How to use the nominative case in German
Published on December 7, 2023 / Updated by Jessica Schnase on January 9, 2024
While not every language uses multiple grammatical cases, German has an astonishing four of them. These cases exist not to punish German language learners, but to identify the different parts of German sentences. The nominative case, for example, indicates who or what performs an action in a sentence. In other words, it helps to mark the main subject of a verb.
In this guide, we’ll explore why we need the nominative case in German. We’ll also review how to identify it and how to use it in German sentences.
The nominative case is the first case of the German grammatical system and exists to indicate who or what is the main subject of a verb. This means the nominative case can help you determine which person or thing is performing an action in a sentence.
Determining the case of a German noun or pronoun can be a challenge for many German learners, as the concept of multiple grammatical cases does not exist in every language.
Asking the right question makes it easier to identify the different cases in a sentence that has more than one noun or pronoun in it. For the nominative case, it’s important to know who is acting.
So, questions that help identify the nominative case include:
Let’s look at a simple example to get a better feeling for the use of the nominative case in German:
In the above sentence, Ich (I) is the main subject of the sentence as well as the person that performs the action gehen (to go).
The nominative case can be used for nouns and pronouns to show who or what is performing an action.
It rarely occurs that nouns stand alone in a sentence; usually, they are accompanied by a definite or an indefinite article. The German articles change according to the gender, number and case of a noun. This differs from English, where either “the” or “a” is used, and the declension does not change.
These are the articles used for the nominative case in German:
Here are some examples of how these articles are declined in German sentences:
Who is performing the action (spielen) in the above sentence? Der Junge (the boy).
Who is performing the action (essen) in the above sentence? Eine Frau (a woman).
Not only do articles follow the gender and case of a noun, but the same goes for adjectives that are used to describe the noun. In German, a suffix is added to the end of an adjective to indicate the declension.
These are the suffixes used for adjectives in the nominative case:
Here’s an example with the feminine suffix (-e):
As you can see, the suffix –e is added to the adjective wütend (angry), as the main subject of the sentence is feminine and singular.
Though the German cases can seem quite confusing, they are actually here to help you grasp the meaning of a sentence. While the word order does that job in English, being able to identify the nominative case in German helps you identify the main subject of a sentence.
Knowing how to ask for it makes the whole mission a lot easier. The question “Who/what is performing an action?” is one you should remember to ask yourself. As articles and adjective declensions change according to gender, number and case, being able to determine when to use the right declension is very helpful.