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Because German relies on
case to identify the function
of a noun in a sentence,
word order is far more variable
than in English, which uses
word order to establish the
functions of nouns in

Transparent Language

Noun cases in German

The dative case

The cases | Definite articles | der-words | Indefinite articles | Possessive adjectives
Summary of the cases | Nominative case | Accusative case | Dative case | Genitive case | GRAMMAR INDEX

The dative case has four functions.

1) Indirect object

The indirect object of a sentence is the being (usually a person, but sometimes a pet or an inanimate object) for whose benefit the subject is acting upon the direct object.. It answers the question: To or for whom does the subject <insert meaning of verb here><insert direct object here>?
Wir backen euch einen Kuchen. 
We're baking you a cake.
We're baking a cake for you.
"You" (pl). answers for whom the subject "we" is baking a cake.
Erik erzählt seinen Brüdern Witze. 
Erik is telling his brothers jokes.
Erik is telling jokes to his brothers.
"His brothers" answers to whom the subject "Erik" is telling jokes.
Den Touristen zeigt er die Kirche. 
He shows the tourists the church.
He shows the church to the tourists.
"The tourists" answers to whom the subject "he" is showing the church.
Note that the dative case, when it denotes an indirect object in the sentence, can be and often is rendered into English using the preposition to or for. Because the dative case in German includes the meanings of these prepositions, those prepositions are not needed in German to designate the indirect object.

Note also that a sentence cannot have an indirect object unless it first has a direct object. The indirect object is by definition to or for whom the subject does something to a direct object.

2) Object of a dative verb or dative construction

A number of verbs, adjectives, and idiomatic expressions require a dative object in German. The following verbs require a dative object and will never have an accusative object.
antworten to answer imponieren to impress
begegnen to encounter Leid tun to be sorry
danken to thank nutzen to be useful to
dienen to serve passen to suit
drohen to threaten passieren to happen to
ein•fallen to occur to reichen to be enough
fehlen to be missing schaden to damage
folgen to follow schmecken to taste
gefallen to be pleasing to schwer•fallen to be difficult for
gehören to belong to vertrauen to trust
gelingen to succeed verzeihen to forgive
glauben to believe weh•tun to hurt
gratulieren to congratulate widersprechen to contradict
helfen to help zu•hören to listen to
Hilfst du mir mit der Hausaufgabe? 
Will you help me with the homework?
"Me" is the object of the dative verb helfen.
Der Hund folgte dem Kind nach Hause. 
The dog followed the child home.
"The child" is the object of the dative verb folgen.
Das Geld reicht uns nicht. 
The money is not enough for us.
"Us" is the object of the dative verb reichen.
Like dative indirect objects, the objects of dative verbs normally refer to persons. In the few instances where the verb objects are impersonal, they take the accusative case.
Ich glaube dir (dat.).
I believe you.
Ich glaube die Geschichte (acc.).
I believe the story.
Er verzeiht mir nie (dat.). 
He'll never forgive me.
Er verzeiht den Fehler nie (acc.).
He'll never forgive the mistake.
In addition to the dative verbs, a number of adjectives and other idiomatic phrases are commonly used with dative objects. Here are some of them:
ähnlich similar gleich same
angenehm pleasant leicht easy
begreiflich understandable nützlich useful
behilflich helpful peinlich embarrassing
bekannt known schädlich damaging
bequem comfortable teuer expensive
dankbar thankful verwandt related
fremd foreign willkommen welcome
Notice in the examples below that the dative objects that accompany these adjectives are often rendered in English with an accompanying "to" or "for". There is no need to add an additional preposition to the German sentence, since these meanings are included when the noun or pronoun is declined in the dative case.
Sie ist ihrem Vater sehr ähnlich. 
She is very similar to her father.
"(To) her father" is the dative object of the adjective "similar".
Dieses Bett ist mir zu teuer. 
This bed is too expensive for me.
"(For) me" is the dative object of the adjective "expensive".
Der Name war ihm sehr bekannt. 
The name was well-known to him.
"(To) him" is the dative object of the adjective "known".

3) Object of a dative preposition

The object of an dative preposition must be in the dative case. These are the prepositions in German whose noun objects are always in the dative case:
aus out of, from nach to, after, according to
außer except for seit since, for (+ time period)
bei at, with von from, by
gegenüber opposite, in relation to zu to
mit with; by means of    

Wir fahren mit der Bahn. 
We're traveling by train.
"The train" is the object of the dative preposition mit.
Außer dir waren alle dabei. 
Besides you, everyone was there.
"You" is the object of the dative preposition außer.
Sie wohnt bei ihren Großeltern. 
She's living with her grandparents.
"Her grandparents" is the object of the dative preposition bei.
For more information on prepositions, see the German prepositions page.

4) Object of a two-way preposition

Two-way prepositions are named as such because their objects are sometimes in the dative case and sometimes in the accusative case. Here are the two-way prepositions:
an at, on (a vertical surface) über above, over
auf at, on (a horizontal surface) unter under
hinter behind vor in front of; before
in in zwischen between
neben beside    
When two-way prepositions are used with the dative case, they (1) designate a location, or (2) are in idiomatic expressions requiring the use of the dative.
Sie sitzt gerade in der Bank. 
She's sitting in the bank.
"In the bank" is a location describing where "she" is, hence in takes the dat.
Ich sitze neben ihm. 
I am sitting next to him.
"Next to him" is the location where the subject "I" is sitting, hence neben uses dat.
Grete hat Angst vor ihrem Vater.
Grete is afraid of her father.
"Her father" is the dat.object of vor because the idiom Angst haben vor requires the use of the
In addition to the meanings listed , the two-way prepositions + dative have a range of idiomatic meanings, as the last example above shows: Angst haben vor (+ dat.) = to be afraid of. For a list of such common idiomatic expressions in German and their English equivalents, see the page on verb + preposition combinations.

For more information on prepositions, see the German prepositions page.

Nouns and pronouns in the DATIVE CASE

Finally, here are some examples of nouns and pronouns in the dative case. Words and endings in red indicate a change in form from the accusative.
Nouns Personal Pronouns
masculine feminine neuter plural
dem Onkel
diesem Onkel
einem Onkel
keinem Onkel
unserem Onkel
der Tante
dieser Tante
einer Tante
keiner Tante
unserer Tante
dem Buch
diesem Buch
einem Buch
keinem Buch
unserem Buch
den Kindern
diesen Kindern
keinen Kindern
unseren Kindern
ihm, ihr, ihm
Ihnen, ihnen

The cases | Definite articles | Indefinite articles | Possessive adjectives
Summary of the cases | Nominative case | Accusative case | Dative case | Genitive case

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