German Cases – A Slightly Different Chart

Written By: Emanuel Updated: July 11, 2023

Hello everyone,

and welcome to a new episode of… uh… the German Show!
Hooray.
Now, we’re in the middle of Summer, Sun, Vocab Fun Season, but today, I actually want to mix in something different and take a look with you at a case chart. A case chart that I have come up with that is … well… it’s quite crazy.

Actually, it’s been already a few years that I first had the idea, and I did talk about it on the site back then. Some of you might remember it – the “German Case Fidget Spinner”, as I used to call it.

But I didn’t really introduce it properly back then and didn’t explain what’s what, which made it kind of confusing. And then I kind of forgot about it myself until recently, and I was like “Hmmm… I still really like this concept”
So I decided to talk about it again, but this time with a proper explanation. And also much better graphics :)

So, today I will introduce to you my absolutely incredible, mind blowing

German Case Triangle

The Standard German Case Charts
(and why it’s not ideal)

 

Most of you are familiar with charts for German case endings, and pretty much all of them look something like this:

mfnpl
 Nominative derdie dasdie
 Accusativedendiedasdie
Dativedemderdemden
Genitivedesderdesder

 

There are some differences in the details, like the order of articles being switched or some clever use of colors to highlight the similarities. But at their core, all the German case charts out there are the same thing: a table.

Now, tables aren’t a bad choice. They’re the “natural” way to organize this kind of information and they do work for a lot of learners.
The thing is, using tables for German cases has become SUCH a consensus that we don’t even think about representing the information in a different way, more creative way. And I don’t mean just tables with some flowers or creative background pictures or cartoons. I mean a completely new way of organizing the information.

Because there’s ALWAYS more than one way to present or convey information. Heck, there are dozens of ways to present information. And I always felt like there are at least a few ways of doing case charts that are NOT tables but something completely different.
Now, we all know that learners are all different. Some remember things well based on hearing, for others, colors are a great help. Again others work best with real world images and some do need the orderly fashion of tables.

That’s why I think it’s worth exploring the various ways to present overviews for German case endings. Not to find THE best solution. But to have different options for different people. Free market. Competition!! Adam Smith, I call on thee – this German case chart communism has to end.

Seriously though… I’ve spent quite some time experimenting with different ways to do a visual chart and there was one that I really like because I think it’s very memorable:

The German Case Triangle

And instead of me giving you the full thing right away, let’s build it step by step, because it really is kind of confusing if you’re used to tables.

Step 1 – The Nominative

The core idea of this chart was to order things “in space” rather than in a sequence of columns and rows. I for one can retain spatial information really well, even if I just look at it for a very short time, and that’s exactly the idea of this chart … that you can look at it, and then kind of recall it from memory without having to really “learn” it.

So… I have spaced out the three articles der, die and das to a triangle. That’s the Nominative form, basically. And the die is valid for both, feminine and plural.

It doesn’t really matter which article is in which corner but this made for the most elegant overall chart as you’ll see soon.

Cool. On to step 2.

Schritt 2 – Accusative

In this step, we’re adding the Accusative form. The key thing about Accusative is that it is IDENTICAL with Nominative, except for der, where it becomes den.

I have placed the Accusative as little “satellites” , so to speak and except for der, the arrow just points back to the form that’s already there.
Oh and die is of course again for feminine AND plural. That’s why there are two little arrows.

Cool.

So far, this is REALLY easy to keep in memory, I think, just as an image. And maybe you can also retain that one little weird den.

So now, let’s bring in the Dative

Step 3 – Dative

The Dative forms are all different from the Nominative so I have placed them in the center, in order to REALLY separate them visually from the Nominative/Accusative corners.
The Dative for der and das are the same, so they both point to the same box.

And interestingly, the Dative der for feminine changed to den in the plural. Which is kind of a parallel to the Nominative->Accusative of masculine der that also changes to den. I didn’t capture that visually, but that might be worth thinking about adding.

Anyway, here it is:

 

And that’s it :)!
That’s the case triangle.
Here’s a high resolution version, if you want to print it:

German Case Triangle – der, die, das
(pdf)

I know that it is REALLY unusual and for many of you, your brains are probably acting up a little like “What the hell is this supposed to be. This is so confusing.”
But try to look at it merely as an image for a second – are the groups visually clear? Can you recall the image or at least part of it in your mind?

If yes, well great – THAT’S the goal.
This is meant to be a quick reference in your head that you can check if you’re unsure, and you can rely on your sense of space rather than the more conscious understanding of a table.

Now, a lot of you, especially the more advanced learners are probably wondering “Where is the Genitive?”

And I left it out on purpose, not because it is disappearing like some sources say. The Genitive is not going anywhere.
But the Genitive is NOT a case that you need all that much in daily life and I have decided to not include it because it would just add some more clutter. You could easily spin it of from the Dative center, from going from dem to des and from der and den to der.

But I think that the Genitive is actually something you can learn later on, on the side. When the other three cases are already solid.

Still, if you want me to include it I can totally do that.

Oh and of course we can make the same kind of chart for the indefinite articles or the possessives and so on. And I can make a general chart that shows the changes in principle and you have to make minor adjustments depending on what type of article it is.

But for now, that’s it and I am SUPER curious for your feedback.
Quick test again… can you recall the chart from memory right now?
How much can you recall? Just visually. Don’t try to conceptualize it too much like “the bottom right corner is Accusative Masculine”. Your brain can do that for you, and spelling it out actually makes it LESS intuitive.
But now I’m just talking from my perspective because I’m such a type of learner.

So yeah, please let me know ALL your thoughts in the comments. Do you like it? Do you find it helpful? Do you find it confusing? Do you have any changes you’d suggest?

And of course, if you have a new and innovative way for case charts, I’d love to hear about it and I’m sure the other readers would too.

So yeah… I hope to see many of you in the comment section and I hope you enjoyed this episode. Have a great week und bis zum nächsten Mal :)!

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