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German Articles for Beginners

This lesson contains topics:

  1. German nominative case
  2. Definite article in German
  3. Indefinite article in German
  4. Negation with "kein"
  5. Use of the word "das"
  6. German compound nouns
  7. Sentence structure in German
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Note for the visitors who have directly landed on this page from the search engine, this page is part of the step-by-step German learning course at level A1. To see the complete explaination of German articles, please visit the page German Articles under the section Summary of German Grammar.

German nominative case

Before learning German articles it's important to know grammatical cases. The first grammatical case is the nominative case case (in German "der Nominativ").

In English, the nominative case is also known as the subjective case. The subject in a sentence is a noun or a pronoun that performs an action or some information is given about it as a complement.

Subject Verb Complement
Der König ist reich.
The king is rich.
Der Bäcker ist arm.
The baker is poor.

The king and baker are subjects in the above sentences and thus are in the subjective case or nominative case. In German, the king is der Nominativ and the same is the case for the baker.

Nominativ-Ergänzung
Subject
Verb Qualitative-Ergänzung
Complement
Der König ist reich.
Der Bäcker ist arm.

Grammatical cases play a very important role in the German language. In German, both definite and indefinite articles decline according to the respective grammatical case.

This lesson is about basic forms of German articles without declensions i.e. articles in the nominative case. We shall discuss other cases and declension in coming lessons step by step.

The other three grammatical cases are:

Definite article in German

In German, the definite article is called der bestimmte Artikel.

As discussed in the previous lesson, German nouns have three types of genders. Contrary to the English language, where the single definite article "the" is used for both genders, German has different forms of definite article for each of its three genders.

  1. der for masculine nouns, for example, der Mann (the man),

  2. die for feminine nouns, for example, die Frau (the woman),

  3. das for neuter nouns, for example, das Messer (the knife).
German definite article

Plural of the definite article is easy, it is always die. Please see the following examples.

der Mann (singular) , die Männer (plural)

die Frau (singular) , die Frauen (plural)

das Messer (singular) , die Messer (plural)

German plural definite article

Definite articles "der", "die", "das" and their plural form "die" decline with accusative and dative cases, which we will discuss in coming lessons.

Indefinite article in German

der unbestimmte Artikel

Unlike the English language, which has two indefinite articles, i.e. a and an, the German language has one indefinite article, ein. However, German indefinite article has two forms:

  1. For masculine and neuter nouns, ein
    for example, ein Mann (a man) ,
    ein Messer (a knife) ,
    ein Mädchen (a girl) .
  2. For feminine nouns, eine
    for example, eine Frau (a woman) .
German indefinite article

The following video summarizes the topic of German definite and indefinite articles.

Negation with "kein"

"Kein" is not an article, it’s a negation word, and means "not a" or "not any", but it behaves similar to indefinite articles ein and eine.

German kein

Following are some example sentences with the negation kein.

Hier ist ein Mann. (Here is a man.)

Hier ist kein Mann. (There is no man here.)

Hier ist ein Messer. (Here is a knife.)

Hier ist kein Messer. (There is no knife here.)

Hier ist ein Mädchen. (Here is a girl.)

Hier ist kein Mädchen. (There is no girl here.)

Hier ist eine Frau. (Here is a woman.)

Hier ist keine Frau. (There is no woman here.)

Warum ist keine Frau hier ? (Why is no woman here?)

The negation word "kein" also has a plural declination, and it is always "Keine" in the nominative case.

Die Hunde sind keine Katzen.
Dogs are not cats.

der Hund (dog), die Hunde (dogs)

sind (are)

die Katze (cat), die Katzen (cats)

The word "das"

Apart from its usage as a definite article, the word das is also used as a demonstrative pronoun "this" and "that". In colloquial language for all three genders, for example:

Das ist Familie Müller. (This is Mueller family.)

Das ist Herr Sebastian Müller. (This is Mr. Sebastian Mueller.)

Er ist Arzt. (He is doctor.)

Das ist Frau Lisa Müller. (This is Mrs. Lisa Mueller.)

Sie ist Zahnärztin. (She is dentist.)

Doktor Sebastian Müller ist auch Sozialarbeiter. (Doctor Sebastian Mueller is also social worker/welfare worker.)

Frau Doktor Lisa Müller ist auch Professorin an der Medizinuniversität. (Doctor Lisa Müller is also (working as a) professor at the medical university.)

German compound nouns

Joining two nouns to form a single noun is a common practice among many European languages, including German. In the above example "der Zahn" and "der Arzt" are two separate nouns, and they combine to form a single noun "der Zahnarzt".

A noun formed by the combination of two nouns extracts its article from the last noun in the combination. As in the above example, "der Zahnarzt" (dentist) gets its article from the last word in the combination, i.e. "der Arzt".

"Die Medizinuniversität" is the combination of two nouns, "die Medizin" and "die Universität" and gets its article "die" from the last noun, "die Universität".

But just recently we have learned a sentence where the noun Universität is using the article "der". i.e. Frau Doktor Lisa Müller ist auch Professorin an der Medizinuniversität.

Medizinuniversität (medical university) is still a feminine noun, even with the article "der". This is the declination of the original article "die" into "der" due to the preposition "an", (which means at in English). Certain prepositions also cause declination of the article and we shall discuss in the coming lessons how articles decline with certain cases and prepositions. In this chapter, it is just a hint that you should be ready for what's coming next.

A combination can also be formed by joining an article and a noun, as in the above example, "der Sozialarbeiter".

In the case of "Sozialarbeiterin" it would be "die Sozialarbeiterin" , or in case of "Sozialgeld" it would be "das Sozialgeld" (social money) , because the last word in the combination is "das Geld" (money).

Some other examples of compound nouns:

das Autobahnkreuz (motorway junction)
die Autobahn (motorway / highway) + das Kreuz (cross)

die Einbahnstraße (one-way street)
die Einbahn (one-way) + die straße (street / road)

der Zebrastreifen (cross-walk / zebra crossing)
das Zebra (zebra) + der Streifen (band / strip)

die Tiefgarage (underground parking lot )
tief (deep) + die Garage (garage)

To learn more about traffic system in Germany, please visit lets-learn-german.com/drivingingermany.

The following is the video summary of the topic compound nouns.

Sentence structure in German

In the previous lesson, we learned the different elements in a sentence. Now we can discuss the structure of a sentence in the German language. It is very much similar to English.

  1. The subject is the first element in a sentence.
  2. The verb is the second element in a sentence.
  3. Verb is either followed by a direct object or complement.

We can see this in examples from the previous lesson.

Subject Verb Complement
Der König ist reich.
The king is rich.
Der Bäcker ist arm.
The baker is poor.

Sometimes a particle is placed before the object, but it doesn't change the position numbers of elements, because the particles occupy no position. In other words, if the particle is placed before the object then the particle position is zero. The object is still the first element and verb is the second element. For example,

Vielleicht der König ist sehr reich. (Maybe the king is very rich.)
Und der Bäcker ist arm. (And the baker is poor.) Okay, aber die Milch ist immer weiß. (Ok, but the milk is always white.)

In the above examples, the words "vielleicht" and "und" are particles and their position in the sentence is not one but zero.

Vocabulary building

Eine Katze ist kein Hund und ein Zebra ist kein Pferd.
A cat is not a dog and a zebra is not a horse.

Ein Ei ist kein Ball aber der Thunfisch ist ein Fisch.
An egg is not a ball but the tuna is a fish.

die Katze (cat)

der Hund (dog)

das Zebra (zebra)

das Pferd (horse)

das Ei (egg)

der Ball (ball)

der Fisch (fish)

der Thunfisch (tuna)

New words

die Familie (family)

Herr (Mr.)

der Arzt (doctor)

die Ärztin (lady doctor)

die Frau (Mrs., woman)

der Zahnarzt (dentist / dental surgeon)

die Zahnärztin (female dentist / dental surgeon)

auch (also)

der Sozialarbeiter (social worker)

sozial (social)

der Arbeiter (worker)

die Arbeiterin (female worker)

die Medizinuniversität (medical university)

die Universität (university)

das Autobahnkreuz (motorway junction)

die Einbahnstraße (one-way street)

der Zebrastreifen (cross-walk / zebra crossing)

die Tiefgarage (underground parking lot )

die Katze (cat)

der Hund (dog)

das Zebra (zebra)

das Pferd (horse)

das Ei (egg)

der Ball (ball)

der Fisch (fish)

der Thunfisch (tuna)

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