When learning German, one of the first challenges you’ll encounter is understanding the German case system. In German, there are four cases: Nominative (Nominativ), Accusative (Akkusativ), Dative (Dativ), and Genitive (Genitiv). For the sake of this lesson, we’ll focus exclusively on the nominative case.
What is the German Nominative Case?
The nominative case is used to identify the subject of a sentence. In simpler terms, it points out who or what is performing the action. In English, the nominative case is also known as the subjective case.
Table 1.1 shows the cases and their roles in German:
|to/for whom action is taken
|indicates the owner of someone or something
In English, grammatical cases are far less distinct than in German. Essentially, English has two overarching cases: the subjective (akin to the nominative in German) and the objective (which encompasses functions similar to both the accusative and dative in German).
The nominative case, or as it’s termed in English, the subjective case, represents the basic form of a noun. It’s the form you’ll typically find when you look up a word in the dictionary. This case is used for subjects in sentences — that is, the person, animal, or thing carrying out the action of the verb.
For example: “She reads the book.” Here, “She” is the subject performing the action. In contrast, in a sentence like “The book belongs to her,” the word “her” would be in the objective case in English.
🇩🇪 Die Katze schläft.
🇺🇸 The cat is sleeping.
🇩🇪 Frau Müller fliegt nach London.
🇺🇸 Mrs Müller is flying to London.
🇩🇪 Das Kind spielt mit dem Hund.
🇺🇸 The child plays with the dog.
Nominative with Special Verbs
Apart from indicating the subject of a verb, there are a few verbs in German that take a predicate in the nominative case. This means that both the subject and the object of these verbs are nominative. Some of these verbs are shown in Table 1.2:
|to be named
|to stay, remain
🇩🇪 Johann scheint ein großartiger Turner.
🇺🇸 Johann seems a great gymnast.
🇩🇪 Ich heiße Thomas.
🇺🇸 My name is Thomas.
🇩🇪 Thomas ist ein guter Lehrer.
🇺🇸 Thomas is a good teacher.
🇩🇪 Thomas bleibt ein Lehrer.
🇺🇸 Thomas remains a teacher.
🇩🇪 Mein Sohn wird ein Arzt.
🇺🇸 My son is becoming a doctor.
Articles in the Nominative Case
In summary, the nominative case in German is essential for identifying the subject of a sentence or the predicate noun associated with certain verbs. As you advance, you’ll also get to learn how the other cases function in the language.