Learn German Sentence Structure for the Accusative and Dative

Knowing when to use the dative and accusative in a German sentence is a major hurdle for many students. Equally as important is the sentence structure when using the accusative and dative cases. Compared to English, there are more options, depending on your word choice.

For instance, "I'm giving the mouse to the cat" translates to Ich gebe die Maus zur Katze. (Maus is in the accusative, Katze is in the dative.) If you struggle with remembering which prepositions are dative or accusative, here's some good news.

In some cases, like this one, you can omit the preposition altogether and still clearly express the intention of the sentence by using proper noun cases and word order. 

German Sentence Structure

Without the preposition zur (zu + der), you would write the sentence as follows:

Ich gebe der Katze die Maus. (Katze is dative, Maus is accusative.)

Or with a pronoun:

Ich gebe ihr die Maus. ( Ihr is dative, Maus is accusative.)

Ich gebe sie der Katze. (sie is accusative, Katze is dative.)

Keep the following rules in mind when positioning your dative and accusative objects in a sentence:

  • The dative object will always come before the accusative object.
  • If the accusative object is a pronoun, it will always be before the dative object.

Applying these rules with the correct grammatical case endings is essential. It will help avoid misconstrued sentences, such as Ich gebe der Maus die Katze. Unless, of course, you really did mean to say that you wanted to give the cat to the mouse.

A few more examples: 

Gib dem Hasen die Karotte. (Give the bunny the carrot.) 

Gib ihr die Karotte. (Give her the carrot.) 

Gib es ihr. (Give it to her.)

Refresher on German Noun Cases

Before even worrying about the order of a sentence, make sure you know your noun cases. Here's a run-down on the four German noun cases.