Learning German articles, the equivalent of “the” and “a/an” in English, takes students a long time. It is a slow process that you will have to go through if you want to improve. In this blog, I will give you a brief introduction to German articles and I assume you are already familiar with the concept of cases and the 3 genders in German. If you are not, look at my blog on German cases and genders before you read on.
In English, we have two types of articles: determinate article (the) and indeterminate article (a/an). In German, articles are much more complicated. In total, there are 16 possibilities for “the”, depending on the gender and case. Similarly, there are 16 possibilities for “a/an”.
Below, I will look at the 12 possibilities for the determinate article “the” in the 3 main cases, Nominativ, Akkusativ and Dativ. The Genitiv case is usually learnt at an intermediate level rather than at level A1 or A2.
Remember that there are 3 genders in German: masculine, feminine and neutral (look at my blog about the 3 German genders). In addition, we have one single plural form for all 3 genders. This means that we have 4 possibilities for each case.
Let’s look at the NOMINATIV, the subject of the sentence:
MASCULINE der Mann the man
FEMININE die Frauthe woman
NEUTRALdas Kindthe child
PLURAL die Kinder the children
We notice that the article remains the same in English, while in German we must specify the gender. In addition to specifying the gender, we must also determine whether the word we use is the subject of the sentence (as in the table above with the Nominativ), the direct object (Akkusativ) or the indirect object (Dativ).
Let’s look at the AKKUSATIV, the direct object of the sentence:
MASCULINE den Mann the man
FEMININE die Frau the woman
NEUTRALdas Kind the child
PLURAL die Kinder the children
We notice that in the Akkusativ only the masculine article changes while all the others remain the same.
Let’s look at the DATIV, the indirect object of the sentence:
MASCULINE dem Mann the man
FEMININE der Frau the woman
NEUTRALdem Kind the child
PLURAL den Kindern the children
We notice that all the articles change in the Dativ. We also notice that the masculine and the neutral are the same (dem), the feminine (der) is the same as the masculine in the Nominativ and the Dativ plural requires an extra “n” to be added to the noun. Let us look at some sentences:
Die Frau gibt dem Mann das Buch.
The woman gives the book to the man.
Das Kind gibt der Frau das Buch.
The child gives the book to the woman.
Der Mann gibt der Frau das Buch.
The man gives the book to the woman.
Here we see that in English we simply repeat “the” three times, while in German we need to specify both the case and the gender, choosing the correct “the” every time.
Mastering articles and cases in German requires time, energy and practise. It usually takes a few years before students feel comfortable with declining articles in the different cases, so be patient and work regularly if you are starting to learn German.