Let me give it to you straight: learning German is no picnic.
For English speakers—nay, speakers of many languages—German grammar can be a confusing mixture of three grammatical genders, separable prefix verbs and complex word-building.
Not to mention, there are four grammatical cases.
One of these is the dative case—a term we don’t often hear in English but that’s crucial to German learning.
At first, the dative case can seem as frustrating as a horde of ants disrupting a beautiful picnic.
But take a breath, dear learner: there’s no need to be a hopeless case!
Learning German may be no picnic, but this easy-to-follow guide can make dative pronouns feel like a walk in the park.
Let’s jump in!
A Short Review of German Cases
German dative case pronouns don’t have to be complicated, but a basic understanding of grammatical cases in German will go a long way. Get your review below!
What Is Grammatical Case in German?
Grammatical cases are a big part of learning German grammar because they impact how we use nouns in German.
In short, German cases are different forms of nouns that reflect the function of the noun in a sentence.
This may sound confusing at first, but actually, we do have a version of this in English, too. Consider the following two sentences:
They are coming to my party.
I told them to arrive at 8:00.
“They” and “them” refer to the same group of people, but we use different words because they have different functions in the sentence.
This is basically what cases are in German. However, in German there are four cases—and they impact nouns as well as pronouns.
In German, nouns are easily identified because they’re always capitalized.
Depending on the noun’s function in a sentence, it’ll fall into one of the four following grammatical cases:
The Four German Grammatical Cases
In case you missed it, German has four cases.
The nominative case is used for subjects (the doers of verbs), and the accusative case is for direct objects (the noun acted upon by the verb). These are the most commonly used cases for simple sentences.
For example, in the sentence ich habe den Computer meiner Mutter gegeben (I gave the computer to my mom), ich (I) is in the nominative case, den Computer (the computer) is in the accusative case and meiner Mutter (to my mother) is in the dative.
A pronoun could also be used to replace meiner Mutter, but more on that later.
Verbs that Trigger the Dative Case
In addition to the dative case being used for indirect objects, there is a group of verbs in German that’ll always have objects that are in the dative case.
This rule applies even if the object that follows would typically be considered a direct object in English.
For now, let’s just look at a list of common verbs that are followed by the dative case:
- helfen (to help)
- geben (to give)
- glauben (to believe)
- danken (to thank)
- antworten (to answer)
- folgen (to follow)
- verzeihen (to forgive)
- stimmen (to agree with)
For example, the object in sentence Ich helfe der Frau (I’m helping the woman) must change its definite article into the dative case.
Further, the indefinite article in the sentence Der Mann glaubt einem Mädchen nicht (the man does not believe a girl) also changes to the dative case.
Lastly, the pronoun in the sentence Ich verzeiht dir (I am following you) must also be in the dative case, triggered by the verb verzeihen.
German Dative Pronouns: The Quick and Easy-to-follow Guide
Now that we’re clear on what the dative case is and when to use it, let’s look at how to use dative pronouns.
When nouns are preceded by definite and indefinite articles, the dative case is shown primarily through changes that are made to these articles.
For example, der Hund (the dog) becomes den Hund in the accusative case, dem Hund in the dative case and des Hundes in the genitive case.
When these articles and nouns are replaced with pronouns such as the German equivalents of “he” and “it,” these pronouns too must change to reflect the dative case.
Personal Pronouns in the Dative Case
There are two types of pronouns that are used in the dative case in German.
The first is personal pronouns. These are the ones that replace people such as der Vater (the father) or Maria. They can also replace groups of people such as der Vater und Maria (the father and Maria).
Since you’re probably already familiar with the German nominative pronouns, we’ll use those as a reference point to show how pronouns change when you move to the dative case:
First Person Singular: Ich → Mir
Ich is the personal pronoun in the nominative case that means “I.” When in the dative case, ich becomes mir (to me).
Kannst du mir helfen?
Can you help me?
Second Person Singular: Du → Dir
Du is the personal pronoun in the nominative case that means “you” in the singular sense. When in the dative case, du becomes dir (to you).
Was hat er dir gegeben?
What did he give you?
Third Person Singular: Er → Ihm (Masculine), Sie → Ihr (Feminine)
Er and sie are the personal pronouns that mean “he” and “she” in the nominative case. When in the dative case, er becomes ihm (to him) and sie becomes ihr (to her).
Ich glaube ihm nicht, sondern glaube ich ihr.
I don’t believe him but I believe her.
First Person Plural: Wir → Uns
Wir is the personal pronoun that means “we” in the nominative case. When in the dative case, wir becomes uns (to us).
Sie danken uns für das Bier.
They thank us for the beer.
Second Person Plural: Ihr → Euch
Ihr is the personal pronoun that means “you” in the plural sense. When in the dative case, ihr becomes euch (to you).
Ich werde euch folgen.
I will follow you all.
Third Person Plural: Sie → Ihnen
Lastly, sie is the personal pronoun that means “they.” When in the dative case, sie becomes ihnen (to them).
Hilfst du ihnen?
Are you helping them?
Keep in mind that Sie (with a capital S) means “you” in the formal sense. As such, Ihnen (with a capital I) means “to you” in the formal sense.
Sie helfen Ihnen.
They help you. (Formal)
Ihnen is also used in this way in the common sentence, Wie geht es Ihnen? (How are you?)
Inanimate Object Pronouns in the Dative Case
As in the nominative case, certain personal pronouns can also be used to replace non-human and inanimate objects. These are generally the third person pronouns er, sie and plural sie.
Their dative equivalents are ihm (to him/it), ihr (to her/it) and ihnen (to them) as well. Check out the following example sentences:
Ich gebe dem Hund einen Ball. — I give a ball to the dog.
Ich gebe ihm einen Ball. — I give him a ball.
Du folgt dem Weg. — You follow the path.
Du folgt ihm. — you follow it.
Er dankt den Fröschen nicht. — He doesn’t thank the frogs.
Er dankt ihnen nicht. — He doesn’t thank them.
Ich glaube dem Buch. — I believe the book.
Ich glaube ihm. — I believe it.
The third person pronoun es is also used to replace neuter nouns in the nominative case. In the dative case, this, too, becomes ihm.
For example, the noun das Mädchen (the girl) is a neuter noun. The sentence ich danke das Mädchen (I thank the girl) would become ich danke ihm (I thank her), using the masculine pronoun even though the girl is female—because the noun Mädchen is neuter in actuality.
Sentence Constructions that Require Dative Pronouns
In addition to the aforementioned verbs, there are also a number of sentence constructions that require dative pronouns.
Firstly, to talk about the temperature in relation to a person, one must use the dative case. For example, mir ist kalt means “I am cold” and ihnen ist heiß means “they are hot.”
You can’t say ich bin kalt or sie sind heiß which are common literal translations from English.
The following verbs also require dative pronouns:
Gefallen (to like)
Das Hemd gefällt mir. — I like the shirt.
Schmecken (to taste)
Schnitzel schmeckt ihnen gut. — Schnitzel tastes good to them.
Weh tun (to hurt)
Tut dir der Kopf weh? — Does your head hurt?
Fehlen (to lack)
Ihr fehlen die Wörter. — She lacks the words.
Gehören (to belong)
Das Buch gehört euch. — The book belongs to you all.
Passieren (to happen)
Das hat uns passiert. — That happened to us.
Practicing German Dative Pronouns
Learning without practice? Don’t let that be the case!
As you review your German dative pronouns, you’ll find that there are many resources online to help you practice. Here are a few great ones to start you off:
- Start with a quiz from ToLearnFree which asks learners to write in the appropriate dative personal pronoun in the blank.
- Next, challenge yourself to a quiz from Lingolia. The quiz starts with a short explanation of personal pronouns in the dative so you can review before the quiz. The quiz itself is a mixture of fill in the blank and multiple-choice exercises.
- German.net offers a helpful quiz on dative pronouns, which you can use to check your progress.
- Lastly, the University of Texas offers an easy-to-read explanation, short story and exercises exclusively to practice dative personal pronouns.
If you prefer to learn through immersion, it’s a great idea to check out FluentU. FluentU is an interactive resource that turns real-world videos—such as music videos, movie trailers, news clips and inspiring talks—into language-learning experiences. Each video comes equipped with interactive subtitles and a full transcript, so you can follow along as you watch. After you finish a video, you can take a personalized quiz or use FluentU’s “learn mode” to reinforce grammar and vocabulary.
Watching videos of native German speakers while reading along at the same time is an amazing way to practice your German grammar. You’ll learn German as it’s spoken in the real world. After watching a few videos, tricky grammar concepts like choosing the correct case and the correct pronoun will start to come naturally.
Check out FluentU’s free trial, and see how much you can learn!
Now get to case work! You have the knowledge to master German dative personal pronouns and skyrocket your level of German.
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