The nominative (1st case)

(Purpose of the nominative case in German grammar)

Table of contents – nominative

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Explanation of the term nominative
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What is the nominative case?

The nominative (in German: Nominativ) is the first of the four grammatical cases in German grammar. It denotes the basic form (i.e., the undeclined form) of the noun. In German, it is always the subject of the sentence that is in the nominative. To determine that first case and so the subject, the question words “Who?” for persons or “What?” for things are suitable. Consider the following approach:

Finding the subject by determining the nominative

To apply the questions, you need to replace a constituent of the sentence by the interrogative particle “Who?(Wer?) or “What?(Was?). The resulting answer states the subject, as illustrated in the following sentences:

  • Question for finding the sentence subject if it represents a person:
    • Example of a declarative sentence: Markus kocht einen Eintopf.“ (Markus is preparing a stew.)
      • Checking question: Wer kocht einen Eintopf?“ (Who is preparing a stew?)
      • Answer: Markus.“
    • Example of an interrogative sentence: „Hat Sonja ein neues Fahrrad?“ (Has Sonja got a new bicycle?)
      • Checking question: Wer hat ein neues Fahrrad?“ (Who has got a new bicycle?)
      • Answer: Sonja.“
  • Question for finding the subject when it represents a thing:
    • Example of a declarative sentence: Der Stuhl brach unter seinem Gewicht zusammen.“ (The chair broke under his weight.)
      • Checking question: Was brach unter seinem Gewicht zusammen?“ (What broke under his weight?)
      • Answer: Der Stuhl.“ (The chair.)
    • Example of an interrogative sentence: „Hatte der Zug mal wieder Verspätung?“ (Was the train delayed again?)
      • Checking question: Was hatte mal wieder Verspätung?“ (What was delayed again?)
      • Answer: Der Zug.“ (The train.)

Particularities with the what-question

Careful with the what-question. This question is not always clear since the accusative case answers this question (Whom/What?) too.

  • Compare the difference:
    • Example: Diese Kaffeemaschine brüht einen sehr aromatischen Kaffee.“ (This coffee machine brews a very aromatic coffee.)
      • Checking question: Was brüht einen sehr aromatischen Kaffee?“ (What brews a very aromatic coffee?)
      • Answer: Diese Kaffeemaschine.“ (This coffee machine.)
      • This interrogation asks for the subject in the nominative.
      • Checking question: Was brüht diese Kaffeemaschine?“ (What does this coffee machine brew?)
      • Answer: Einen sehr aromatischen Kaffee.“ (A very aromatic coffee.)
      • However, this interrogation determines the object in the accusative.
    • If possible, it is helpful to imagine the subject (in this example, the coffee machine) as a person (e.g., a waiter). Accordingly, you can ask with “Who?”:
      • Checking question: Wer brüht einen sehr aromatischen Kaffee?“ (Who brews a very aromatic coffee?)
      • Answer: Der Kaffeezubereiter.“ (The waiter.)

Further explanations relating to the ‘Nominative in German grammar’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘The nominative or first case of the four grammatical cases in German’ and might be helpful as well: