German Grammar Made Easy



The fact is, language is a tool that has to be used whilst it is still being developed. Hence, language learning starts with simple structures. Structures that are more complex are added later during the process. The learner looks for similarities and patterns to recognize, while constantly being confronted with exceptions.

In general, this learning process is executed in the same way, regardless of if the person is a native speaker or a second language learner. However, one difference that does exist is that those who learn German as a foreign language start learning the language later in life, and thus have much less time to acquire it than native speakers. Furthermore, they have already learnt a different language with a different grammatical rule system. This transfer of structures can be both positive (similarities between two languages) as well as negative (false friends, word order, etc).

Therefore, it is important for learners of a foreign language to focus on speaking the language while still working on developing an understanding of the new language system. Here, I present three useful methods that the typical learner can use to tackle German grammar. This should help you to learn grammar more effectively and, thus, give you more time to actually speak the language and apply the rules.


1.Learn the general rules and make note of exceptions



Before you start learning, I recommend that you have your language level assessed. This will give you an idea of where you are and provide you with a useful reference point.

There are basic rules and helpful patterns for almost every aspect of German grammar. Here are a few general rules:

Articles:

-Neutrum: das/ein for nouns ending with -ma, -ment, -um, -lein, -nis, -tum -chen and das Kind.
-Masculine: der/ein for all months, weekdays, car brands, trains and nouns ending with: -er, -ling, -or, -ismus, -ig.
-Natural gender (masculine: der, feminine: die): die Mutter, der Vater.
-Feminine: die/eine for female professions and nouns ending with: -heit, -ur, -keit, -ei, -tät, -schaft, -ie, -ung, -e, -ik, -ion.
-The plural article is always die, never ein! die Mütter, die Väter, die Kinder

Nouns:

Always learn articles and nouns together, as this will be a fundamental grammar point for more advanced structures. The second part of the noun defines the gender of compound nouns (das Gartenhaus, das Haus, das Baumhaus, das Haus).

-Nominative: does not change at all.
-Dative: the masculine and neuter articles der/das both become dem.
-Accusative: only the masculine article der changes to den.

Prepositions:

Local prepositions are in the dative, accusative or both. The case depends on place (dative) or movement/change (accusative):

-Ich bin in der Bank. (place)
-Ich gehe in die Bank. (movement)

-Ich sitze auf der Bank.(place)
-Ich lege die Zeitung auf die Bank. (movement)

Verbs:

Learn the tenses for regular verbs in the following order (as soon as you know the perfect):

-Infinitive / Past / Participle II
-kauf-en / kauf-te / ge-kauf-t

Adverbs:

Adverbs cannot be declined, are (generally) not comparable and are usually placed next to the verb (adverb from the Latin ad verbum).

Adjectives:

Adjectives are comparable and can be placed in two different positions:

-Before a noun: requires declension with a definite, indefinite or zero article (learn nominative, dative and accusative first; genitive is the exception!)
-After a verb: no declension required. Das Leben ist schön.

Connectors:

For main clause: aber, denn, doch, oder, sondern, und with word order being conjunction + subject + finite verb.

Negation:

nicht:

-Always used before prepositions.
-Used with separable verbs between the two parts (after the full verb).
-Used before adjectives and adverbs.

kein:

-Used only before a noun that is treated like the indefinite article / Plural kein-e for each gender (keine Männer, keine Kinder, keine Frauen).

Sentences:

Verbs go in the second position in a main clause and in sentences with adverbial conjunction; they are put in the last position with a subordinate clause.

Word order for Satzklammer { … } for main clauses:

-Separable verbs: abfliegen - Ich fliege morgen ab.
-Tenses: fliegen - Ich bin gestern geflogen.
-Modal verbs: möchten - Ich möchte morgen fliegen.

Word order sentences with adverbial conjunction (examples with deshalb):

-Separable verbs: abfliegen … deshalb fliege ich morgen ab.
-Tenses: fliegen ... deshalb bin ich gestern geflogen.
-Modal verbs: fliegen ... deshalb möchte ich morgen fliegen.

Word order for subordinate clauses (examples with weil):

-Separable verbs: abfliegen … weil ich morgen abfliege.
-Tenses: fliegen ... weil ich gestern geflogen bin.
-Modal verbs: fliegen ... weil ich morgen fliegen möchte.

The basic order for facultative sentence components is te ka mo lo:

-te stands for time aspect: temporal.
-ka stands for reason: causal.
-mo stands for the way something is done: modal
-lo stands for a place: local.


No matter how many objects there are, lo (local) is always placed at the end.

-Ich lerne (te) am Montag (ka) für meinen Test (mo) sehr viel (lo) zu Hause.
-Ich lerne (te) am Montag (ka) für meinen Test (lo) zu Hause.
-Ich lerne (ka) für meinen Test (mo) sehr viel (lo) zu Hause.
-Ich lerne (te) am Montag (lo) zu Hause.

Knowing the basics will help you to learn the exceptions. Learn them as you progress. I recommend starting the process right from the beginning: learn and apply the general rules and add exceptions as you go. Naturally, it will take more time to learn the exceptions, but with the basic rules, you will already be able to converse and write in German.


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