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I'm learning German all by myself for three months with Babbel and all I can find in the internet and on that point I feel lost.

I looked on the questions already asked here, and I think maybe this one "answers" (but not really) my question.


In a lesson of Babbel, I can find :

Welcher Mantel sieht besser aus?

Welchen Rock trägst du zur Party?

As presented in Babbel it looks to be obvious and there is no more explenation. In both cases I would have chose welchen because for me in both questions we are speaking of “what”, … of coat, of a skirt.

And so, I don't even understand the existence of Welcher in nominative case.

Can you enlighten me please? Is there a question I can ask me in this particular case, to know if I must use the nominative or the accusative?

  • As the answers indicate, case is determined by the role of the word in the sentence. Subject is nominative, direct object is accusative, simply speaking. – MPW Dec 27 '17 at 3:39
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Maybe this becomes clearer when looking at the corresponding statements:

Welcher Mantel sieht besser aus? / Der Mantel[Nom.] sieht besser aus.

Welchen Rock trägst du zur Party? / Den Rock[Akk.] trägst du zur Party.

So in the first sentence der Mantel is the subject of the sentence and has therefore to be in nominative case.

In the second sentence den Rock is the accusative object (the subject is du).

When asking, the interrogative adjective must have the same case as the noun it is describing. That's why is has to be welcher in the first question and welchen in the second.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. @RudyVelthuis: If you think your didactic approach is better, please present it in a separate answer. – Wrzlprmft Dec 27 '17 at 13:03
  • I don't have a "didactic" approach. I'm just glad I learned the language from a Dutch teacher, who excellently explained Akkusativ in terms of direct object and not from a German one, who would probably have used the term Akkusativobjekt to explain Akkusativ, which would have been no big help at all. – Rudy Velthuis Dec 27 '17 at 13:41
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With very rare exceptions (Gleichsetzungsnominativ), everything that you find in nominative case is the subject of the sentence. Everything being not the subject is not in nominative case (as already said, except from Gleichsetzungsnominativ, which comes only with verbs like sein, werden, bleiben, ...)

This means: Find the subject! (Hint: The subject always contains a noun or a pronoun plus some attributes and other stuff attached to it)

Welcher Mantel sieht besser aus?

Here it is clear: There is no pronoun and one noun (»Mantel«), so the nominal phrase that contains Mantel must be the subject and therefore in nominative case: Welcher Mantel.

Welchen Rock trägst du zur Party?

Here we have a pronoun (»du«) which obviously is in nominative case (the same pronoun in other cases would be: deiner, dir, dich). This is enough to be sure that du is the subject. So everything else can't be in nominative case. So »welch?? Rock« can only be in genitive, dative or accusative case. And now you have to look at the verb (»trägst« = a form of »tragen«), and then you need to remember, that the object of »tragen« has to be in accusative case, and you've got it: Welchen Rock

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In English, you ask ‘what?’ for all things and ‘who?’ for all people regardless of the word’s grammatical function. German does not work that way, the case of a word is much more important. This is why German children are taught not to ask ‘was?’ but ‘wer oder was?’ (for subjects) or ‘wen oder was?’ (for accusative objects). If the question was the former, the choice would be welcher, if the latter welchen. The English question words do not help you here!

I recall that you are French. French is a lot better, because the two questions would be different:

Qu’est-ce qui est beau ?

Qu’est-ce que tu prends pour ce soir ?

(Please edit the translation for a better and closer wording of you can.)

The difference is systematic: in the first question, looking good is directly a property of the dress, i.e. the dress is the sentence’s subject. In the second, the main actor is you and you is doing something with the dress — the dress is thus an object. With only a few very rare exceptions, an object can never be in nominative case, thus accusative (one of the two object cases) is more appropriate.

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    "who for all people regardless of the word's grammatical function". I know, even native speaker might disagree, but the confusion between "who" (subject) and "whom" (object) hurts - at least me. – rexkogitans Dec 27 '17 at 14:45
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Welchen Rock trägst du zur Party?

In this sentence, you already have a subject, du, and "Rock" is the direct object of the verb trägst. So you use the accusative, Welchen Rock (Which dress do you wear?).

Welcher Mantel sieht besser aus?

Here, Mantel "must" be the subject (there is no other), and it is the "agent" (not recipient) of the verb phrase "sieht besser aus." So you use the nominative, Welcher Mantel (Which coat looks better?).

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