German articles

all you need to know to learn how to use der, die, das

 

How to learn German articles 

All German nouns have a specific gender: der, die, and das. They are three different ways to say "the" in German, depending on the gender of the noun. 

The German articles are used similarly to the English articles "a" and "the". They are declined depending on the noun's number, gender and case.

The articles ein and eine are used equivalently with the word "a" in English. Like their English equivalent, it has no direct form for a plural, in which case some alternatives such as mehrere (some; several) or einige (some) would be used.

If you want to understand the differences between the three German articles and learn when and how to use them correctly, know the gender of the noun! 

Knowing the gender of the noun is inevitable, essential, and one of the most critical factors of the German language. There are no detours or shortcuts, so please learn the articles directly with the nouns from the beginning. There are several ways to learn the articles.

Use colours: Mark masculine nouns in blue, feminine nouns in red, neutral nouns in green, and plural nouns in yellow. Alternatively, you can use a table and write new nouns in four columns divided into masculine, feminine, neutral and plural.

definite articles - the

indefinite articles - a

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Why is it so important to know "der, die, das" so precisely anyway?

When you're learning German, you'll notice very quickly that many words, like articles and adjectives, undergo slight grammatical changes. In English, there is often no equivalent to this.

To know how to make these changes correctly, you need to know whether the noun is masculine (der), feminine (die), or neutral (das).

 

All German nouns have a gender.

We can't apply the concept of the gender of nouns to English, but if you studied Spanish or French in school, you encountered gendered nouns there: el (masculine) and la (feminine) in Spanish, and le (masculine) and la (feminine) in French. German even has a third gender: the neuter - the genderless gender! 

Important: There are no inherent properties of the noun that make it "masculine," "feminine," or "neuter." 

 

Regardless of the noun, its gender says nothing about the noun itself (the only exception is that humans and animals usually have the gender that is intuitive, e.g., both woman and cow are feminine, and man and bull are masculine, etc.).

However, it is not the case that certain gendered things are feminine or masculine; it does not mean that tools, trucks, and bugs are masculine while dolls, lipstick, and dresses are feminine. Nor does it mean that things used by both men and women are neuter (e.g., table, chair).

German noun genders cannot be thought through or determined by logic. 

In German, the assigned gender of the noun is "marked" by the preceding words.            

Der indicates that the following noun is masculine [M].

Die, that the noun is feminine [F].

Das, that the noun is a neuter [N].

 

Note that der, die, das in German indicates gender, while in English it is simply 'the' each time:

 

der Mann (the man [M])

die Frau (the woman [F])

das Kind (the child [N])

 

These examples are pretty straightforward. And also most humans and animals have an intuitive gender ... But how do we learn the genders of table, door, pillow, etc.? One way to deal with this is to remember every noun that is connected to either der, die, or das, so that you remember what gender the noun is: der Apfel, die Tasse, das Haus. Even objects have a gender. Learn German nouns with their genders from the start.

The articles "ein, eine" are used equivalently with the word "a" in English.

Like its English equivalent, it has no direct form for "a" plural, in which case a number of alternatives such as mehrere (some; several) or einige (some) would be used.

How to use the correct German articles

Masculine nouns can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Nouns that refer to males: der Vater, der Junge (father, boy)

  • Many nouns that end in -er, -en, and -el: der Lehrer, der Wagen, der Mantel (teacher, car, coat)

  • Days of the week, months, and seasons: der Montag, der Januar, der Herbst (Monday, January, autumn)

  • Foreign words with the accent on the last syllable: der Soldat, der Elefant (soldier, elephant)

  • Nouns formed from an infinitive minus the -en ending: der Besuch (besuchen), der Lohn (lohnen) (visit, wages)

  • Many nouns that form their plural by (umlaut) + e: der Brief (die Briefe), der Satz (die Sätze) (letter, sentence)

  • Nouns that end in -ich, -ig, -ismus, -ist, -ling, and -us: der Teppich, der Käfig, der Kommunismus, der Kapitalist, der Lehrling, der Rhythmus (carpet, cage, communism, capitalist, apprentice, rhythm)

Feminine nouns can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Nouns that refer to females: die Mutter, die Frau (mother, woman or wife)

  • Names of numerals: die Eins, die Hundert (one, hundred)

  • Names of many rivers: die Elbe, die Mosel (the Elbe, the Moselle)

  • Many nouns ending in -e: die Lampe, die Ernte (lamp, harvest)

  • Nouns ending in -in that identify females in professions: die Lehrerin, die Ärztin (teacher, physician)

  • Many nouns ending in -a: die Kamera, die Pizza (camera, pizza)

  • Many nouns that form their plural by -(e)n: die Tante (die Tanten), die Zeitschrift (die Zeitschriften) (aunt, magazine)

  • Nouns that end in -ei, -heit, -keit, -ie, -ik, -nz, -schaft, -ion, -tät, -ung, and -ur: die Schweinerei, die Einheit, die Einsamkeit, die Fotografie, die Topik, die Konferenz, die Landschaft, die Position, die Universität, die Prüfung, die Natur (mess, unity, loneliness, photography, topic, conference, landscape, position, university, test, nature)

Neuter nouns can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Diminutive nouns that end in -chen or -lein: das Mädchen, das Röslein (girl, little rose)

  • Nouns formed from an infinitive: das Einkommen, das Singen (income, singing). These nouns do not have a plural form.

  • Most nouns that end in -nis: das Bekenntnis, das Gedächtnis (confession, memory)

  • Many nouns with the prefix Ge-: das Gemälde, das Gelächter (painting, laughter)

  • Nouns that refer to metals: das Gold, das Silber (gold, silver)

  • Nouns that end in -ment: das Regiment, das Experiment (regiment, experiment)

  • Most nouns that form their plural by (umlaut) + er: das Haus (die Häuser), das Kind (die Kinder) (house, child)

  • Nouns that end in -tel, -tum, and -um: das Viertel, das Reichtum, das Gymnasium (quarter, wealth, prep school)

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