Monoglot Anxiety

Monoglot Anxiety

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Fehler Files: the German dative plural

Knowing how to use the dative case is hard, but forming the German dative plural is easy... but I still screwed it up. Here's how not to.

Elise Cutts

3-Minute Read

In Fehler Files, I break down common German mistakes that I make in real conversations so you don’t have to make similar mistakes yourself. Think of it like a series of self-deprecating mini-guides to German grammar and vocabulary.

Anyways, this time we’re going through a way I keep butchering the German dative plural.

Ich lerne Deutsch seit zwei Jahr…e…en. And I still make this common German mistake.

One of the mistakes I notice myself getting corrected on most frequently is missing ns on my dative plurals. Take this example from a moment when I embarrrased myself trying to compensate for my monoglualism by pointing out how far I’ve come with German in two years…

“Ich bringe mir seit nur zwei Jahre Deutch bei und habe bereits das Niveau B2 erre–”



Jahr-en, nicht Jahr-e. Du bringst dir seit zwei Jahren Deutch bei."

That sneaky “-n” marks the dative plural, and I’ve noticed that I often forget it when I’m talking about lengths of time. I suspect that this is because many of the German prepositions used to talk about time take the dative case, and we often talk about time in terms of plural units (seconds, days, months, years, etc.). While getting case wrong is a common mistkae, forming the German dative plural is actually easy if you can remember to use it.

The German dative plural

Forming the dative plural is simple: Add an “n” to the end of the nominative plural. If the word ends in -n (i.e. Gärten) already, or ends in -s (i.e. Autos), don’t change anything. Remembering not to add the -n to plurals ending in -s isn’t so hard, because “Autosn” or “Opasn” just doesn’t sound right.

nom. Singular Nom. Plural Dat. Plural
der Mann die Männer den Männern
das Jahr die Jahre den Jahren
die Maus die Mäuse den Mäusen
die Frau die Frauen den Frauen (no change)

As a reminder, the definite for the dative plural is den. The indefinite plural takes no article (called the “null article”). And the dative plural is very consistent. All the adjectives and articles that come a dative plural noun also end in “n”.

Der Lehrer hilft den jungen Kindern.
The teacher helps the young children.

Die Jägerin versteckt sich zwischen den grünen Bäumen.
The huntress is hiding between the green trees.

Es ist den kleinen Mädchen kalt.
The little girls are cold.

Quick reminder: when to use the German dative case

Flip open any German grammar book and you’ll see that the main uses of the dative case are:

  • indicating indirect objects of verbs (ex. Ich gebe den Pferden einen Apfel)
  • indicating who is affected by a verb’s action (ex. Sie schrieb ihnen einen Brief)
  • following many prepositions (ex. zu, mit, seit, nach, etc.)

There are also some more specific uses that show up regularly but that I don’t see mentioned so often outside of hardcore grammar books:

  • indicating possession of body parts, articles of clothing, prized possessions, and close relatives (ex. Den Waisenkindern sind gerade die Eltern gestorben)
  • with adjectives, especially adjectives with zu or genug (ex. Diese Uhren sind den Kunden zu teuer.)

Of course, there’s more to the “how do I use the dative case” story than that. But that’s a topic for another post.

So, did you find this autopsy of my attempt to use the dative plural helpful? Do you find it hard to remember the German cases, or would you never make a mistake like this? In any case, thanks for reading, vielen Dank, and tusind tak!

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Learning German is hard. My goal is to help you do it without wanting to pull your hair out. This blog is full of free tips and resources for German learners that I've put together based on my experience teaching myself German. A lot of those tips are related to using Anki to learn German faster, and I post new free Anki decks every month. Click to learn more.

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