Are you struggling to perfect your German grammar skills? When learning a new language, grammar is often the most difficult thing to master. Below, TakeLessons language teacher Tyler S. shares the five most common grammar mistakes to avoid…
Grammatical mistakes are an inevitable part of the learning a new language. We often make grammatical mistakes in our own native languages, but a few hiccups should never discourage you from learning a new language.
Below, we explore the five most common German grammar mistakes that English speakers tend to make. It is far better to tackle these problems now, so that you don’t have to backtrack to correct your German later!
Mistake 1: Incorrect Use of “der”, “die”, or “das”
When I tutor German, this is the topic that requires the most attention and practice to understand. English has no true equivalent to der, die, or das. They’re all the same word in English: “the.” In German, each noun (person, place, or thing) belongs to a grammatical gender.
These three genders are masculine, feminine, and neuter. The word der corresponds to the masculine category, die corresponds to the feminine category, and das corresponds to the neuter category. In order to be grammatically correct in German, you need to memorize the gender of each noun.
- INCORRECT: Der Katze ist weis. (“The cat is white.”)
- CORRECT: Die Katze ist weis. (“The cat is white.”)
*The sentence above is incorrect because Katze is a feminine noun in German and therefore should receive die.
Every time you learn a new noun (person, place, or thing), memorize the grammatical gender of the word. It will always be masculine, feminine, or neuter. There are certain systematic noun endings that give away the noun’s gender. Click here to learn more!
Mistake 2: Misuse of Case System
In English, the word “I” refers to the subject in the sentence, and the word “me” refers to the direct object in the sentence. German works the same way, in that the subject in a sentence is said to be in the nominative case, and the direct object is the English equivalent to the accusative case. Just like using “I” and “me” incorrectly in English can sound like nails on a chalkboard, it is much easier to make the same mistake when learning German.
- INCORRECT: Du liebst ich. (“You love I.”)
- CORRECT: Du liebst mich. (“You love me.”)
Take the time to memorize the four cases of German: nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive. Watch this video for more information:
Mistake 3: Wrong Verb Ending
For English speakers, it is almost always more difficult to learn the verb endings of another language. The English language is much less complex than most other languages when it comes to verb conjugation. In German, there are more verb endings than in English, which can make things tricky for a beginner student.
- INCORRECT: Du hat das. (“You loves me.”)
- CORRECT: Du liebst mich (“You love me.”)
Memorize verb conjugation endings and which pronoun (“I”, “you”, “he”, etc.) matches up to each individual verb ending. Pay attention to the difference among verb tenses, because this affects which verb endings you use (for example, verb endings in the present tense vs. the simple past).
Practice verb conjugation out loud! This helps you memorize endings much faster. My favorite reference for German verbs is “501 German Verbs” by Henry Strutz. It includes 501 verbs that show all possible conjugated forms for each verb featured in the book.
Mistake 4: Incorrect Sentence Order
Although there are many complexities to German sentence order, there are two basic rules that all students must be conscious of. The first rule is that in any normal declarative sentence with only one verb, the verb is always the second element in the sentence.
- INCORRECT: Ich das sehe. (“I that see.”)
- CORRECT: Ich sehe das. (“I see that.”)
The second rule is similar: If there is more than one verb in a sentence, then the rest of the verbs must all come at the end of the sentence.
- INCORRECT: Ich mag machen das. (“I like that to do.”)
- CORRECT: Ich mag das machen. (“I like to do that.”)
Complete writing and reading exercises that force you to practice this skill. Make a pen pal or meet with a conversational partner who can practice with you and can correct your mistakes if necessary.Read this article for more information.
Mistake 5: Wrong Case Following Preposition
And last but not least, this tip holds the key to the single most effective way to improve your German across the board. This is because prepositions are extremely common in everyday language. Most beginner to intermediate students frequently use the incorrect case of a given preposition. You have to remember that every German preposition requires the noun it follows to be in a specific case.
- INCORRECT: Ich gehe zu der Restaurant. (“I’m walking to the restaurant.”)
- INCORRECT: Ich gehe zu den Restaurant. (“I’m walking to the restaurant.”)
- CORRECT: Ich gehe zu dem Restaurant. (“I’m walking to the restaurant.”)
- INCORRECT: Ich gehe zu des Restaurants. (“I’m walking to the restaurant.”)
Memorize this venn diagram, showing which grammatical case each preposition requires:
Getting a handle on these common German grammar mistakes early on will help you grasp the German language better and faster. Work with your German instructor on various exercises to help you practice avoiding these mistakes. Viel Erfolg bei dem Lernen! (I wish you great success in learning!)
Tyler S. teaches in-person Spanish and French lessons in Minneapolis, MN. He received his Bachelor’s degree in German and linguistics from the University of Minnesota, and has experience working as a teaching assistant and private tutor with TakeLessons since 2008. What’s more? He can speak 7 different languages! Learn more about Tyler here!