A Tiny Taste of the German Language

As you may know, I’ve been taking online German lessons since September. I love my classes, and my husband and I have already begun to reap some of the rewards of my increasing German vocabulary. I absolutely cannot imagine how exhausting it must be for my husband to constantly have to think and speak in a foreign language when he talks to me. Thankfully, each new word I learn brings us one word closer to my ultimate goal which is for him to speak to me only in German, and even if I can’t reply in German, I can at least understand.

Don’t worry, though. I’m not putting too much stress on myself to reach that goal anytime soon. I’ll be in my online classes for at least 18 more months, but giving him the ability to communicate with me solely in German is definitely the end-goal.

All that being said, today I want to give you just a tiny taste of the difficulties of the German language:

For those of you who have studied a foreign language, you may know that English is one of the only languages that doesn’t assign genders to nouns. In Spanish, for example, you have two words for the English word “the”; el and la. “La Chica” (the girl) is of course feminine, and “el chico” (the boy) is masculine. It’s all the same to us in English though. It’s always just THE. Which is so. darn. fantabulous!

German, however, doesn’t just have masculine and feminine nouns, but neutral ones as well. The articles are as follows:

die (pronounced dee) = feminine

der = masculine

das = neutral

Tisch (table) is masculine so “the table” is “der Tisch” (In German ALL nouns are capitalized, by the way.)

However, it’s not enough to memorize that Tisch is masculine because in German, they are very concerned with sentence structure.

For example:

If the table is the subject of the sentence, you use the Nominativ case and the article remains “der.” (der Tisch).

If the table is the indirect object in the sentence, you use the Dativ case and the article gets changed from der to dem. It is now “dem Tisch.”

If the table is the direct object in the sentence, it is the Akkusative case and the article gets changed to den. It is now “den Tisch.”

So to sum up, “the table” in German can either be “der Tisch,” “dem Tisch,” or “den Tisch” depending on the role in plays in the sentence.

So, when I try to form sentences in German, first I must know the gender of the noun. Then, I must decide if the noun is the subject, indirect object, or direct object of the sentence. From there I must be able to remember how the original article gets changed based on the classification of the noun within the sentence. And don’t even get me started on sentences with TWO nouns! Aye yie yie!

Ich muss täglich üben! (I must practice daily!)

There, if you actually made it through this post (mom, you still with me?) then you have felt the tiniest bit of my pain. Now go speak English to someone and use the word “the” loudly and proudly! Shout it out! Make it heard!



11 Comments Add yours

  1. Good for you!! If you know what direct and indirect objects are, you’re more advanced than 50% of the Americans I know (93% if you count all the 10th grade students I taught over 16 years). Then again, in English we don’t have to care what an indirect object is, because we always say THE. Well, except with pronouns – how many Americans do you know who know consistently when to use “me” (object) and when to use “I” (subject)?? “She called Jim and I”….uh, no.

    You might enjoy reading Mark Twain’s essay “The Awful German Language”!

    I have a sheet that gives hints for noun genders – for instance ALL German nouns that end with -chen are DAS, ALL German nouns that end with -ung as a suffix are DIE, ALL precipitation is DER, etc. My current students (refugees from Syria and Eritrea) said it helped a lot. If you’d like me to send that to you, let me know.

    1. Yes, please, please, PLEASE send it to me!!!!!

    2. ivikussmaul says:

      Wow I didn’t even know that! How did you find out?

  2. Janet K Hall says:

    I read to the end, but it was Greek (or German) to me. 🙂

    1. Tee he he. Some days it feels like Greek to me, too. 🙂

  3. ivikussmaul says:

    The whole “the” thing is a piece of cake compared to the conjugation of verbs! We don’t want to talk about the whole active passive pluperfect thing, do we? When I learned English, I was so thankful for like … 100?… Irregular verbs that I needed to memorize. Sometimes I feel like there is just no regular in German haha. Very astonished there are people learning it! Keep fighting!

    1. ivikussmaul, The verb conjugations were difficult at first, but one day I sat down with my German husband and created a big spreadsheet of the conjugations of all the German verbs I could think of. After that day, the pattern was more visible to me and I almost never had to use the spreadsheet I worked so hard to create. Thanks for the encouragement!

      1. ivikussmaul says:

        Wow, that sounds great! God I think maybe your knowledge of German is bigger than mine haha there’s no pattern going on here hahaha

      2. Are you German or learning German? I assume by your name that you’re German, but I’d be happy to email you the spreadsheet if you’re interested.

      3. ivikussmaul says:

        Oh I’m German 🙂 how about you?

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