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Learning a new language can be an intimidating experience to some people. This need not be the case. There is no such thing as a person who is unable to learn a new language. The first step is to believe you can learn German, because you really can. The second step is to relax and enjoy the process.
You should also bear in mind that German is not as foreign as it might seem. German is an Indo-European language, which means that it shares a common (albeit distant) root with English.
The biggest differences between English and German lie in their grammar. Specifically, the German language has several grammatical cases that are not found in English, and German also inflects, or declines words based on which case those words are in.
It’s important for you to understand what this means, as it will make your learning process a lot easier and faster.
Some view grammatical case and declension as intimidating topics. This need not be the case, as these are very simple topics. It’s important that you have a solid understand of these terms, so before we dive into their application in German, let’s first define them and make sure you understand the underlying concepts.
Grammatical case, or simply “case” for short, defines how a word functions in a phrase or sentence. In English, there are three grammatical cases:
The nominative case refers to subjects in phrases or sentences—these are the nouns that are doing the action of a verb. The accusative case refers to direct objects—these are nouns that are directly receiving the action of a verb. The genitive case is limited to pronouns, and shows possession.
Let’s look at a quick example in English to illustrate these concepts: Do you see him? No, I see his car.
In this sentence, “you” is in the nominative case, because “you” are doing the action – seeing. The word “him” is in the accusative case, because “him” is receiving the action of the verb—it is “him” that is being seen. In the second part of the example above, “his” is in the genitive case. The word “his” shows that “he” owns something—the car.
This last point serves as a segue into the concept of declension. As noted above, the word “his” is the genitive case of “he”. When a word is modified as it moves from one grammatical case into another, this is referred to as declension.
Inflection in English is very weak, and is largely limited to possessive pronouns.
He — him — his
She — her — her (no change)
They — them — their
To summarize, case defines how a word functions in a phrase or sentence, and inflection is the process of modifying a word to place it into a different case.
Russian is governed by six grammatical cases, which are summarized below. Modifications of words from the nominative case into other grammatical cases is done through inflection (also referred to as declension). The nominative case is how words appear in dictionary form.
Summary of German grammatical cases:
Nominative: Words that are subjects of a sentence
Accusative: Words that are direct objects of verbs
Genitive: Demonstrates possession
Dative: Words that are indirect objects of a verbs
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