My girlfriend is in the process of learning german grammar at the moment, and she struggles a little with learning when to use which case. For Nominativ and Genitiv, we found simple rules when to use each of them.

  • Nominativ is used for the "subject" of the sentence. The Nominativ is the person or object which executes the action described in the verb.

  • Genitiv is used to express posession or belonging. Whenever an english translation could use "of the", it's Genitiv.

I am struggling to find similar examples for Dativ and Genitiv. Wikipedia states that "the Dativ describes the person, to whom an action is directed towards."[1]

However, this seems a little counter-intuitive, if I use the example:

Ich werfe den Ball auf den Mann.

Both "den Ball" and "den Mann" are Akkusativ, even though knowing the above definition one could claim that "der Mann" is the person to whom an action is directed towards.

As such, I would like to ask if there are any rules how to tell apart Dativ and Akkusativ?


1 Answer 1


There are lots of rules of thumb, but they kind of fall apart when it comes to prepositions. There are effectively different rules with when to use which case with prepositions. Some only take dative, some only take accusative. With the ones that can take either, generally accusative is used when there is movement relative to the object, dative when there is no movement. So often dative is used to indicate location with auf. In your sentence, the ball is moving towards the man so you use accusative. Learn which prepositions take which cases, and learn the different rules with the ones that can take either accusative or dative.

When prepositions are not involved then yes generally it does refer to something an action is directed towards.

Ich kaufe dem Mann ein Geschenk - I buy a present for the man

Ich gebe es dem Mann - I give it to the man

Ich habe dem Mann die Hände gebrochen - I broke the man's hand

Those are the three main uses I can think of.

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