Sometimes I see a case referred to by number instead of by name. Now that's fine if there's an official, definite order. But while I see in tables mostly the order

  1. Nominativ
  2. Akkusativ
  3. Dativ
  4. Genitiv

I've also encountered tables which listed accusative last. Of course, this ambiguity is a disaster if you want to learn those tables by heart. So, the question is: is the list above the official order, i.e. when they talk about "Fall Nummer drei" does this always mean dative?


2 Answers 2


Just found on canoo.net's forum Fragen Sie Dr. Bopp:

Die Reihenfolge Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ, Akkusativ (NGDA) entspricht der klassischen, auf dem Lateinischen basierenden Grammatiktradition. Die Reihenfolge Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ, Genitiv (NADG) wird häufig in neueren Lehrwerken für die deutsche Sprache sowohl für Deutsch- als auch für Fremdsprachige verwendet.

That is, N-G-D-A is based on Latin system. For the German language, however, it's more appropriate to swap genitive and accusative because it's easier from a learning point of view:

[...] neuere Erkenntnisse zeigen, dass es lerntechnisch sinnvoll ist, gleiche Formen nebeneinander darzustellen. Da im Deutschen die Formen des Nominativs und des Akkusativs sehr oft gleich lauten, werden sie nebeneinander aufgezeigt. Die am häufigsten davon abweichende Form, der Genitiv, wird dementsprechend als letzte genannt.

In most sources like Duden and canoo.net you'll find the more appropriate system N-A-D-G.

There might be another reason for N-A-D-G: The genitive is (or seems to be) more difficult than accusative. For that reason, it's reasonable to teach accusative first, and then genitive. So the order as you learn would be N-A-D-G.

It's been again a topic on the blog of canoo.net. The interesting part is:

(ii) Als funktionaler Grund lassen sich die Regeln für die Kasusvergabe beim Verb nennen [...]:

(a) Wenn ein Verb nur 1 nominales Satzglied verlangt, steht dieses im Nominativ, zum Beispiel: Der Hund bellt.
(b) Wein ein Verb 2 nominale Satzglieder verlangt, steht dasjenige mit der aktiveren semantischen Rolle im Nominativ, das andere im Akkusativ, zum Beispiel: Der Hund sucht den Knochen.
(c) Wenn ein Verb 3 nominale Satzglieder verlangt, steht dasjenige mit der aktivsten semantischen Rolle im Nominativ, das mit der am wenigsten aktiven Rolle im Akkusativ und das dritte im Dativ, zum Beispiel: Der Hund bringt dem Herrchen den Ball.
(d) Verben mit Genitivobjekten sind Sonderfälle, zum Beispiel: Der Hund bemächtigt sich des Knochens.

In short:
If a sentence contains only one noun phrase, this phrase is in nominative. If there's a second noun phrase, one phrase is in nominative and the other is in accusative. In case of having a third noun phrase, the phrases are in nominative, accusative and dative.
Genitive, however, is something special.

  • 6
    Oh, dear ... sigh - it's just numbers, keys, changing those or even worth having more than on numbering scheme could only make things worth. Who ever insisted on teaching the cases in the order of their assigned numbers?
    – alk
    Sep 12, 2013 at 6:23
  • 3
    Reordering the cases would invalidate all my latin grammar memorizations (such as "hic haec hoc, der Lehrer hat nen Stock; huius huius huius, haut den armen Julius, ...") Dec 20, 2013 at 20:00
  • While this post answers the question, IMHO it gives to much information about things which do not have been asked
    – user5513
    Feb 26, 2014 at 14:42
  • This is typical... just change things that are well known for ages, no matter if people have trouble with it. It is common to ask "which case is it? Third case." What's a problem enumerating cases as usual and nevertheless teach them in an other order? Stupid, simply stupid...
    – puck
    Sep 18, 2019 at 15:34

The traditional order (in German grammar) is this one:

  1. nominative
  2. genitive
  3. dative
  4. accusative

If cases are referred to by number, then this will be the basis (i.e. “4. Fall” = “Wenfall” = accusative).

The other order that you mention (with genitive and accusative swapped) follows the frequency of the cases in modern German. One should hope that textbooks or grammars using it refrain from calling the cases by number; as you say, this can only cause confusion.

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