Sunday, 8 April 2007

A Case of Confusion - Let's Start With the Nominative

These next few posts are a revision of the four German cases.

The easiest one is the nominative, which applies to the subject of a sentence (i.e. the thing that is doing the verb). All you have to remember is which gender the subject takes. Oh, and to remember all German nouns start with a capital letter.

Dancing With Cats!So here goes:
  • Der Hund lacht. The dog (masculine) laughs or is laughing.
  • Die Katze tanzt. The cat (feminine)  is dancing.
  • Das Pferd singt. The horse (neuter) is singing.
  • Die Elefanten trinken. The elephants (masc. plural) are drinking.
Or if it's no particular animal doing the action it is even easier; you only have ein or eine to choose from:
  • Ein Hund springt.  A dog jumps.
  • Eine Katze schläft. A cat sleeps.
  • Ein Pferd ißt. A horse is eating.
Of course, the subject doesn't have to come before the verb:
  • Gestern kaufte meine Katze einen Hamster. Yesterday my cat bought a hamster.
Here, meine Katze is in the nominative case.
Note also that in German the verb always come second in the word order of a sentence (unless it is cast as a question).
But why isn't it ein Hamster (masculine)? 
Ah, that's because einen Hamster is in the next case to revise, the accusative.
That's the thing that is on the receiving end of a verb's action.

The nominative is always used after the verb sein to be, and with werden to become. You might be forgiven for thinking that in a sentence such as:
  • Bruno ist ein Hund. Bruno is a dog.
then the subject doing the verb is Bruno. He is being. What is he being? A dog. Therefore, like the hamster above which was being bought, it should be einen Hund. 
Sorry, no. Sein and Werden always take the nominative, end of story.

The personal pronouns in the nominative are what you would expect. Here they are with the verb rennen to run.
  • ich renne. I run or I am running.
  • du rennst. You (familiar) are running.
  • er rennt. He runs.
  • sie rennt. She runs. (as in Lola Rennt - bloody good film!)
  • es rennt. It runs.
  • wir rennen. We are running.
  • ihr rennt. You (familiar) are running.
  • Sie rennen. You (polite) run.
  • sie rennen. You (plural) are running.
Anything else to say about the nominative case? Only to point out that you can substitute er, sie and es for masculine, feminine and neuter nouns to avoid repetition.

  • Ist Bruno dein Hund? Er ist sehr stattlich. Is Bruno your dog? He is very handsome.
  • Ist Cassie deine Katze? Sie ist sehr flaumig. Is Cassie your cat? She is very fluffy. (Note to Blackadder: the Germans DO have a word for fluffy!)
  • Ist Black Beauty dein pferd? Es ist sehr hoch. Is Black Beauty your horse? It is very tall.
Don't but DON'T make the mistake of using es when referring back to masculine and feminine nouns.

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