Saturday, 31 January 2009

Feminine (and compound) nouns

The feminine word for 'the' is die. Nouns that refer to females are usually feminine. Die Mutter, die Frau, die Tochter, die Schwester are all feminine. There are some other general rules. Most trees are feminine. Die Linde is the linden tree which is usually called the lime tree in Britain although there is a pub called the Linden Tree in Lancaster. Die Tanne is the fir tree but it is der Tannenbaum.

Compound nouns, nouns that are made up of two or more words are very popular in German. You can often guess the meaning of the compound noun if you know the meaning of the separate words and the gender of the compound noun is the same as the last word. So der Zahn and die Bürste makes die Zahnbürst. Die Kinder and das Zimmer makes das Kinderzimmer - the children's room.

Most fruits are feminine. Die Banane, die Orange, but look out for exceptions like der Apfel and der Pfirsich.

Cardinal numbers are numbers like 1, 2 and 3. Ordinal numbers are numbers like 'first' 'second' and 'third'. The cardinal numbers are feminine - die vier.

Bis bald

Friday, 30 January 2009

Masculine nouns

There are some general rules that will help you remember the gender of nouns. You need to know the gender if you want to write 'the' or 'a' before the word. Der die and das are the words for 'the' when talking about the nominative case (see introduction to cases).

If you have a masculine noun you will use der.
Days of the week are all masculine. Der Montag, der Dienstag, usw.
All the calendar months are masculine. Der Januar, der Februar usw.
All the seasons are masculine. Der Frühling, der Sommer, der Herbst und der Winter.
The cardinal points are all masculine.Der Norden, der Süden, der Osten und der Westen.

Nouns that refer to males are usually masculine. Der Mann, der Vater, der Bruder, der Sohn, are all masculine. A child could be masculine or feminine, so you have to learn many words individually. Das Kind is neuter.

Bis bald

Thursday, 29 January 2009

An introduction to the case system

There are four cases in German system, nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. The four cases are roughly equivalent to the subject, object, indirect object and the possessive cases in English. The subject is the doer of the verb. The object is the thing that is 'done to'. The dative case has a few uses. We use indirect objects in English by putting 'to' or 'for' in front of the word but you will have to look for German verbs that only take the dative, and there are German prepositions other than 'to' and 'for' which take the dative. The genitive case shows possession. In English we say 'of the' or we can use an apostrophe.

As in English there are definite and indefinite articles. This is nothing to do with lazy articles but it means that you either know 'the' thing you are talking about (you are definite), or you are more vague and you talk about 'a' thing.

The definite and indefinite articles change depending on the case and can be masculine, feminine or neuter. I will look at these changes in later blogs, but I can't finish today's blog without writing some words in German. The nominative definite article is der, die and das, and the indefinite article is ein, eine and ein.

Bis bald

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Perfect cognates

There are so many words that come from German. Some words are identical in spelling and in meaning. The only difference with German nouns is that they have capital letters. These words are called perfect cognates. Der Arm, Die Hand, und der Finger are all examples of perfect cognates.

You also have near cognates where the spelling of the words are slightly different between the German and the English. We have seen some examples of near cognates with words like Bett and 'bed'. The link is the d and the t. Slight variations include lang which means long. Some are very easy to guess. There is no need to translate Die Musik ist perfekt.

I would encourage you to guess a translation but be careful of those falsche Freunde.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Die Konjunktionen

Conjunctions are really quite nice words. They are words that link words or phrases together like and, and but, and because. They are good words to know because they transform your sentences to a higher level. Not only are you saying what has happened but you are saying why, or you are giving an opinion.

There are coordinating conjunctions that link words and phrases like ‘I get out of bed and brush my teeth. He had to wait for the bus, but I could walk home at once. Subordinating conjunctions don’t just link words, they introduce a dependent clause and establish a relationship between the main sentence and the dependent clause. Although he is at school, he doesn’t answer any questions.

In German subordinating conjunctions are called verb-to-enders because (you may have guessed) they "the verb to the end send". A very common verb-to-ender is daß. Ich weiß, daß ich veil zu lernen habe.

Bis bald

Monday, 26 January 2009

The future tense

The future tense is fairly easy. In English we say 'I will do something' and the will indicates the future. It's the same in German. Ich werde... and add the infinitive at the end of the sentence. So all you have to do is learn the conjugation of the verb werden and you have the future tense for any verb that you already know in German. Wirst du nächstes Jahr nach Deutschland fahren?

Germans also use the present tense to mean the future, as long as there is a word in the sentence that tells you that the action will be in the future - words like tomorrow or next week or next year. Morgen gehe ich wandern. This is how Germans can talk about the future and it is right for them even if it is not right for us. If you know anyone who speaks German you may occasionally hear them miss out the will and say 'I go hiking tomorrow'. It is not a grammatical mistake in German so it is much harder to correct. We don't have this problem in translating from English to German but it is good practice to try translating the present tense to mean the future. However if you are in an exam make sure you use at least one example with werden.

Bis bald

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Falsche Freunde

There are many German cognates with English, i.e. words that are similar or exactly the same as words in another language. So das Haus is "the house", der Sohn is "the son", and gut is "good". You can see that there are links between the consonants d and t. They are linked by examples like "bed" and Bett. There is an obvious link with c and k when you see or hear the word kalt, and there is that d and t link again. There are many links that give you a clue to translation so have a look for them. However don't be too confident. There are also quite a few falsche Freunde.

Bald means soon not "bald". Der Dom is a whole cathedral, not just a dome if it has one. A common word in German is also. Yes you have guessed correctly, it doesn't mean "also". Was sollen wir also tun means "what shall we do then?"

Why do I like falsche Freunde? They make you think about the words that you are using and so you will remember them.

Bis bald

Saturday, 24 January 2009

How to pass an oral exam

If you are taking an exam in German then don't be afraid of telling lies. The exam is about your ability in German. The examiner does not want to get to know you. They are just there to examine your ability.

You can use words because you are good at saying that word. You may have a favourite German word. You can also use words because they are bound to lead to further questions and you can prepare for the subsequent question. One person told me they had thirteen sisters. They meant to say three but you would definitely be asked about thirteen sisters. You could prepare answers about the size of your house, number of bedrooms etc.

You are going to be asked your name. Ich heiße ... oder Mein Name ist ... If you have an unusual first name you might want to say Ich heiße... mit Vornamen - (My first name is ...) If your name is unusual then be ready for the next question, and be prepared to say something about your name.

A common question is "how are you?" If you answer es geht mir nicht gut, you are bound to be asked was ist los? and you can also have this question prepared. You could say Ich bin müde or mir ist kalt, but you would then have to answer the question "why are you tired?" or "why are you cold?" A few more questions like this and you have controlled the whole exam and passed it.

Bis bald

Friday, 23 January 2009


Any basic German language book will give you numbers. You can get some clues to help your translation by reading or listening to the words for numbers. The good news is that there is a lot of repetition - numbers are everywhere. I'm afraid that you still have to learn them all but try to recognise the connections between English and German e.g. seven and sieben. You can see that there is a close link between the letter v and the letter b and these links are everywhere.

You will also find that most of the numbers between 20 and 99 are in the opposite order to the English. 21 is "one and twenty" or einundzwanzig.

There are some stronger clues. A hundred is ein hundert and the word for a thousand is ein tausend although you don't normally say ein with hundert or tausend when you are talking about big numbers. A million is eine Million. Add three more zeros and you have eine Milliarde (one thousand million). Add another three zeros and you get eine Billion. Notice that Million, eine Milliarde and eine Billion all have capital letters because they are nouns. The other numbers are adjectives.

A foreign language often helps with your native language. Did you know what is meant by an English billion? It is a million million, a one with twelve zeros. Americans call a thousand million a billion which is confusing but German can help us know our numbers.

The word for number is die Zahl, and to count is zählen so to count the numbers is zählen die Zahlen

Bis bald

Thursday, 22 January 2009

German idioms

Idioms are a great way to learn a language. According to my dictionary, the definition of an idiom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. So when you learn an idiom you remind yourself of the words themselves, and you take your knowledge of the language to a higher level. You will be over the moon, and you will also learn something about the way the Germans think. You may also learn about English idioms that you did not know.

Der Vogel is the bird and if you have einen Vogel it means that you have bats in your belfry. Of course this is nothing to do with bats or belfries but the belfry is the uppermost part of the body (the brain) and the messages are erratic like the flight of bats, so they are crazy. There is a very slight possibility that you could work it out in English but would you know er hat einen Vogel?

I like 'wo drückt der Schuh?' You are not asking where the shoe pinches, but what’s the trouble? Yes you can almost work it out but it would take some time, and now you know what to say in a shoe shop!

Bis bald

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Gender of nouns

It is nice to know rules that help you learn a language but the best way is to listen to expressions and use them. One example of a language rule is for gender of nouns. There are some gender rules for German nouns but you still have to learn the gender for every word because you will often find exceptions to rules.

You can probably guess that males are usually masculine and females are usually feminine, so it is der Vater der Sohn and die Mutter and die Tochter. Exceptions include the word for a girl which is neuter, which is das Mädchen.

The days of the week, the months and all the seasons are masculine. It sounds strange to talk about der Montag, but you may need it and it is useful to know the gender of the days because you would speak about am Montag, on Mondays. So the best way to learn a language is to use it with expressions like in der Nacht (at night) and am Mittag (at noon)/ You are still using the word and recognising that it has a gender but the main thing is that you will say what you want to say.

Bis bald

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Yes and no

It sounds like Vicky Pollard has written today's blog. Yes is ja and no is nein but you will be pleased to hear that there are some variations on this.

When you ask a positive question like fährst du nach Hause? The answer is Ja, ich fahre nach Hause or nein, ich fahre nicht nach Hause. Fairly obvious. However if you ask a negative question like fährst du nicht nach Hause? Then you have to say doch instead of jaDoch ich fahre nach Hause. Ich kann es nicht sagen. Doch du kannst es sagen.

You may have also heard jawohl which means yes sir, and if you go in a shop you are likely to hear ja bitte – nothing to do with beer, it means yes please.

Bis bald

Monday, 19 January 2009


Guten Morgen is good morning, Guten Tag is good day, Guten Abend is good evening, and Gute Nacht is good night. However you can always say Hallo which is less formal and you can use it just like you would use hello.

Herr is the word for Mr. Frau is the word for Mrs and also for wife. Whenever you see ...lein it is a diminutive and means little... So Fräulein (Miss) means little woman. If you have any doubt use Frau because Fräulein can be offensive.

After you have said hello you could always ask 'how are you?' by saying wie geht es Ihnen? and the answer could be gut danke.

Bis bald

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Nach und nach

Welcome to the first entry in this blog on how to learn German. If you want to speak a language you have to learn little by little. There are no lesson plans, no tests, no homework, but you may learn something that will add to your knowledge of German.

Perhaps the best way to learn how to say things in German is to listen to a German person but there are some definite rules that you can learn simply by reading. In this blog I will take you through many different aspects of learning German. Ich lerne nach und nach und ich lerne aus meinen Fehlern. If you are not sure what this means then take a look at a dictionary. Get used to using it and you will learn little by little, and you may learn by your mistakes as long as you get them corrected, so don't be afraid to ask anyone for help.

How to say 'I am called...' / 'Ich heiße...'
The pronunciation of ch in ich varies depending on region or dialect. Ich is the word for 'I'. It is pronounced ikh or you can say something like ish but you have to change it to make it sound German. You put your tongue in the same position as when you are saying yes (you can also hear some explanations for the tongue position like saying the word Hugh. It's the same position). We don't have this sound in English but the sound is often explained as an ish coming from further back in the mouth. I found this explanation difficult for a long time because you have to change the facial muscles at the same time (which attach to the corners of the mouth). It is a sort of half small as if saying 'ee'

Whenever you see ß it is called an eszett (pronounced "ess-tsett") as it is a combination of an s (ess) and a z (tset). The sound is identical to 'ss'. The ei in german sounds like eye. So ou can now pronounce 'heiße'.

To learn anything you have to enjoy the learning process. So I am not going to give out any detentions or make you write any lines, but try to learn nach und nach.

Bis bald.