What is the difference between den/dem, ihn/ihm & wen/wem in German - German Takeaways

What is the difference between den/dem, ihn/ihm & wen/wem in German

It may seem just like a tiny difference between these pairs: den/dem, ihn/ihm and wen/wem. And in English, actually, it is almost the same! But in German we are facing the big difference between two grammatical cases: accusative and dative.

den/dem (Definite Article)

First, I am going to explain these 2 forms of the definite article. Each of them has 2 uses:

  1. den in singular is accusative masculine. It can refer to a masculine person (ich sehe den Lehrer) or animal (du kaufst den Hund) or thing (wir gehen in den Garten). If you need to remember when to use accusative case, please click here: after verbs or after prepositions.
  2. den in plural is dative. Thus, it can refer to people (ich gebe es den Kindern) or animals (das gehört den Hunden) or things (wir lernen mit den Büchern). If you need to remember when to use dative case, you will find the explanation in the same posts linked above. Please note that in dative plural, also noun – already in plural – gets an extra-n at the end!
  3. dem is dative (singular) and can be masculine (ich gebe es dem Lehrer) or neutral (ich schenke es dem Kind).

Can you see that there is just one gender that has both den and dem?

Exactly: the masculine! So here we have to pay special attention because only the difference between -n and -m will make the difference between accusative and dative case!

Examples:

  • Accusative with verb: Ich sehe den Lehrer.
  • Dative with verb: Ich gebe dem Lehrer die Hausaufgaben.
  • Accusative with preposition: Der Tisch ist für den Garten.
  • Dative with preposition: Ich komme aus dem Garten.

You can also find den or dem without a noun behind it. In this case, it is a demonstrative pronoun and refers to a person/object mentioned before:

Kennst du den Typen? – Nein, den kenne ich nicht.

ihn/ihm (Personal Pronoun)

In English both mean “him” but there is a difference! Here you can see what these pronouns can refer to:

  1. ihn is always accusative masculine (singular). It can be a pronoun for a masculine person (ich sehe ihn [=den Lehrer]) or animal (du kaufst ihn [= den Hund]) or thing (wir haben ihn [=den Tisch]). The person/animal/thing has to be mentioned before so that the reader or listener knows what is meant.
  2. ihm is always dative singular and can be masculine (ich gebe es ihm [=dem Lehrer]) or neutral (ich schenke es ihm [=dem Kind]).

Also here, there is one gender that has both forms, ihn and ihm. And, as before, it is the masculine. Thus, we have to pay attention to the exact same issue: not to confuse accusative and dative case.

Examples:

  • Accusative with verb: Ich sehe ihn.
  • Dative with verb: Ich gebe ihm die Hausaufgaben.
  • Accusative with preposition: Der Tisch ist für ihn (person/animal)/dafür (thing).
  • Dative with preposition: Das hast du es von ihm (person/animal)/davon (thing).

ihn and ihm can also be used together when we have a verb with both a direct (accusative) and an indirect (dative) object that have been mentioned before (but in reverse order):

Der Lehrer schickt seinem Schüler (dat.) einen Brief (acc).
Der Lehrer schickt ihn
(acc.) ihm (dat.).

wen/wem (Question Pronoun)

This pronoun is only used when asking for a person (no difference between masculine and feminine).

  1. wen is accusative. So, we have to use it with verbs that can take a direct object (Ich sehe Juana. – Wen siehst du? – Juana.), or with accusative prepositions (Für wen ist das Geschenk? – Für meinen Freund.).
  2. wem is dative. We have to use it with dative verbs (Wem gehört das Fahrrad? – Es gehört meiner Schwester.), or with dative prepositions (Mit wem gehst du ins Kino? – Mit meinem Onkel.).

Summary/tip!

When you compare these three words – den, ihn, wen – you can see what they have in common: the -n. Exactly this letter (= signal) is the one we always have to see in accusative masculine, also in all the other articles and pronouns (einen, keinen, diesen, meinen, deinen, ihren, unseren, etc.).

RULE: accusative masculine ends always in -n.

The same happens with the -m (from dem, ihm, wem). This letter is the signal of dative masculine and neutral (einem, keinem, diesem, meinem, deinem, ihrem, unserem, etc.).

RULE: dative masculine and neutral end always in -m.