Noun Cases in German GrammarJust here for the exercises? Click here.
What is declension in German?
Ever wondered why it’s die Straße in some sentences but der Straße in others? The reason is declension (Deklination).
In German, we have to decline articles and nouns; this means changing their endings depending on whether they appear in the nominative, accusative, dative or genitive case.
You can recognise the case based on the noun’s role in the sentence, but also via certain verbs and prepositions that act as signal words. You can learn more about the cases and their signal words in our essential guide to German declension.
In this article, we’re going to cover noun and article endings in detail. You can practise everything in the exercises.
How to decline German articles
First of all: articles are the small words that come before the noun (der, die, das; ein, eine …).
Their form is declined (changed) depending on the case (nominative, accusative, dative or genitive). The noun itself generally stays the same.
- Der Vater ist nett.The dad is nice. (nominative)
- → Ich kenne den Vater.I know the dad. (accusative)
- der becomes den; Vater stays the same
- Die Tochter ist vierzehn.The daughter is 14. (nominative)
- → Ich gehe mit der Tochter zur Schule.I go to school with the daughter. (dative)
- die becomes der; Tochter stays the same
See below to learn how each article changes in each case.
How to decline the German definite article
The definite article (der, die, das …) is equivalent to the in English.
The table below shows how to decline the definite article in all cases.
|N||der Vater||die Mutter||das Kind||die Eltern|
|D||dem Vater||der Mutter||dem Kind||den Eltern|
|G||des Vaters||des Kindes||der Eltern|
How to decline the German indefinite article
The indefinite article (ein, eine …) is equivalent to a/an in English.
The table below shows how to decline the German indefinite articles in all cases.
|N||ein Vater||eine Mutter||ein Kind||Eltern
|D||einem Vater||einer Mutter||einem Kind|
|G||eines Vaters||eines Kindes|
Note the following:
- only the masculine articles change in the accusative (der/ein → den/einen)
- the feminine articles are the same in the dative and the genitive (der/einer)
- the dative article is the same for masculine and neuter (dem/einem)
When to decline nouns in German
In addition to changing the article, we also change the endings of certain nouns in the accusative, dative and/or genitive cases.
Plural -n in the Dative
Nouns whose plural form doesn’t end in -s or -n take the ending -n in the dative case.
- die Händehands (plural in nominative)
- → mit den Händenwith your hands (plural in dative)
In the genitive, we add an -s to masculine and neuter nouns. Feminine nouns have no genitive ending.
- des Vaters
When the noun ends in s, ß, x or z, we add -es in the genitive to aid pronunciation. Sometimes we also need to double the final -s.
- der Einfluss → des Einflusses
- der Bus → des Busses
- (exception: das Herz → des Herzens)
With some nouns, both -es and -s are correct (-es sounds a bit more formal).
- das Jahr → des Jahr(e)s
Genitive endings with proper nouns
Proper nouns (names) also take an -s in the genitive.
- Mozarts Opern
If a name ends in s, ß, x or z, we just add an apostrophe.
- Strauss’ Opern
Many masculine nouns form their plurals with the ending -n/-en.
These nouns also take this ending in the singular in the accusative, dative and genitive cases.
This phenomenon is known as n-declension (n-Deklination).
- Ich habe dem Pianisten zugehört.I listened to the pianist.
- nominative singular: der Pianist; dative singular: dem Pianisten
Check out our page on n-declension in German grammar to learn more.
When we use an adjective as a noun, this is known as a nominalised adjective (substantivierte Adjektiv).
- gut → das Gute
Like nouns, they are written with an article and a capital letter, but they are declined like adjectives.
Head to our page all about declining nominalised adjectives to learn more.