What Is the Dative Case? (with Examples)

Dative Case

The dative case is the case that shows the indirect object of a verb. (The indirect object of a verb is the recipient of the direct object.) For example:

dative case examples

You can find the direct object by finding the verb and asking "what?". Once you have done that, you can find the indirect object (i.e., the recipient) by asking "for whom?". (NB: The direct object will be in the accusative case. The indirect object will be in the dative case.)

Most people encounter the term "dative case" when studying a language other than English.

Examples of the Dative Case

Here are some examples of the dative case with an explanation of how to find the indirect object:
  • She gave the postman a letter.
  • Step 1. Find the verb = "gave"
    Step 2. Ask "What?" = "a letter"
    Step 3. Ask "For whom?" (i.e., Who is the recipient?) = "the postman"
Therefore, the direct object is "a letter." The recipient of the direct object is "the postman." The words "the postman" are in the dative case. Luckily for us, nouns do not change their forms in the dative case. However, some pronouns do.
  • Barney will send him the presentation tomorrow.
  • Step 1. Find the verb = "will send"
    Step 2. Ask "What?" = "the presentation"
    Step 3. Ask "For whom?" (i.e., Who is the recipient?) = "him"
Therefore, the indirect object is "him." The pronoun "him" is in the dative case. It has changed from "he" to "him."

The Dative Case Is the Objective Case

In English, we use the term objective case for the dative case and the accusative case. Let's look at the example above again:
  • Barney will send him the presentation tomorrow.
  • Step 1. Find the verb = "will send"
    Step 2. Ask "What?" = "the presentation" (This is direct object. The direct object is shown by the accusative case, which is the objective case in English.)
    Step 3. Ask "For whom?" (i.e., Who is the recipient?) = "him" (This is indirect object. The indirect object is shown by the dative case, which, like the accusative case, is the objective case in English.)
Remember that, in English, our nouns do not change in the "oblique" cases (as they're called). However, our pronouns do. This is why "the presentation" hasn't changed and why "he" has become "him."

More Examples of the Dative Case

Here are some more examples of nouns and pronouns as indirect objects (i.e., in the dative case):
  • If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank. (Woody Allen)
  • (The direct object is some clear sign.)
    (The indirect object is me. Therefore, me is in the dative case - or the objective case as we call it.)
  • Computers are useless. They can only give you answers. (Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973)
  • (The direct object is answers.)
    (The word in the dative case is you.)
  • Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I'll waste no time reading it. (Moses Hadas, 1900-1966)
  • Count not him among your friends who will retail your privacies to the world. (Publilius Syrus, circa 100 BC)
  • (The indirect object often follows a preposition like "to" or "for.")
Read more about finding the indirect object of a verb.

Prepositions Can Take the Dative Case

Particularly when studying other languages, you might encounter prepositions that take the dative case. For example, in German, the following take the dative case: "aus," "bei," "mit," "nach," "seit," "von," and "zu."

In English, prepositions take the objective case. For example:
  • with her (and not "with she")
  • by whom" (and not "by who")
In these examples, the words "her" and "whom" are known as the objects of a preposition.

In Some Other Languages, the Articles Change

Those learning English are lucky. In English, the definite articles ("the") and the indefinite articles ("a" or "an") do not change in the oblique cases. In other languages, however, they do. Here is how they change in German in the dative case:

The definite article ("the"):

Case \ GenderMasculineFeminineNeutralPlural
nominativederdiedasdie
dativedemderdemden

The indefinite article ("a" or "an"):

Case \ GenderMasculineFeminineNeutral
nominativeeineineein
dativeeinemeinereinem
In some languages (most typically the Slavic languages), the nouns change too to show they are in the dative case.

Read more about the cases in English grammar.

Why Should I Care about the Dative Case?

Here are two good reasons to care about the dative case?

(Reason 1) Learning a foreign language? Get your head in those grammar tables.

If you've found this page on Grammar Monster, there is a fair chance you're learning a foreign language that features the dative case. (Remember that, in English, the dative case is shown by the objective case.)

If you are studying a foreign language, then you must get to grips with the oblique cases quickly. To progress, you cannot avoid learning how adjectives, determiners, pronouns, and nouns change (or "decline" as it's called) to reflect the various cases. Bite the bullet. Get your head into those tables!

(Reason 2) Use "whom" correctly.

For native English speakers, the only real issue associated with the dative case is using "who" as an object (i.e., a direct object, an indirect object, or an object of preposition). If it's an object, you should use "whom." For example:
  • You saw who?
  • (Here, "who" is the direct object of the verb "saw." It should be "whom," i.e., in the objective case.)
  • You gave who the diamond?
  • (Here, "who" is the indirect object of the verb "gave." It should be "whom," i.e., in the objective case.)
  • You went with who?
  • (Here, "who" is object of the preposition "with." It should be "whom," i.e., in the objective case.)
Read more about "who" and "whom."
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited and printed to create exercise worksheets.

See Also

What is the direct object? What is the indirect object? What is the objective case? What is the nominative case? What is the accusative case? What are intransitive verbs? What are transitive verbs? What are pronouns? What are verbs?