Declension Tables

Now that we’ve covered gender, plurals and case, here’s how they all fit together:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative
(subject)
der Mann die Frau das Kind die Kinder
Accusative
(direct object)
den Mann die Frau das Kind die Kinder
Dative
(indirect object)
dem Mann der Frau dem Kind den Kindern
Genitive
(possession)
des Mannes der Frau des Kindes der Kinder

Again, notice that the noun itself rarely changes – it only picks up an ending in three places. Most of the changes take place in the article. The highlighted letters are the signal or “hard” endings; in addition to der/die/das, they apply as above to the following definite articles:

  • dieser / diese / dieses (“this/that, these/those”)
  • solcher / solche / solches (“such”)
  • welcher / welche / welches (“which”)

And here are two more, but they sound poetic or fancy in modern German and are not used as often:

  • jener / jene / jedes (“that, those”)
  • mancher / manche / manches (“many a”)

You may be wondering how “that” and “those” can be rare words in any language. The short answer is that you can use “dies-“ for both this/these and that/those, as we’ve indicated above. The full answer is a little more complicated. Our this/that distinction in English – what linguists call the proximal/distal distinction – is not handled the same way in all languages, and German just doesn’t have it to the same degree.

Even “dies-” is less common than “this” in English; it’s most often used when distinguishing among a group of similar items, not just in referring to anything nearby. For example, if you’re helping someone pick out a dress, you’d say Ich mag dieses Kleid (“I like this one [as opposed to the others]”) but “this beer [in my hand] is too warm” would often just be das Bier ist zu warm. It’s actually a bit more complicated than that, but it’s way too much to get into here. If you’re really struggling to get across a this/that distinction in German, remember that you can always use extra words to help (“this building here,” “the guy over there,” etc.)

The other two categories are the indefinite articles (like a/an in English) and possessives (my, your, his, etc). These words have the same hard endings as the definite articles above, except that they drop them in three places. Here’s how to say: “my dog/cat/bunny/birds”:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative
(subject)
mein-- Hund meine Katze mein-- Kaninchen meine Vögel
Accusative
(direct object)
meinen Hund meine Katze mein-- Kaninchen meine Vögel
Dative
(indirect object)
meinem Hund meiner Katze meinem Kaninchen meinen Vögeln
Genitive
(possession)
meines Hundes meiner Katze meines Kaninchens meiner Vögel

We will fully review the possessives in Section 6 (Pronouns), but here are the two indefinite articles:

  • ein / eine / ein (“a/an ___”)
  • kein / keine / kein (“no/not a ___“)
Ein Hund folgte mir nach Hause.
A dog followed me home.
Ich spreche kein Deutsch.
I speak no German.
Das ist keine Lösung.
That’s not a solution.

In learning these declensions, as well as the adjective forms in the next section, it’s better to focus on those 16 hard endings and the few exceptions to them than to memorize every table by rote.