I started to study German recently and just got to the point of the German cases. So far only nominative and accusative actually but I’m getting aware there are more. I thought one sentence will be classified as nominative or accusative but from the Youtube example:

Der Mann gibt dem Hund den Knochen.

I’m understanding we have multiple cases in the same sentence:

‘Der Mann gibt’, should I call this the part of the sentence which is in the nominative form?

And ‘den Knochen’, should I call this the part of the sentence which is in the accusative form?

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    And you will soon learn that "dem Hund" - "to the dog" - is the dative case. So, the man gives the boen ot the dog. Notice that the sentence order is different to English, but there is no ambiguity here because of the cases.
    – Mawg
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 9:56
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    This doesn't really have anything to do with German in particular. The same concept exists in several languages (e.g. English).
    – mkrieger1
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 11:10
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    @mkrieger1 The concept of grammatical case is totally unknown to most native English speakers (despite the fact that English still has remnants of cases, like objective vs. subjective pronouns). So to me (a native English speaker learning German) the question seems fair even though it's based on a fundamental misunderstanding.
    – TypeIA
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 11:30
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    In German the answer to "can I have a sentence with" is always yes. You can write a book inside a single sentence.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 21:05
  • Who or what is the primary object that executes something. The dog is only the receiving object, but not the executional.
    – Eugen
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 19:49

3 Answers 3


You seem to have had a misunderstanding about what case is. Case is not an attribute of a sentence, but the attribute of a noun phrase, which is a part of a sentence.

This is the analysis of your example sentence (be aware of spelling, your original sentence is flawed regarding capitalization). The square brackets mark the boundaries of the noun phrases.

Der Mann gibt dem Hund den Knochen.
[Der Mann]Nominativ gibt [dem Hund]Dativ [den Knochen]Akkusativ

Note: gibt is not part of the noun phrase, but constitutes a verbal phrase of its own.

The following is a sentence which has all four cases that exist in German:

Ich höre Madonnas Lieder im Radio.
[Ich]Nominativ höre [[Madonnas]Genitiv Lieder]Akkusativ [im Radio]Dativ

Note: Madonnas Lieder is a complex noun phrase here, containing the noun phrase Madonnas. Also, as ilkkachu mentions in a comment, note that im Radio means in dem Radio, so this form of the preposition is affected by and reflecting the case.

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    Here, it might help to point out that "im Radio" means "in dem Radio" and the case can affect the preposition when they get combined like that.
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 13:06

In addition to (or variation of) Jonathan's perfect answer, just because sometimes looking at something from different angles may help getting familiar with it:

You seem to come from a language without "cases", therefore the concept is alien to you. Don't be afraid, it is neither difficult, nor is it restricted to German. All indo-european languages have it. (English also has it, but in English it has lost most of its visibility on the surface, and you find only faint traces of it like the distinction between who and whom and of course the genitive form with "s" as in Jonathan's perfect answer). Other language families such as the Turkic languages do have it as well. Or if you want to see case forms in abundance, study the Finno-Ugric languages (e.g. Hungarian).

Cases can be seen as a way how nouns (etc.) relate to other parts of a sentence, e.g. to verbs, or to other nouns.

Ich esse [wen? Akkusativ:] eine Pizza [wo? Dativ:] im Restaurant.

Die Pizza [wessen? Genitiv:] meines Bruders ist besser.

Der Kellner bringt [wen? Akkusativ] die Pizza auf [wo? Dativ:] dem Teller zum [wohin? Dativ:] Nachbartisch.

(If you wonder about dative being used here for wo and wohin: note that there is not necessarily a consequent logic behind associations of cases and meanings. Much of it has become just convention, or in other words: it is as it is and you simply have to accept it.)

In "pure" form, a noun (and corresponding adjective) would have a certain form (usually a certain suffix) to indicate its case.

der Teller
des Tellers
dem Teller
den Teller

das Haus
des Hauses
dem Haus(e)
das Haus

But unfortunately in many languages the distinct forms (one for each case) got blurred a bit, and suffixes got lost (as you see also in the examples above where not each case has its distinct form any more). This went to the extreme in English. Whereas in Russian for example you have distinct forms preserved for almost any position. Here is an example for a complete set of word forms for ev (house) in Turkish:

ev [house, nominative]
eve [to the house, dative]
evden [from the house, ablative]
evde [at the house, locative]
evi [the house, accusative]
evin [of the house, genitive]

Now, for the functionality of cases in human languages: an easy way to understand it is that they are one of several possible means to signal certain relations: Where ev in Turkish is the house, eve is to the house; where şehir is town, şehire is to the town. As you can see from the examples, Turkish uses here only suffixes (and nothing else) to indicate these relations whereas English obviously does not use case-endings (suffixes) at all any more and relies completely on little "relational" words called prepositions (to, at, in, from...).

This is not necessarily a "one way or the other" thing in human languages. Some languages have it both: prepositions plus (!) case-endings (suffixes). For example in German you can say

zum Hause / to the house

and as well

zum Haus / to the house

which is preposition zum1 (to), plus - optionally - a case suffix for dative (-e) attached to the noun. The case suffix for dative is not obligatory; you can use it and sound a bit old-fashioned (or super elegant), or you can dismiss it and sound "normal" in today's everyday life.

1 More exactly, zum is a contraction of zu dem where zu is the preposition and dem is a definite article in dative.

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    – Jonathan Herrera
    Commented Jan 14, 2021 at 16:52

The case is a property of the nominal phrase itself, as explained in the other answers, however there are restrictions to what cases can appear in a sentence.

What cases a German sentence can contain is mostly determined by its predicate (the main verb of the sentence) and the meaning the predicate wants to express.

For example,

Der Hund isst das Huhn.

contains a nominative and an accusative, but if we replace 'das Brot' (accusative) with 'dem Brot' (dative), the result is ungrammatical:

*Der Hund isst dem Huhn.

However, if the predicate is 'helfen' and not 'essen', it sounds grammatical again:

Der Hund hilft dem Huhn.

But note that the cases standing with a predicate can also influence the meaning of the verb. Consider these two sentences:

Das Huhn schmeckt dem Hund.

Das Huhn schmeckt den Hund.

The first sentence could be translated as "The dog likes the taste of the chicken", while the second one could be translated as "The chicken tastes the dog".

Here, the cases considered are only those that directly 'belong' to the predicate. For instance,

Das Huhn des Mannes schmeckt dem Hund.

The nominal phrase 'des Mannes' belongs to the phrase 'Das Huhn des Mannes' and not the predicate, so it does not interact with the predicate.

In most cases, there will only be at most one instance of each case belonging to the predicate, however there are exceptions for the accusative:

Der Kauf des Hauses hat uns viel Anstrengung gekostet.

Here, both "uns" and "viel Anstrengung" are both accusatives and belong to the predicate

The set of possible arguments of the verb is called the valency of the verb. Generally, there are cases that have to be included with the verb for a specific meaning (in most instances anyway), and cases that are optional.

There is also a dictionary, E-VALBU, with which you can search for verbs requiring specific cases and look at interactions with cases for most verbs.

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