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Here are the declensions of the word "ich" in 4 different cases:

  • nominative: ich
  • genitive: meiner
  • dative: mir
  • accusative: mich

Three questions:

  1. What are the English equivalents?
  2. In my native language we have six cases, so does German language not know the other two cases or just not use them (the other two being lokativ and instrumental)?
  3. In my native language we use certain so called helping questions which help us to make correct declensions. I don't know if these questions would make any sense for German declensions. Anyway are there any helping questions or some methods to help in declensions? Is the meaning of the nominative, genitive, dative and accusative universal in all languages and if it is, what is it?

Thanks.

  • English and German do not have locative and instrumental, but we use prepositions for that purpose. See Wikipedia for some examples. Some languages have even more cases. Czech, for instance, has 7 cases – AFAIK. – Em1 Dec 30 '14 at 17:46
  • I must say that "locative" is not a generic name for a case, not even for Slavic languages: Polish's locative is Russian's prepositive. The point is that in German, any of these is implemented with the dative (mainly). But it certainly would help if you tell us what your native language is (if happens to be one of the two slavic languages, whose basic grammar I know, I could write an answer). – c.p. Dec 30 '14 at 19:21
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    Regarding your third question and the four cases mentioned being universal in all languages, I'd say no. Finnish for instance has 15 official cases and no dative, although it has a similar case called allative, which is one of the external locative cases. – t0mppa Dec 30 '14 at 21:24
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    Der Genitiv "meiner" ist nur eingeschränkt zu gebrauchen, als Objektsgenitiv nach Genitivverben. Die Form müßte ein Zeichen für eingeschränkten Gebrauch haben. Als Ersatz dient das Possessiv-Adjektiv mein. – rogermue Jan 1 '15 at 12:50
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German has only four cases, Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ, Akkusativ. The names stem from latin and are basically the same as in other languages. The cases are usually numbered, so:

  1. Case: Nominativ / "Wer-Fall"
    From Latin nominare - to name sth.
    This case is used for the subject of a sentence.
  2. Case: Genitiv / "Wessen-Fall"
    From Latin (casus) genitivus - (case) concerning descent.
    Often, but not exclusively used to describe posession.
  3. Case: Dativ / "Wem-Fall"
    From Latin dare - to give.
    States the recipient of something.
  4. Case: Akkusativ / "Wen-Fall"
    From Latin accusare - to accuse, but was originally Greek for "cause".
    It is usually used in a passive sense, stating who or what suffers the action of s.o. else.

A random sample sentence with all four cases could be:

Der Mann (N) gibt dem Kind (D) das Spielzeug (A) des Hundes (G).

Here you can easily see the "questions" for the cases:

  1. Wer gibt...?
  2. Wessen Spielzeug...?
  3. Wen gibt er...?
  4. Wem gibt er...?

Caveat: It is not universal for different languages, which case is required for certain verbs, this must be learned.

  • Could you please translate the random sample sentence into English? Is it means "The man gives the dog's newspaper to the child?" – Lerner Zhang Mar 22 '17 at 13:49
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    @Lerner: "The man gives the dog's toy to the child" – Stephie Mar 22 '17 at 13:59
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The number and type of cases a language has can in no way be predicted and is hardly in any way logical. The only thing that somehow can matter is what cases an ancestor language had. However, cases can get lost over the course of history (happend in many languages descending from Latin) or created by innovation.

Hence, the question ‘what are the English equivalents?’ cannot be answered properly, because English, even though being somewhat related to German via Proto-Germanic, has lost most of the case distinctions. Only traces of them have survived in the case of pronouns (which are usually the last feature of languages to lose case-distinctions due to frequency of use):

  • I = ich

  • mine = meiner (this one is closer to a Genetive pronoun, not the possessive pronoun my)

  • me = mir

  • me = mich

As you notice, English has lost the accusative/dative distinction (if it ever had it). If you take common nouns, all case distinctions are lost except for the genitive which receives an apostrophed s.

Other languages have, as was already stated, different amounts and types of cases stemming from their own personal language history. Apparantly, Proto-Indo-European know eight or nine cases:

  1. nominative
  2. genitive
  3. dative
  4. accusative
  5. ablative
  6. instrumental
  7. allative or directive (debated)
  8. vocative
  9. locative

Finno-Ugric languages such as the Veps language (24) or Finnish (15) have quite a few more. Others, e.g. Chinese do and did not show any inflection and hence no cases whatsoever. As a general rule, the less cases a language has, the more it relies on pre- (e.g. English) and postpositions (e.g. Japanese) to convey the same ideas e.g. where to go (Finnish: Helsinkiin, English to Helsinki, Japanese Herushinki he).

However, when languages do have the same cases as other languages, these usually always convey the same or a similar standard meaning. The reason is not copying or parallel evolution but rather labelling similar structures with the same name. Hence also why English’s ’s is labelled the s-genitive.

But just because something is used in the same way, doesn’t mean it’s 100 % equivalent. For example in French, the construction à quelquun can be described to Germans as a ‘dative case’. There are notable words, however, where German requires dative, while French requires a direct object, termed accusative case in German. The most prominent example is probably aider quelquun (to help somebody, direct object) versus jemandem helfen (dative object). Finnish, which doesn’t have a dative case, uses the partitive case instead (auttaa jotakuta), while most datives are rendered using the allative.


tl;dr: Take the number and types of cases a language has for granted. Do not look for similarities or cross-wise consistency. Be wary of thinking ‘oh, that’s just like in <insert your language here>!’, because there will be multiple exceptions to that rule.

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  1. Nominative: I
    Genitive: my
    Dative: me
    Accusative: me

  2. No, we only have these four cases.

  3. No, we build questions like other sentences but with another order of the words:

    Ich kann gehen. - I can go. / I am able to go.
    Kann ich gehen? - Can I go?

    The subject (Ich) is nominative in both clauses.

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    "My" is a possessive adjective that can be in nominative case. It is not a translation for "meiner". English has the "s"-Getinive (my dad's) and the "of"-Genitive. With the last part, I think OP was going for "Wem?", "Wen?" and so on. – Emanuel Dec 30 '14 at 20:17
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I, my/of mine, to/by/with/at me, for me. Pretty similar.

  • "My" is a possessive adjective expressing possession. IT is not a case form itself and it is no translation for "meiner" as in "Erinnere dich meiner" which is a true Genitive. – Emanuel Dec 30 '14 at 20:20
  • These are the English equivalents. – Ornello Dec 30 '14 at 20:49

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