The Accusative case in a nutshell

Welcome back to another entertaining episode of the German cases. I don’t know how the situation has been for you, but I have noticed that students have been struggling with the proper use of the Dative or Accusative case. So, I’ve decided to write this essential guide to help you feel more confident with these two cases! 

In grammar lingo, and in books, the definition of the Accusative is called the “direct object”, which means that it is a person or a thing that the verb is happening to. I wouldn’t recommend that definition unless you’re savvy in grammar, though. I only mentioned it so that you know the official explanation. Otherwise, it’s much easier to remember my definition:

The Accusative is used after certain verbs and after certain prepositions.

In the Accusative, there’s a minor change only in the masculine article. All the other articles stay the same. Sounds like easy to me!

German articles in accusative

The Accusative case after certain verbs

This grammar case is pretty simple. First of all, we only have one article that needs to be changed - the masculine one. Secondly, we can confidently say that most of the German verbs, if not all, require the Accusative. If you’re good at calculating probabilities, you’ll be surprised how high the chances are that you’ll end up using the right case. I wish Vegas was that easy.

The most common verbs that always have the Accusative are the following:

  • haben (to have) - Ich habe einen Salat.  (I have a salad.)
  • kaufen (to buy) - Ich kaufe einen Salat.  (I buy a salad.)
  • sehen (to see) - Ich sehe einen Salat.  (I see a salad.)
  • essen (to eat) - Ich esse einen Salat.  (I eat a salad.) 

As you know, there are many other verbs that use the Accusative case. It can also be helpful to think of: 

Verbs that represent ACtion need the ACcusative. 
Verbs for German Accusative

If you don't feel 100% sure about whether the verb you are using needs the Accusative or not, you can take a look at the dictionary. Right before your verb you'll find an abbreviation that indicates a case. If you see the abbreviation "jdn" for jemanden (someone) you can be sure that it's the Accusative case.

German accusative abbreviation

To learn and practice more verbs with the accusative, watch this video with plenty more practical examples!

The Accusative case after certain prepositions

When it comes to prepositions, you should know the following: There are prepositions that always stick together with their case like BFFs and you can be sure that they will always use the Accusative. 

However, there are also prepositions that are more free spirited and they like to mingle about with others. In our case, they could be used with the Accusative, but also with the Dative case. In German, we call them “Wechselpräpositionen” (two-way-prepositions). 

Let’s take a look at these good friends of ours that will only go to a party with the Accusative. We’ll call these friends DOGFUB, like the acronym for the prepositions they represent. 

Acronym for German Accusative prepositions
  • durch (through) - Wir fahren durch den Tunnel. (We drive through the tunnel.)
  • ohne (without) - Ich gehe ohne dich. (I’m going without you.)
  • gegen (against) - Sie läuft gegen den Baum. (Literal translation - She walks against the tree.)
  • für (for) - Die Kerze ist für dich. (The candle is for you.)
  • um (around) - Sie läuft um den Baum. (She walks around the tree.)
  • bis (until) - Bis nächsten Sonntag! (See you next Sunday!)

And just because you liked the previous video so much, here’s another one about the prepositions with the Accusative. It also has a little practice session where you can test yourself and what you’ve learned so far! Can I get a whoop-whoop?!

As we mentioned earlier, there are also prepositions that like to hang with the Dative case as well as the Accusative. These buddies of ours are called “Wechselpräpositionen” (two-way prepositions). Check out this picture here. It’ll give you a nice overview of the different prepositions. 

Wechselpräpositionen German

Okay, I can see you have a pretty big question mark above your head that says: “How am I supposed to know whether I should use the Accusative or the Dative with those prepositions?” Let me tell you that the answer is pretty simple. 

Whenever there is a movement from location A to location B, you have an ACtive movement that needs the ACcusative case. Help yourself also with the question "Wohin?" (here to?)

  • in (in, into) - Er springt in den See. (He jumps into the lake.)
  • an (at, to) - Sie geht an einen See. (She goes to a lake.)
  • unter (under) - Der Mann läuft unter einen Baum. (The man walks under a tree.)

Things change, however, when we have a more static situation. There we use the Dative case. Our little helper here is the question "Wo?" (where)

  • in (in, into) - Das Boot ist im See. (The boat is in the lake.)
  • an (to) - Sie liegt an einem See. (She’s lying at the lake.)
  • unter (under) - Der Mann sitzt unter einem Baum. (The man is sitting under a tree.)

And, of course, there is also a video about the two-way prepositions. So sit back and enjoy this interesting video!  

The Accusative case after fixed verb + preposition

Things have been quite easy up to this point, so now it’s time for a challenge. Strap on your thinking cap and tighten your memory belt, it could get a little bit tricky up ahead. 

There are some constructions of verbs with prepositions that require a specific case. It could happen that the verb itself might call for the Dative case, but in combination with a certain preposition it will always ask for the Accusative. Don’t worry, here are some examples to make it a little bit more clear. 

  • glauben (to believe) - Ich glaube ihm. - (I believe him.) 

Here you can see that the verb “glauben” needs the Dative case. But watch what happens now. 

  • glauben an (to believe in) - Ich glaube an den Weihnachtsmann. - (I believe in Santa Claus.)

In this case, things change and the combo of verb and preposition asks specifically for the Accusative! 

Fixed verb with preposition

Here are some more verbs with prepositions that need the Accusative. 

  • denken an - (to think of/about) - Ich denke an dich. (I think of you.)
  • sprechen über - (talk about) - Ich spreche über ihn. (I talk about him.)
  • sich interessieren für - (to be interested in) - Wir interessieren uns für den Film. (We’re interested in the movie.)
  • sich erinnern an - (to remember) - Er erinnert sich an den letzten Urlaub. (He remembers the last vacation.)

Alright, it’s time to take a little break now. You’ve been doing a great job! Now sit back, put your feet on the table and watch this funny video where we're playing hide and seek with the two-way prepositions! Enjoy!

The Dative case in a nutshell

If you look in the grammar books for a definition of the Dative case, you’ll find that it’s typically being used after certain verbs that indicate giving and receiving, etc. Very often it corresponds to an indirect object (in English, that is) indicated by the word order or a phrase introduced by ‘to’ or ‘for’.

  • I’m giving the keys to my sister.
  • He’s singing a song for me.

Let’s not make it complicated, though. We can follow the KISS-rule my mom taught me: Keep It Simple, Stupid! We can use the following definition for the Dative: 

We use the Dative case after specific verbs and prepositions. Some of the prepositions only call for the Dative case and others are “Wechselpräpositionen” again.

In the Dative case we have more changes in the articles opposed to the Accusative case. Here’s the overview to recap.

The Dative case after certain verbs

There are a number of verbs that only need the Dative case. Unlike the Accusative case, we’re talking about a pretty small amount of verbs, which makes it very easy for you as a student. The good news here is that those verbs only need the Dative case. 

Here are just a few verbs with examples: 

  • ähneln - to look like / to resemble: Der Junge ähnelt seinem Vater sehr. (The boy looks a lot like his father.)
  • begegnen - to meet: Sie begegnet einem Mann. (She meets a man.)
  • schmecken - to taste: Der Kuchen schmeckt mir gut. (The cake tastes good to me.)

Enjoy this video about the 10 most important Dative verbs and take the opportunity to practice a little.

Of course, you don’t have to memorize all those verbs immediately. You’ll remember many as you learn. If you still feel a little bit insecure about what case to use, just look in the dictionary and you’ll find the information. You'll find the abbreviation jdm that indicates the Dative case. Jdm stands for jemandem (to/for someone).

German dative verbs in the dictionary

The Dative case after certain prepositions

In the section at the beginning we talked about the Accusative case and the prepositions that only need this case. There are also prepositions only for the Dative case, which is pretty cool. I recommend you learn these prepositions by heart so that you automatically know what to use. 

Here are the Dative prepositions with examples:

  • ab (from): Ab dem ersten September. (From the first of September.)
  • aus (from): Er kommt aus der Schweiz. (He’s from Switzerland.)
  • außer (except): Alle sprechen Deutsch außer mir. (Everybody speaks German except me.)
  • bei (at): Sie wohnt bei meinem Nachbarn. (She lives at my neighbor’s.)
  • gegenüber - across): Wir wohnen gegenüber dem Park. (We live across the park.)
  • mit (with): Wir fahren mit dem Auto. (We’re driving the car.)
  • nach - to): Nach der Arbeit gehen wir spazieren. (After work, we go for a walk.) 
  • seit (since): Seit dem Abendessen habe ich Bauchschmerzen. (Since dinner, I have had a stomach ache.)
  • von (from): Das Geschenk ist von meiner Mutter. (The present is from my mother.)  
  • zu (to): Die Frau geht zum Arzt. (The woman goes to the doctor.) 

The Dative case after a fixed verb + preposition

Just like for the Accusative, we also have the so-called “strong connections” for the Dative, where a fixed verb and a preposition need the specific case. Some combinations already give you a clue to the case if they use either Accusative or Dative prepositions. However, if they use a two-way preposition you will have to memorize them.

Here are some examples of the combinations with the Dative case. 

  • abhängen von (to depend on) - Das hängt von dir ab. (That depends on you.)
  • anfangen mit (to start with) - Wir fangen mit der Vorspeise an. (We start with the appetizer.)
  • aussehen nach (to look like) - Das sieht nach einem Gewitter aus. (It looks like there will be a storm.)
  • sich erholen von (to recover from) - Ich muss mich vom Wochenende erholen.
    (I have to recover from the weekend.)
  • sich erkundigen nach (to ask about) - Er muss sich nach dem Weg erkundigen. (He has to ask for the way.) 

There are many other combinations like these that you will come across on your German journey. But don’t be afraid, you will master them like a pro! 

Learning German articles

Verbs with Accusative and Dative

And just like that we have almost arrived at the end of another post. Before we say goodbye, I’d like to cover one last important thing between the Accusative and Dative. 

As you know, most German verbs need the Accusative case. But very often you will find sentences that have both the Dative and the Accusative. How can you distinguish the cases and how do you know when to use the right case?

It’s very simple. You can almost always apply the following rule: 

People mostly have the Dative case and things mostly have the Accusative case.

Let’s look at these examples:

  • Ich gebe der Frau einen Pullover. (I give the woman a sweater / I give a sweater to the woman.)  
  • Ich zeige meinem Mann den Park. (I show my husband the park / I show the park to my husband.) 
  • Ich kann dir ein schönes Hotel empfehlen. (I can recommend a nice hotel to you.)
  • Wir schicken ihm einen Brief. (We send him a letter.) 

Hungry for more? Here’s a video with more exercises and a little surprise homework at the end. 

Once again, thank you very much for learning German with me. I hope you’re feeling more confident using these cases.

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