german grammar

German Grammar: Definite Articles 101

german grammar

German grammar can be a difficult thing to master, especially for beginner students. Here, German instructor Kerstin R. shares some simple tips and tricks on learning German definite articles…

As a German instructor, I tell all of my students the same thing over and over again: You need to know your definite articles. If you don’t, you’ll be lost and have a challenging time getting your German grammar right.

German definite articles are much more complex than English articles. German has three definite articles: der, die, and das; whereas English has just one definite article, the. What’s more, in German, each of the definite articles has a gender. See below.

Der

  • Der is used for masculine nouns.
  • Example: der Junge (the boy) and der Ball (the ball)

Die

  • Die is used for feminine nouns.
  • Example: die Frau (the woman) and die Puppe (the doll)

Das

  • Das is used for neuter nouns.
  • Example: das Mädchen (the girl) and das Schwein (the pig)

It’s important to know the definite article of each noun, because the article changes according to the case of the noun. There are four different cases in the German language. See below:

1. Nominative

  • The subject of the sentence
  • Example: Der student lernt Deutsch. (The student learns German.)

2. Genitive

  • The possessive in the sentence
  • Example: Das ist die Tasche des Lehrers. (That is the teacher’s bag)

3. Dative

  • The indirect object in the sentence
  • Example: Ich habe das dem Mann schon gesagt. ( I already told the man that.)

4. Accusative

  • The direct object of the sentence
  • Example: Ich habe einen Tisch. (I have a table.)

The English language has these cases, too (except dative), but here is the big difference: In English, the noun and the definite article do not change depending on its case – but in German they do.

Below are some examples on how the definite articles der, die, and das change into dem, der, dem in the dative case, which is the most difficult, yet vital element of communicating in German.

Der Ball (the ball)

  • Der Junge spielt mit dem Ball.  (The boy plays with the ball.)
  • Die Frau spielt mit dem Ball.  (The woman plays with the ball.)
  • Das Mädchen spielt mit dem Ball.  (The girl plays with the ball.)

Die Puppe (the doll)

  • Der Junge spielt mit der Puppe(The boy plays with the doll.)
  • Die Frau spielt mit der Puppe. (The woman plays with the doll.)
  • Das Mädchen spielt mit der Puppe. (The girl plays with the doll.)

 Das Schwein (the pig)

  •  Der Junge spielt mit dem Schwein(The boy plays with the pig.)
  •  Die Frau spielt mit dem Schwein. (The woman plays with the pig.)
  •  Das Mädchen spielt mit dem Schwein. (The girl plays with the pig.)

The examples above are for nouns in the dative case. To learn how definite articles change in different cases, ask your tutor to provide you with some examples.

You can see just from these few examples how important it is to know your definite articles. A great way to learn the definite articles is through German blogs, games, German mobile apps, listening to audio books, TV and, most importantly, reading books.

Kerstin R.Kerstin R. teaches in-person German and art lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She has her Master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and is a native speaker of German. Learn more about Kerstin here!

 

 

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