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 ten 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.
Some people might think that because German is a “hard” language, it must be difficult to make grammar mistakes in it. But nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, even Germans make grammar mistakes sometimes.
So don’t feel bad if you occasionally mix up your accusative and dative cases – just take a look at this list of the 10 most common German grammar mistakes and see how you can avoid them.
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!
What Are the 10 Most Common Grammar Mistakes?
As you’re learning German grammar, keep an eye out for these 10 most common German grammar mistakes:
- Incorrect use of “der,” die,” or “das”
- Misuse of case system
- Wrong verb ending
- Incorrect sentence order
- Wrong case following preposition
- Using “in” when describing a date
- Forgetting about separables
- Time-related mistakes
- Putting verbs in the wrong position
- Overuse of the future tense
To avoid these mistakes and become a masterful German language speaker, it’s best to take German lessons from a true professional. Consider signing up for German lessons and get an idea of what you’ll learn in them by watching the video below:
What is Hard About German Grammar?
German grammar can admittedly be tricky to learn.
Avoiding the most common German grammar mistakes and sounding like a native speaker is difficult – honestly, even for native German speakers at times!
German grammar is complex and can be frustrating. The grammatical cases are perhaps the most difficult to master. These are very precise and definitive.
That said, it is the difficulty of the language that also, ironically, makes it one of the easiest to understand. Because there isn’t as much room for error in what you’re saying, there’s also less room for miscommunication. Once you master the German grammar rules, you’ll be able to communicate more clearly and efficiently.
Which Grammatical Errors Give You Most Difficulty in German?
Ready for a German grammar check? Here are some of the most common German grammar mistakes you can make. Don’t feel bad about yourself if you’re guilty of making them – most native speakers make the exact same mistakes!
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
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:
5 More German Grammar Mistakes You Might Make
The German grammar mistakes described above are some of the most common ones you might encounter, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. Here are a few others.
1. Using “In” When Describing a Date
There are two different ways to say that something happened in a certain year or on a certain date – but they don’t use the word in. You can use the expression “im Jahr,” which means “in the year of,” or you can just say the year.
2. Forgetting About Separables
Many verbs in German have a range of prefixes, including hin-, zu-, and auf-. Every time you add a prefix to that verb , the meaning of the verb changes. They’re completely different words that show up differently in the dictionary.
Fr example, the word “sehen”.” This means “to see,” but the word “aussehen” means “to look,” which refers to someone’s appearance rather than the act of seeing.
The trick is in knowing that the prefix separates from the stem when you add the verb, and it will sit at the end of the sentence rather than anywhere else.
3. Time-Related Mistakes
Germans express the time in a couple of different ways. In schedules or formal environments (like bus schedules), you’ll hear the 24-hour time used.
In conversation, you’ll often hear the telling of time using words like “viertel” and “halb,” but keep in mind that when time is described as “halb,” this is an hour earlier than in English. They’re referring to half TO the hour.
4. Putting Verbs in the Wrong Position
Word order in German is a bit more complex than in English or in other languages. Verbs come front and center – in simple statement sentences, the verb will be in position two. The verb needs to come before the subject.
5. Overuse of the Future Tense
Don’t overuse the future tense! While the German future tense is quite easy to use, in regular conversation, Germans rarely use the future tense at all. You should also do so sparingly.
German Grammar Hacks to Help You Become a Pro!
Although German grammar can seem daunting at first, with a little practice and these tips you’ll be making less mistakes in no time.
Consider using a language learning program to get some extra practice and become more confident in your skills. And above all, don’t be afraid to make mistakes – everyone makes them! With a little effort you will be speaking German like a pro in no time.
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!