Introduction to the declension of the German nouns

The German nouns do not take a lot of endings. In the four cases (nominative, accusative, dative and genitive) it is the articles or other kind of determiners that change their forms. It is quite rare that a noun takes an ending, except for the plural, of course (e.g.: das Kind – the child; die Kinder – the children).  However, in the genitive singular form, masculine and neuter nouns do take an ending -(e)s (e.g.: des Kindes - of the child), and, in the dative plural most nouns take an ending -n additionally (e.g.: den Kindern – to the children). This all concerns only a certain group of the nouns, they are called “strong nouns“. A smaller group of the nouns is called “weak nouns”, they always take the ending -(e)n in all the cases except for the nominative singular.

So, declension of the German nouns mostly means the declension of the articles (or determiners) that precede the nouns. The article or the preceding determiner change its form depending on the syntactic role of the noun. If the noun is the subject the definite article will be der for the masculine, die for the feminine and das for the neuter, and die will be the plural form. If the noun is the direct object, the definite article will have its accusative form (den, die, das; die). If the noun is the indirect object, the definite article will have its dative form (dem, der, dem; den). Expressing the possession with the English of or ‘s (it is called genitive) the definite article will be des, der, des; der.

The forms of the definite articles in the four cases:

               masculine  feminine  neuter   plural

   Nominative      der      die      das       die
   Accusative      den      die      das       die
   Dative          dem      der      dem       den (+n)
   Genitive        des(+s)   der      des (+s)   der

So, if you want to say “The table is good” you have to say

Der Tisch ist gut

as der Tisch is the subject of the sentence.

If you want to say “I buy the table”, then “the table” is the direct object so you have to say

Ich kaufe den Tisch.

If “the table” is the direct object of the sentence (e.g. I buy a new drawer for/to the table) you have to use dative:

Ich kaufe dem Tisch eine neue Schublade.

If you say “The top of the table” it is a genitive form as the English “of” expresses here possession:

Das Oberteil des Tisches.

As can be seen the noun itself does not get any endings except for the genitive (“Tisches“).


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