschk
    Jun 20, 2014 at 8:12

I think what confuses you here is seeing the dative case as simply meaning indirect object.

In Proto-Indo-European (PIE, the theoretical language which all European languages evolved from) there were eight cases, including the four which remain in modern German; one of the others was the locative case, used for marking the location where something takes place. Very early on in the development of the Germanic languages out of PIE, the locative case was effectively merged with the dative case, meaning the dative case took on some of the locative case's functions.

In Slavic languages like Russian and Polish, which also evolved out of PIE, the locative case (or equivalent) still exists independently of the dative case, and is used in contrast with the accusative in constructions similar to the examples given in German to distinguish action in a place from action towards a place:

Russian – Polish – Meaning:
Я иду в парк. – Ja idę w park. – I walk to the park. (парк/park is in the accusative case)
Я иду в парке. – Ja idę w parku. – I walk in the park. (парке/parku is in the locative case*)

(* парке is actually in the "prepositional" case, which is the Russian equivalent of the locative)

In German, expressions are formed with exactly the same structure, but because the locative no longer exists, the dative is used instead:

German – Meaning:
Ich gehe in den Park. – I walk to the park. (den Park is in the accusative case)
Ich gehe in dem Park. – I walk in the park. (dem Park is in the dative case)

The dative case is not being used to indicate an indirect object here; it is merely filling in for the now deceased locative case. As the sentence in your question is concerned with the location of the action (sitting) rather than the target/direction, you would use the dative, which performs the function of the locative after the preposition in:

In dem Kino sitzen Bürger.

Remember: Linguistics attempts to generalise about languages, and defines categories that are roughly equivalent across different languages; but every language has evolved its own unique conventions and idioms, which don’t always exactly match up with those of other languages or general linguistic categories. An understanding of general linguistic concepts is certainly very helpful when learning languages, but one should remember that every language is different and expect to encounter idiosyncratic structures or usages or expressions which seem erroneous when compared to generalised definitions of concepts. Every language has its own whimsical little rules that aren’t always straightforward to analyse, and just have to be learned.


You also mix up singular and plural. If we are talking about one cinema (singular), then we have:

Dativ: dem Kino
Akkusativ: das Kino

(Keep in mind, that German "Dativ" is not exactly the same as English "dative". Same is true for German "Akkusativ" and English "accusative". This might be one of the reasons why you have problems. So I prefer to use the German terms here.)

Plural (two or more cinemas):

Dativ: den Kinos
Akkusativ: die Kinos

If you use a verb that expresses the fact that you are located an a certain place like »stehen«, »sitzen«, »liegen«, then you use Dativ. If the verb expresses towards a target like "gehen", "fahren", "laufen" then you use a preposition followed by the Akkusativ.


stay where you are:


In dem Kino stehen Bürger. (Citizens are standing in the cinema.)
In dem Kino sitzen Bürger. (Citizens are sitting in the cinema.)
In dem Kino liegen Bürger. (Citizens are laying in the cinema.)


In den Kinos stehen Bürger. (Citizens are standing in the cinemas.)
In den Kinos sitzen Bürger. (Citizens are sitting in the cinemas.)
In den Kinos liegen Bürger. (Citizens are laying in the cinemas.)



In das Kino gehen Bürger. (Citizens are walking into the cinema.)
In das Kino fahren Bürger. (Citizens are driving into the cinema.)
In das Kino laufen Bürger. (Citizens are running into the cinema.)


In die Kinos gehen Bürger. (Citizens are walking into the cinemas.)
In die Kinos fahren Bürger. (Citizens are driving into the cinemas.)
In die Kinos laufen Bürger. (Citizens are running into the cinemas.)


First, I strongly advise you not to equate "accusative" with "direct object" nor "dative" with "indirect object". These terms are not equivalent and mixing them up may lead you to some problems (note in the end).

In your examples, "dative" makes the location be the place where someone is and "accusative" makes the location be the destination where someone goes to. Therefore, a more meaningful interpretation of such spatial phrases would be that "in dem Kino" (in the theater) is the place where someone is at as in "ich sitze in dem Kino" (I am [sitting] in the theater) and that "in das Kino" ([in]to the theater) is a destination where someone is going to as in "ich gehe in das Kino" (I'm going [in]to the theater). As said by others, "in dem Kino" can be contracted to "im Kino" and "in das Kino" can be contracted to "ins Kino".

NOTE: the word "an" (to) in "ich leite die E-Mail an dich weiter" (I'll forward the e-mail to you) is a form of the role term "an" (also called case preposition) that marks the person to whom the e-mail will be forwarded. The wording "an dich" (to you) is not a spatial phrase representing a location in relation to you. It is actually a mention of you in the role of recipient in an e-mail transaction. So "an dich" (to you) is an indirect object, even if "dich" is an accusative mention of you. Therefore, don't equate "dative" with "indirect object". This will make everything harder to understand.

  • May I draw your attention to the fact that you have to correct the function of accusative and dative in the first lines of the second passage: accusative - where to (not where), dative - where (not where to). Your examples are right, of course. Just an oversight, but you should correct it.
    – rogermue
    Sep 23, 2014 at 16:10

Where-indications in German are made with prepositions + dative (indirect object).

Die Zeitung liegt auf dem Tisch in der Küche. Die Katze liegt unter dem Sofa. Der alte Mann saß auf einer Bank vor dem Haus. Vor dem Haus ist ein Garten. Hinter dem Haus ist ein Wald. Die Lampe hängt über dem Tisch.

Where-to-indications are made with prepositions + accusative (direct object).

Lege die Zeitung auf den Tisch. Die Katze kroch unter das Sofa. Der alte Mann legte seinen Mantel auf die Bank. Die Kinder stellten sich vor das Haus. Die Kinder liefen hinter das Haus. Hänge die Lampe über den Tisch.

I would recommend a basic grammar for German. Link: http://deutsch.info/en/grammar/praepositionen

Canoo.net has a good presentation of German prepositions with two cases:Link


To answer your question: Sitzen always requires dative.

sich auf den Tisch setzen

means to sit on the table, indeed, but setzen here is no synonym for sitzen. It's more closely related to draufsetzen/hinsetzen and could be roughly translated with put/set. That's because sitzen is static and setzen is active.

A close miss would be

Zeit (ab)sitzen

for doing time in prison. Although I would consider leaving out the ab- incorrect.

In dem Kino sitzen Bürger.


In this context, Kino is an in direct object. Therefore you use the dative, "Im Kino sitzen Bürger." ("In dem" contracts to Im.) The operative construction is "location."

The direct object construction would be Die Bürger gehen ins (in das) Kino. That's what you use with a verb of motion, such as "gehen," for a construction using direction.

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