The Accusative case in German

Accusative for kids

The accusative case marks the direct object in a sentence. This means that something happens to a noun or pronoun “directly”. Example: “Der Junge fand eine Katze.”  (The boy found a cat).  “The boy” is the subject of the sentence whereas “a cat” is the direct object as something happened to it (it was found by the boy).

As you can see, teaching children German Grammar and especially the German cases such as accusative and dative is definitely not an easy task. As you know, German Grammar is extremely complex and it takes a lot of practice and willpower (at least at times) to understand the link between adjectives, the four cases, nouns, direct objects, verbs, indirect objects…..etc.

Step by step

Rather than explaining to children what Accusative and Dative means,  to me it seems far more beneficial to teach Grammar in an indirect way. Again, this is not easy either however, it gives teachers more options to create interesting and engaging lessons rather than dry and boring grammatical sessions.  And let’s be honest, teaching German Grammar can be challenging as well. So, where to start? Commonly people would suggest to start with the questions (whom, who etc.) that help students to find the direct object, subject and indirect object. Personally I think that it is nearly impossible to introduce the cases in that manner but it all depends on the language level of the students.

accusative case

In my case, I’m talking about 5-10 year old kids that have learned German almost weekly (minus holidays and bank holidays etc.) for about 1 year.

Firstly it is essential that the children understand that in German, every article (der, die, das, eine, ein) has a gender and that the gender determines the personal pronoun (ich, du, er, sie, es, wir ,ihr).

I still can remember the day I introduced this new topic “Die Artikel” to one small group of young students. They could not believe that a girl (das Mädchen) is an “it” (es) and that a chair (der Stuhl) is a “he” (er). It definitely takes a lot of time to get used to this rather abstract idea.

The next challenge is to teach the children as many nouns  and basic sentences as possible. For example: “Das Mädchen tanzt im Garten.” (The girl is dancing in the garden.) “Der Hund hat einen Ball.” (Accusative-haben, “the dog has a ball.”) and so on…..

Now, after learning and practising those basic sentences for a while, I asked my students the following question: Why does the dog have “einen Ball” and not “ein Ball”? I made the children aware of the changing articles. This caused a little confusion, outrage and even laughter. I’m glad that they could see the humour in this subject matter!:)

Don’t forget to introduce the children to the differences between “Singular” and “Plural” as well before you start their new grammatical journey with the cases. Plural is rather easy to teach as you can show the children the difference. (Look, this ist “der Stift”! Then take another pencil. “Look, these are “die Stifte”. Now there is more than one pencil. There are two pencils.”)

After the basics you can now start with the even more challenging Accusative Case……

Option 1:  Teach Accusative Verbs and explain in simple terms what happens to the article and direct object in the sentence. Example: “Ich habe einen Freund.” (I have a friend.) Common Accusative Verbs are: haben, brauchen, finden, fragen, lernen, nehmen, sehen and machen.

Prepositions that take the Accusative Case

Option 2: Introduce children to accusative prepositions first.  German prepositions are very important and it is often advisable to learn them in association with verbs. Some verbs have different meanings that might depend on the prepositions. Of course you can also start to teach separable verbs when you combine both subject areas.

For this I have even created a little video:

And this is the script for the video:

Hallo! Ich bin Paul.
Hello! I’m Paul.
Das Katzenfutter ist für Paul.
The cat food is for Paul.
Paul springt gegen die Vase.
Paul jumps into the vase.
Paul läuft um die Lampe.
Paul walks around the lamp.
Paul geht ohne Futter nach draußen.
Paul goes outside without food.
Paul springt durch das Fenster.
Paul jumps through the window.

The idea is to teaching children keywords (verbs, prepositions etc.) that make them notice the difference between “der Ball” and “den Ball.”

This video especially emphasises one thing: Whatever way you begin with the accusative case in your lessons, try to make it as fun and enjoyable as possible. Don’t get frustrated when you are not understood. It takes time for your young students to understand why there are different cases and what they do to each German sentence. Don’t focus on the grammar, focus on different scenarios, keywords and sentences instead.

On a final note, one of Mark Twain’s quotes popped into my head:

“Whenever the literary German dives into a sentence, that is the last you are going to see of him till he emerges on the other side of his Atlantic with his verb in his mouth.”