There is one, extremely crucial difference between German grammar and English grammar: In German, there are virtually no exceptions to rules. In a way, this makes it easier to learn German than English. Once you learn the rules, you’re done; there is no need to memorize long lists of exceptions.
One of the only exceptions in common use came into being in the late 1960s, and that is substituting the pronoun “sie,” which means she, for “es,” which means it, when discussing female children. The difficulty arose from the German rule which classifies all German nouns ending in “-lein” and “-chen,” both of which are diminutives, as neuter. Including the neuter definite article, the German noun for young girl is “das Maedchen”; therefore, German language authorities enacted the change so that people could address young girls in the third person using she. To learn German, you should be aware of these chief differences from English:
- Three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter
- Four cases: nominative, genitive, dative and accusative
- Adjective endings relating to gender and case
- Subordinating conjunctions throw the verb to the end of the sentence
- No silent letters and uniform pronunciation
Gender, Case and Adjective Endings
Modern English has eschewed differing genders for hundreds of years. German grammar includes three specific genders and one plural form. Both the definite and indefinite articles change based on gender, case, and plurality. These are the definite articles in German grammar:
- “Der,” which is masculine
- “Die,” which is feminine
- “Das,” which is neuter
- “Die,” which is also the plural form
The indefinite articles are:
- “Ein,” which is used for either masculine or neuter nouns
- “Eine,” which is used for feminine or plural nouns
In English, there are only two cases: subjective and objective. The forms “the” and “a” do not change when the case changes. As stated, German grammar has four cases, and these cases affect the articles and their resulting adjective endings. For example, the German word for table is “der Tisch,” and the word for book is “das Buch.” To say, “I lay the book on the table,” you would say “Ich lege das Buch auf den Tisch.” The noun “das Buch” is the direct object of the sentence; therefore it would be in the accusative case. The accusative form of the definite article “das” is still “das.” Notice, however, that the article changed for “der Tisch” and became “den Tisch.” In German, the rule for showing motion is: Any nouns that receive that motion are in the accusative case. Therefore, “der” changes to its accusative form, which is “den.” In all, there are 16 forms each of both the definite and indefinite articles. Basically, four cases multiplied by four gender forms equals 16. When you learn German, this is the most complex thing you’ll encounter.
Word Order and pronuciation
Middle English and modern German have similar rules for the placement of words within a sentence. Certain conjunctions, called subordinating, cause the verb to be placed at the end of a sentence. In modern English, no one says, “I’ll go to sleep as soon as I at home arrive” except Yoda. In German, that sentence is translated: “Ich werde schlafen sobald ich nach Hause eintreffe.” “Eintreffen” means to arrive, and “nach Hause” is a German idiom meaning at home. “Sobald” is as soon as. “Ich werde schlafen” is “I will sleep.” There is good news, however, when you learn German. Every letter is pronounced the same way every time. There are also no silent letters.
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