For those who have been told that German and English are distant cousins, having evolved from the same source language long ago, it could be difficult to comprehend how German nouns and English nouns are treated so differently. German nouns have four attributes: person, number, gender, and case. They also belong to one of four declensions, one of which is reserved exclusively for plurals, as well as some nouns that are irregularly declined. By ascribing so many attributes to their nouns, the Germans can greatly simplify their language. German nouns help to make German easy to understand and speak.
As mentioned above, German nouns have several different attributes that must be carefully defined in order for them to fit into a grammatical sentence. One of the most important is the Person of the noun, which serves as a reference to the participant in an action or event, and affects the attributes of other parts of speech. This also includes personal pronouns, such as I, You, He, She, and It. Another important attribute of nouns in German is Number, which indicates how many of the referent the noun describes. In this sense, a noun can be either Singular, in which case there is only one, or Plural, which refers to a group of any size. For example, the singular “I” becomes the plural “We,” while the singular “She” becomes the plural “They.” Nouns also have a gender in German, which can be identified as masculine, feminine, or neuter. This attribute is an intrinsic property of the noun itself, and is not linked to the sex of the referent in question.
German nouns can also have different Cases, depending on what functions they serve within a sentence. While this attribute exists in English, it has slowly disappeared from many parts of the language over the centuries. It is possible for nouns in German to take one of four cases: Nominative, Accusative, Dative, and Genitive. The Ablative, Vocative, and Locative cases, which many students of Latin may be familiar with, do not exist in German. A noun in the Nominative case indicates that the referent in question is the doer of the action, the subject of a finite verb. A noun used in the Accusative case is the direct object of a verb, while the Dative case indicates that it is the indirect object of the verb. Finally, the Genitive case is used to indicate possession of another noun. Nouns are typically declined, or given their case, by applying the appropriate ending to the noun or noun stem. However, many German nouns remain in their simple form in the Accusative and Dative cases, save for a small group known as “weak nouns.” There are four different declensions in German, as well as a small number of irregular nouns.