DaF level A1 (Beginners)

German Articles : definite articles and indefinite articles

German has three words — der, die and das — for the definite article the. To make matters more confusing for someone learning German, these three definite articles change spelling according to the case of the noun that they appear with in a sentence.

The same is true for the indefinite articles. Just as English has two indefinite articles — a and an — that you use with singular nouns, German also has two indefinite articles (in the nominative case): einfor masculine- and neuter-gender words and eine for feminine-gender words.

Another similarity with English is that the German indefinite article ein/eine doesn’t have a plural form. Depending on how you’re describing something plural, you may or may not need to use the plural definite article. Consider the following generalized statement, which requires no article: In Zermatt sind Autos verboten. (Cars are forbidden in Zermatt [Switzerland].)

The following table shows you the definite articles and the corresponding indefinite articles (nominative case):

Gender/NumberDefinite (the)Indefinite (a/an)
Masculinederein
Femininedieeine
Neuterdasein
Pluraldie(no plural form)
Nouns in plural

To form plural nouns in German, we can add -n/-en, -e, -e/-er, or -s to the end of the noun.

exercise here!
Personal pronouns

The biggest difference between German personal pronouns and English personal pronouns is that you have to distinguish among three ways to say you: du, ihr, and Sie. Other personal pronouns, like ich and mich (I and me) or wir and uns (we and us), bear a closer resemblance to English.

The genitive case isn’t represented among the personal pronouns because it indicates possession; the personal pronouns represent only people, not something those people possess.

Check out the following table for a list of the personal pronouns. Notice that you and it don’t change in English and the accusative (for direct objects) and dative (for indirect objects) pronouns are identical. The table lists the distinguishing factors for the three forms of you — du, ihr, and Sie — in abbreviated form. Here’s what the abbreviations mean: s. = singular, pl. = plural, inf. = informal, form. = formal.

Nominative (nom.)Accusative (acc.)Dative (dat.)
ich (I)mich (me)mir (me)
du (you) (s., inf.)dich (you) (s., inf.)dir (you) (s., inf.)
er (he)ihn (him)ihm (him)
sie (she)sie (her)ihr (her)
es (it)es (it)ihm (it)
wir (we)uns (us)uns (us)
ihr (you) (pl., inf.)euch (you) (pl., inf.)euch (you) (pl., inf.)
sie (they)sie (them)ihnen (them)
Sie (you) (s. or pl., form.)Sie (you) (s. or pl., form.)Ihnen (you) (s. or pl., form.)
exercise here!
Verbs in the simple present tense Präsens

Talking and writing in German is usually a matter of knowing how to construct a verb in the present tense with the help of a noun (subject) and a few other elements. Most German verbs are regular, meaning they follow a standard pattern of conjugation.

To conjugate a regular verb in the present tense, just drop the -en from the infinitive and add the appropriate ending to the stem. In the present tense, English has only the ending -s or no ending at all (I live, you live, he lives), whereas German has four endings (-e, -st, -t, and -en).

In the following table, arbeiten (to work) represents a verb type that has slightly different endings in the du, er/sie/es, and ihr forms; tanzen (to dance) and heißen (to be called ) stand for types with different endings in the du form. Verb endings are indicated in bold.

Verbs in the simple present tense Präsens

exercise here!
Present perfect

The present perfect tense is formed by using one of three types of past participles: weak (regular), strong (irregular), and mixed.

In English, we say, “We saw him yesterday.” This can be expressed in German as, “Wir sahen ihn gestern.” (simple past, Imperfekt) or “Wir haben ihn gestern gesehen.” (present perfect, Perfekt).

The latter form is also referred to as a “compound tense” because it is formed by combining a helping verb (haben) with the past participle (gesehen). Even though the literal translation of “Wir haben ihn gestern gesehen,” is “We have seen him yesterday,” it would normally be expressed in English simply as, “We saw him yesterday.”

Study these example German verbs with their past participle forms in the present perfect tense:

to havehabenhat gehabt
to gogehenist gegangen
to buykaufenhat gekauft
to bringbringenhat gebracht

You should notice several things about the verbs above:

  1. Some have past participles that end in -t, while others end in -en.
  2. Some use haben (to have) as a helping verb, while others use sein (to be). Keep this in mind as we continue our review of the German present perfect.

Weak Verbs

Regular (or weak) verbs are predictable and can be “pushed around.” Their past participles always end in -t and are basically the third person singular with ge– in front of it:

to playspielengespielt
to makemachengemacht
to say, tellsagengesagt

The so-called –ieren verbs (fotografierenreparierenstudierenprobieren, etc.) do not add ge– to their past participles: hat fotografiert.

Strong Verbs

Irregular (or strong) verbs are unpredictable and cannot be “pushed around.” They tell you what they’re going to do. Their past participles end in –en and must be memorized:

to gogehengegangen
to speak, talksprechengesprochen

Although there are various patterns that their past participles follow (and they sometimes resemble similar patterns in English) it is best to simply memorize past participles such as gegessengesungengeschrieben, or gefahren.

It should also be noted that there are more rules for verbs with separable and inseparable prefixes, though we won’t get into that here.

Mixed Verbs

This third category is also rather unpredictable. As with the other irregular verbs, the participles for mixed verbs need to be memorized. As their name implies, these mixed verbs mix elements of the weak and strong verbs to form their past participles. While they end in –like weak verbs, they have a stem change like strong verbs:

to bringbringengebracht
to knowkennengekannt
to knowwissengewußt

When to Use Sein as Helping Verb

In English, the present perfect is always formed with the helping verb “have,” but in German some verbs require “to be” (sein) instead. There is a rule for this condition:

Verbs that are intransitive (take no direct object) and involve a change of condition or location use sein as a helping verb, rather than the more common haben. Among the few exceptions to this rule are sein itself and bleiben, both of which take sein as their helping verb.

This rule applies to only a small number of verbs and it is best to simply memorize those that typically use sein as a helping verb. One thing that will help is to remember them is that most of these are intransitive verbs which refer to motion.

  • bleiben (to stay)
  • fahren (to drive, travel)
  • fallen (to fall)
  • gehen (to go)
  • kommen (to come)
  • laufen (to run)
  • reisen (to travel)
  • sein (to be)
  • steigen (to climb)
  • sterben (to die)
  • wachsen (to grow)
  • werden (to become)

Example

Er ist schnell gelaufen.” means “He ran fast.”

exercise here!
Negation in German with kein/keine/keinen

When someone is asking you in German for a particular noun, for example, when you are asked if you have or posses something, e.g. timea brothera sisterchildrena pen, etc., you have to use a declined form of the word kein in order to negate your statement.

For example, when I ask you the following questions:

1. Hast du Zeit? – Do you have time?

2. Hast du Hunger. – Are you hungry? (lit. Do you have hunger?)

3. Hast du eine Schwester? – Do you have a sister?

4. Haben sie einen Sohn? – Do you have a son?

5. Haben Sie Kinder? – Do you have children?

6. Hast du einen Stift? – Do you have a pen?

The correct German responses would be:

1. Nein, ich habe keine Zeit. – No, I have no time. / No, I don’t have time.

2. Nein, ich habe keinen Hunger. – No, I am not hungry. (lit. No, I have no hunger.)

3. Nein, Ich habe keine Schwester. – No, I have no sister. / No, I don’t have a sister.

4. Nein, ich habe keinen Sohn. – No, I have no son. / No, I don’t have a son.

5. Nein, ich habe keine Kinder. – No, I have no children. / No, I don’t have children.

6. Nein, ich habe keinen Stift. – No, I have no pen. / No, I don’t have a pen.

In the singular kein is declined like the indefinite articles.

In the plural kein is declined like the definite articles.

SingularPlural
masculinefeminineneuter
Nominativeein

kein

einekeineeinkeindiekeine
Genitiveeines

keines

einerkeinereineskeinesderkeiner
Dativeeinem

keinem

einerkeinereinemkeinemdenkeinen
Accusativeeinen

keinen

einekeineeinkeindiekeine

So, all you have to do is to add the letter k to the indefinite articles and you will always obtain the corresponding negation word.

Please note, that you can only negate you statement with keinwhen the noun you are talking about is either used without articles or with indefinite articles.

Without articles:

Sie isst Äpfel. – She eats apples.

Sie isst keine Äpfel. – She doesn’t eat apples. (lit. She eats no apples.)

Er trinkt Kaffee. – He drinks coffee.

Er trink keinen Kaffee. – He doesn’t drink coffee. (lit. He drinks no coffee.)

With indefinite articles:

Sie isst einen Apfel. – She is eating an apple.

Sie isst keinen Apfel. – She isn’t eating an apple. (lit. She is eating no apple.)

Er trinkt eine Tasse Kaffee. – He is drinking a cup of coffee.

Er trink keine Tasse Kaffee. – He isn’t drinking a cup of coffee. (lit. He is drinking no cup of coffee.)

exercise here!
Der– words (dies- , jed- , welch-, all)

These are the words that function like the definite article in that they share the same endings with articles. The stems of these words are:

dies-this
jen-that
jed-every / each
manch-(many a) (plural = some, many)
solch-such, so, those, etc. Consult your dictionary.
welch-which / what
all-all

Using dies– as our example der-word, our chart looks as follows:

MASCULINEFEMININENEUTERPLURAL
NOMINATIVEdieserdiesediesesdiese
ACCUSATIVEdiesendiesediesesdiese
DATIVEdiesemdieserdiesemdiesen
)
GENITIVEdieses
dieserdieses
dieser

Points to remember:

  1. Der– words share the same endings as the definite article.
  2. All– will only appear in plural usages.
  3. Dies– and jen– when used alone can mean “the latter” and “the former” respectively. Example:

    Die Eltern meiner Frau heißen Johann und Margarete. Diese ist 62 Jahre alt, jener 65 Jahre alt.
    The parents of my wife are named Johann and Margarete. The latter is 62 years old, the former 65 years old.

    Note that your cue for this special meaning is that diese and jener in the second sentence do not “belong to” – or modify – a noun. They are standing alone. Normally you expect a noun (possibly with that noun’s other modifiers) to follow any der-word.

exercise here!