One of the reasons as to why beginners find German a challenging language is cases. German language works with cases such as Nominativ (nominative), Akkusativ (accusative), Dativ (dative) and Genitiv (genitive). Each case carries a different meaning. Beginners might struggle to determine which rule they have to follow to apply these cases and express their ideas correctly in German. Do not let the German cases discourage you, though – we will help!
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Today, we will take a look at the uses of the Akkusativ and Dativ with the questions Wo? and Wohin?.
Akkusativ – Wohin?
Akkusativ with a preposition is the answer to the question “Wohin?”. “Wohin?” literally means “where to?”. The transformation of the article indicates a movement. Akkusativ plus a preposition indicates your final destination. The readers or the listeners will understand where you will be after the movement has taken place. This is thanks to the preposition.
What happens in the Akkusativ case? Simply, all the articles remain the same as they are in Nominativ. The only exception is Maskulin. Der turns into den. The example below will help you understand the Akkusativ case better:
Der Turm: the Tower
Nominativ: der Turm
Akkusativ: den Turm
1. Ich gehe an den Turm. – I go to the tower. However, this sentence means you go to the tower and will be beside it when you arrive.
2. Ich gehe in den Turm. – I go into the tower.
3. Ich gehe auf den Turm. – I go to the top of the tower. This sentence illustrates that you go to the tower and up to the top of it.
Dativ – Wo?
In contrast to Akkusativ with a preposition, Dativ with a preposition describes the location which is the answer to the question “Wo?”. By using Dativ with a preposition, you specify the current location. Despite the seemingly less complicated definition, Dativ can often be a headache for beginners. How can you transform the article correctly? The good news is that both ‘der’ and ‘das’ turn into ‘dem’. All you need to pay more attention to is the fact that ‘die’ changes to ‘der’. Below is another example so that you can tell the difference between the Akkusativ and Dativ cases.
Die Schule: the school
Nominativ: die Schule
Dativ: der Schule
1. Ich bin an der Schule. – I am at the school. This sentence basically means you are standing beside the school.
2. Ich bin in der Schule. – I am in the school.
3. Ich bin auf der Schule. – I am above the school. This sentence refers that you are standing on the top of the school.
Akkusativ and Dativ: Why bother? And what about “zu”?
As we have just discovered above, cases play an important role in the German language. They help the speakers or writers express their ideas accurately. Take, for instance, Akkusativ and Dativ with a preposition – they clarify the idea behind the sentence, whether it is a movement or a location. Without the cases, heaps of confusion could be caused. The example below illustrates why:
1. Ich gehe auf die Straße. The sentence refers that you are going from elsewhere to the street. There is obviously a change in location, which we call a movement.
2. Ich gehe auf der Straße. The sentence shows that you are going on the street. According to German language, there is not such a change in the location although we are moving.
Another question which English-speaking beginners may ask is “How about “zu”?” or “Why don’t the Germans simply use “zu” to replace Akkusativ with prepositions?”. German is German, isn’t it? Akkusativ with a preposition describes the movement in detail and provides the final destination you will reach.. “Zu” literally means “to” in English. A sentence with this preposition only explains the place we are heading to and not the specifics of what we are going to be doing there (e.g. standing on the place, going into the place, or just waiting beside it). Last but not least, “zu” always takes the dative case, even if it is helping to describe a movement.
Here is how our language school explains Akkusativ and Dativ with prepositions.