When to use the Accusative Case?
I don’t want to ACCUSE you, dear reader, of not knowing what the Accusative is, but since you’re reading this article, I assume you want the full scoop on the German Accusative case. You already know that the Nominative case is the subject form of a noun, the way it appears in the dictionary. Take this example:
- Der Pullover ist schön. (The sweatshirt is nice.)
→ “Der Pullover” is in the Nominative. It’s the subject of the sentence.
Easy enough. However, when “der Pullover” changes its function and is no longer the star of the sentence, it is no longer Nominative:
- Ich kaufe den Pullover. (I buy the sweatshirt.)
→ “Den Pullover” is what you are buying. It’s the Accusative object.
Notice the change? “Ich” is now the star of the sentence, hence the subject (Nominative). “Der Pullover” is not in the Nominative anymore, but it becomes “den Pullover” in the Accusative object.
What is the Accusative?
If you want to be all fancy and grammatically correct, you can call the Accusative the “direct object.” A direct object is the thing or person that the verb is happening to. Since in this sentence, I am buying the sweatshirt, “I” am the star of the sentence. “I” is therefore Nominative (subject) and the sweatshirt is what I am buying, and so it becomes the Accusative object:
- Ich kaufe den Pullover. (I buy the sweatshirt.)
But what exactly is the difference between an indirect and a direct object? There are some definitions for this, but usually they fail to be logical and that’s why it’s easier to go with this definition:
The Accusative is used after certain verbs and after certain prepositions.
The Accusative is also used in some special cases, which we also talk about in this article.
German natives can ask “Wen” or “Was” to find the Accusative but this usually doesn’t work for non-natives.
How to form the Accusative?
In the tables below, you see the articles for the Nominative and for the Accusative. Spot the difference?
Notice that the forms are almost identical? The only form that changes here from the Nominative is the masculine form. In the Accusative case, the definite article “der” becomes “den” and the indefinite article “ein” becomes “einen.”
Accusative after certain Verbs
Almost all German verbs demand the Accusative. There are only about 30 verbs which demand the Dative case. Let me give you some examples. We will start with the Nominative case, so you can see the difference:
- Der Fisch ist schön. (The fish is beautiful.)
→ Here, “der Fisch” is the subject.
After the following verbs, “der Fisch” becomes the Accusative object:
- essen: Ich esse den Fisch. (to eat: I eat the fish.)
- kaufen: Ich kaufe den Fisch. (to buy: I buy the fish.)
- sehen: Ich sehe den Fisch. (to see: I see the fish.)
- haben: Ich habe den Fisch. (to have: I have the fish.)
Anja has also made a video about the most common verbs demanding the Accusative:
Accusative in combination with the Dative
There are some verbs which (can) use the Accusative AND Dative. Usually the object will be in the Accusative and the person in the Dative, for example:
- geben: Ich gebe dem Mann den Fisch. (to give: I give the man the fish. / I give the fish to the man.)
- zeigen: Ich zeige meinem Mann den Park. (to show: I show my husband the park.)
- empfehlen: Ich kann dir einen schönen Ort empfehlen. (to recommend: I can recommend you a nice place.)
Here you can find Anja‘s video about verbs with Accusative AND Dative:
Accusative after certain Prepositions
Here’s an overview of all the German prepositions and what case they demand:
You can use the acronym DOGFUB to remember the prepositions which always demand the Accusative:
- Durch: Wir fahren durch den Tunnel. (Through: We drive through the tunnel.)
- Ohne: Ich gehe ohne dich. (Without: I go without you.)
- Gegen: Sie läuft gegen den Baum. (Against: She walks against the tree.)
- Für: Die Kerze ist für dich. (For: The candle is for you.)
- Um: Sie läuft um den Baum. (Around: She walks around the tree.)
- Bis: Bis nächsten Sonntag! (Until: See you next Sunday!)
Anja also made a video about prepositions which demand the Accusative:
Accusative with Two-Way-Prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen)
Maybe you spotted something in the overview. There are some “bisexual” prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen) which sometimes like the Accusative and sometimes like the Dative:
We talk about these in the article “German Wechselpräpositionen”, but as a short explanation:
When there is movement from a location A to B, so someone is being ACTIVE, then we use the Accusative:
ACtive → ACcusative
Here are some examples:
(Note: For these examples we always use masculine nouns so that the Accusative is visible.)
- Er springt in den See. (He jumps into the lake.)
- Sie geht an einen See. (She goes to a lake.)
- Der Mann läuft unter einen Baum. (The man walks under a tree.)
Watch Anja's complete playlist about Two-Way-Prepositions here:
The German Accusative with Greetings and Wishes
In German, we “wish” people things. For that, you would say:
- Ich wünsche dir...einen schönen Tag, eine gute Reise, eine gute Besserung. (I wish you...a good day, good travels, good health.)
The “dir” is Dative - it’s who you’re wishing the good (or bad) things to.
The thing that you’re wishing someone is Accusative.
With the German Accusative case, we often leave out the “we wish you” and just say the thing they’re wishing you - and use Accusative when doing it:
- Schönen Tag! (Have a good day!)
- Schönen Sonntag! (Have a good Sunday!)
- Schönes Wochenende! (Have a good weekend!)
- Viel Spaß! (Have fun!)
- Gute Nacht! (Good night!)
- Gute Besserung! (Get well!)
- Herzlichen Glückwunsch! (Congratulations!)
- Angenehme Reise! (Nice travels!)
- Guten Morgen! (Good morning!)
- Guten Tag! (Good day!)
- Guten Abend! (Good evening!)
For some of these you will notice the ending “n” or “en”. That’s because the noun demands the Accusative and it’s masculine so you actually see the Accusative. For example:
- “Der Tag” → “Ich wünsche dir einen guten Tag.” → Germans usually omit “Ich wünsche dir” and so we get: “Guten Tag!“
Sometimes, if a German is speaking English to you, which they probably will try to do, no matter how good your German is, they sometimes say funny things at the end of a conversation. When they leave and want to say, “Have a good day!” sometimes they just directly translate from German to English and say “Beautiful day!”. They’re not trying to strike up a conversation about the weather, they’re wishing you a good day. Just smile and say “Gleichfalls!” (likewise). 😉
Accusative in adverbial phrases
Stay with me here! An adverbial phrase is just a fancy way of saying that the phrase tells us something more about the verb, for example, when or how long the action lasted, the expression of a measurement or value, or the distance or location of the action.
Here are some examples with adverbial phrases that designate a time or length of time and are in the Accusative:
- Ich habe den ganzen Tag Avocado-Toast gegessen. (I ate avocado toast all day.)
- Mein Freund kaufte letzten Freitag Avocados ein. (My friend bought avocados on Friday.)
- Ich war einen Monat lang süchtig nach Avocados. (I was addicted to avocados for a month.)
The Accusative to express measurements or values
The fun continues - Accusatives are all around you. We also use them to express measurements or values:
- Die Avocado ist einen Meter lang. (The avocado is a meter long.)
- Sie ist schon einen Monat alt. (It is already one month old.)
- Der Kern ist drei Zentimeter breit. (The pit is three centimeters wide.)
Note: In the first two examples you can see the Accusative, since the nouns are masculine (“der Meter”, “der Monat”). In the last example, you can’t see the Accusative directly (since it’s in the plural). However, it’s still the Accusative.
That’s enough about avocados. We’re so close. Lastly, after this long long page, let’s talk about distance and the way you got here.
Using the German Accusative case to talk about distance and adverbs showing motion
Du hast es den ganzen Weg hierher geschafft!
You made it all the way here!
And the last point: Sometimes we use the Accusative to talk about distance and adverbs showing motion:
- Meine Oma ist den Berg hochgelaufen. (My grandma walked up the mountain.)
- Sie kam den gleichen Weg herunter. (She came down the same way.)
Hint: You’ll see this “adverbial Accusative” quite often with the direction adverbs with her- and hin- (herunter, herauf, hinweg, hinein).
Du hast es den ganzen Weg hier zum Ende geschafft! Herzlichen Glückwunsch!!!!
You have made it all the way until the end! Congrats!!!! (PS: "den ganzen Weg" is.... you guessed it ;))