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Grammar Notes German

When compared to other Languages, many students are experiencing difficulties with the complexity of the German Grammar. Nouns, articles, verbs and adjectives and adverbs are subject to declination and/or conjugations, based on the gender of the noun in question. Whereas in the English language merely one article (the) is used to describe any noun, the German language use three (die), (der) and (das) for the description of a particular noun, as well as (ein) and (eine) for non-particular nouns. Unfortunately, there is no set Grammar rule for the determination of which article to use for which noun.

die Frau (feminine) / eine Frau (the/a woman)
der Mann (masculine) / ein Mann (the/a man)
das Fahrrad (neutral) / ein Fahrrad (the/a bike)

Another thing learners find difficult, is the length of some words. In German you are able to add words together and make one out of it.

Example: Kinder / children and Fahrrad and make Kinderfahrrad / children's bike. The word might look intimidating to you, but this rule makes the language much simpler.

ä,ö,ü,ß are called Umlaute these four letters are not part of other Germanic languages.

Many people find that spoken German sounds harsh. In fact there are certain dialects and Swiss German, which sound harsh (because of their pronunciation of 'ch'), but this should not be an issue for Hochdeutsch (high-German), which will be used throughout the discussion. And the best way to practice the pronunciation is to listen carefully to the audio and repeat the sample words.

Nouns are always spelled with a capital letter and require a defined/undefined article. Plural nouns have different endings not just an (s) and always use the defined article (die) (regardless of the noun's gender).

die Frau-en / the women
die Schiff-e / the boats
die Männ-er / the men

In the plural form a vowel often changes to an Umlaut and requires the two dots.

4 German Grammar Cases / die 4 Fälle:

1. The nominative case — in German and in English it is the subject of a sentence.

Der Hund beißt den Mann.
The dog bites the man.

2. In English the accusative case is known as the objective case (direct object). In German you can tell that a noun is in the accusative case by the masculine article, which changes from der/ein to den/einen. (Since the accusative only changes in the masculine gender, you don't need to worry about the feminine, neuter or plural.)

Der Hund beißt den Mann.
The dog bites the man.

3. The dative case in German is a vital element for communication. In English the dative case is known as the indirect object. Unlike the accusative, which only changes in the masculine gender, the dative changes in all genders and in the plural.

Der Polizist gibt dem Fahrer einen Strafzettel.
The policeman is giving the driver a ticket.

4. The genitive case in German shows possession and is expressed in English by the possessive 'of' or an apostrophe-s ('s). The genitive case is also used with some verb idioms and with the genitive prepositions. The genitive is used more in written German than in spoken form.

Das Auto meines Bruders.
My brother's car
The car of my brother.

In spoken, everyday German, von + the dative often replaces the genitive:
Das Auto von meinem Bruder
My brother's car.

In the German language, most verbs follow the same schema of conjugation, either they are regular or irregular.

irregular verb sein / to be:
I am : ich bin
you (intimate) are : du bist
he, she, it : er, sie, es sind
we are : wir sind
you (familiar) are : ihr seid
you (formal) are : Sie sind (the formal address is spelled with capital letter)
they are : sie sind

Note that all regular verbs in the infinitive ends in (en) and that the German language does not use a different verb form for the Gerund but adds a word for time reference:

die Frau sitzt gerade
in this moment

Verb tenses will be discussed in details in Chapter 6.

Adjectives are words that describes a noun.

The white pants are long.
The yellow t-shirt is big.
The white t-shirt is small.

To closely describe an object, you will use the descriptive adjective directly in front of the object and decline it accordingly.

Das blaue Hemd.
The blue shirt.

If the adjective used in combination with the verb sein / to be it will follow the verb and will not be declined:

Das blaue Hemd ist neu
The blue shirt is new.

Take note that with the above example the function of the adjective, which is placed in front of the object (here: blaue), is to differentiate the object (here: Hemd) from all the others. The adjective in combination with (to be) is describing the state (is new) of the object (here: the blue shirt). Therefore, placing the adjectives differently would change the meaning of the sentence.

Look at the difference of the following sentences:
Die rote Hose ist kurz (the red pants are short) - not long
Die kurze Hose ist rot (the short pants are red) - not blue

Present tense

To conjugate the verbs, remove the (en) and conjugate as shown below:

Sitzen / to sit
Ich sitz-e (I ist)
Du sitz-t (You ist)
Er, sie, es sitz-t (He, She, It sits)
Wir sitzen (We ist)
Ihr sitz-t (You ist)
Sie sitzen (They ist)

To emphasize the present tense and gerund, the word gerade is sometimes put in front of or after the verb.

Das Mädchen spricht gerade
The girl is speaking.

Der Mann hört gerade nicht zu
The man is not listening.

Past Tense

Just like in a lot of other languages, German entails several different past tenses. Let's start with the Past tense Präteritum, which is comparable with the English tense Simple Past.

To clarify the conjugational changes of the verb springen / to jump take a look at how the Present Tense is formed first.

Das Pferd springt / the horse jumps - Präsent (present tense)
Das Pferd sprang / the horse jumped - Präteritum (simple past)

Future Tense

Future tense uses the auxiliary verb werden / to become + infinitive of the verb.

Das Pferd wird springen / The horse is going to jump. - Futur I / future tense


Prepositions indicates the place or position of the object. A single preposition like (on) can have several meaning in German (on, an, bei, in, auf, über, weiter, etc). The same goes for (in), in German meaning in and im, and unter the German word for under

Ein Baby in einem Auto. vs. Ein Baby im Auto.
Meaning: A baby in a car. and A baby in the car

Personal Pronouns
I = ich
you (informal) = du
he/she/it= er/sie/es
we = wir
you = ihr/Sie (formal)
they = sie

Sie trägt blaue Schuhe
She is wearing blue shoes.

Er trägt einen roten Pullover
He is wearing a red sweatshirt.

Ich trage einen weißen Hut
I am wearing a white hat.

Negative statements

In the German language, to give a sentence a negative meaning, just put the word nicht in front of adjective and after verbs.

Das Telefon ist nicht rot, es ist schwarz.
This telephone is not red, it's black.

Der Mann sitzt nicht, er steht vor der Fabrik.
The man is not sitting, he is standing in front of the factory.

To give a sentence a negative meaning, besides using the word nicht you can also sometimes use niemals to emphasize that something never happened.

Der Mann spricht nicht / der Mann spricht niemals
The man is not speaking / The man never speaks.

To ask questions in the German language we use the following question words:

wer = who
wie = how
was = what
wieso, weshalb, warum = why
wo = where
welche/r/s = which

These words are Fragewörter, which are added at the beginning of the sentence.

Was macht die Frau? / What is the woman doing?
Die Frau kocht. / The woman is cooking.

Take note, that although the words wieso and weshalb are interchangeable when used in a question, weshalb is more formal than wieso.

In addition, the normal sentence structure S-V-O changes to V-S-O.

Was trinkt der Mann? / What is the man drinking?
Der Mann trinkt ein Bier / The man is drinking beer.

The question word wo/ where is used to ask for a specific location, verbs like (sein) and (befinden) (both mean to be) need to be used.

Wo sind der Mann und die Frau? / Where are the man and the woman?
Der Mann und die Frau sind im Wohnzimmer. / The man and the woman are in the living room.


In German, the question word what can also be translated as welche.

Welche Farbe hat das Auto? / What color is the car?
Das Auto ist weiß. / The car is white.

As mentioned above, Welche/r/s can also mean which. The examples below show how their use differs in the German language:

Welches Auto gehört der Frau? / Which car belongs to the woman?

Welche Farbe hat das Auto? / What color is the car?

In German the question word who is wer.

Wer ist der Mechaniker? / Who is the mechanic?

In formulating a question without using a question word, you will see haben Sie.. / do you have... or gibt es... / is there... often.

Entschuldigen Sie bitte, gibt es am Flughafen ein hotel?
Excuse me, is there a hotel at the airport?

Ja, am Flughafen gibt es ein Hotel.
Yes, there's a hotel at the airport.

When we compare two things in German, we follow in every case the same Grammar rule (few exception), which is similar to the rule in English. You can follow this formula:

Object A + form of verb sein / to be + adj. adding the ending -er + ,als + Object B.

Der Hund + ist + häßlich-er + als + die Katze.
The dog is uglier than the cat.

Please take note of these exceptions to the rule. The comparative forms of the following adjectives are irregular:

viel (much/many) - mehr (more)

Du hast mehr Geld, als ich.
You have more money than me.

Du kannst besser Tennis spielen, als ich.
You are a better Tennis player than me.

gut / good - besser / better

Superlative Comparisons (most)

Der Elefant ist das größte Tier auf dem Bild.
The elephant is the biggest animal in the picture.

Take note on the example that for biggest the German adjective groß is declined größte and received an article (das).

Shown below is the progression of the verb including the superlative.

Die Schlange ist klein. / The snake is small = positive form
Die Schlange ist kleiner, als der Tiger. / The snake is smaller than the tiger = comparative form
Die Schlange ist das kleinste Tier auf dem Bild. / The snake is the smallest animal in the picture = superlative form
Die Schlange ist am kleinsten. / The snake is the smallest. = superlative form

Counting in German is very simple once you know the basics. Just like you count in English, after reaching the number 12, you continue naming all digits, which make out that number e.g. fourteen...

In English, once you hit number 20 you continue counting with the number twenty-one (...) naming the decimal decadal number first. The difference in German is that you continue naming the decadal number last, therefore twenty-one would become einundzwanzig.

Take note that the word und is added to bind two digits together.

Der Junge hat drei (3) Bälle.
The boy has three balls.

Der Junge hat dreiundzwanzig (23) Bälle. (note that und is always a part of the number; think of it like in math 3+/and 20)

Note the difference below:

1 - when counting = eins BUT
Der Junge hat einen Ball / the boy has one ball

Ein Mann / one man
Eine Frau / one woman

0 - when counting = Null BUT
Der Junge hat keine Bälle / The boy has no balls.

The following table shows that the building of numbers in German follows a very regular pattern:

0 – null
1 – eins
2 – zwei
3 – drei
4 – vier
5 – fünf
6 – sechs
7 – sieben
8 – acht
9 – neun
10 – zehn
11 – elf
12 – zwölf
13 – dreizehn
14 – vierzehn
15 – fünfzehn
16 – sechszehn
17 – siebzehn
18 – achtzehn
19 – neunzehn
20 – zwanzig
21 – einundzwanzig
22 - zweiundzwanzig...
30 – dreißig
40 - vierzig...
100 - hundert