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Definite & Indefinite Articles in German

Instructor: Penelope Heinigk

Penelope holds a doctorate degree in German and a professional teaching license in the state of Colorado. She has taught middle school through university, online and live.

In this lesson we will learn the definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a/an) in all of their German case forms (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive) and in the plural.

Articles

Think about how odd it would sound if we didn't use articles: I went to store and bought shirt. Do you have dog? We planted tree.

Articles are the words that come before nouns to describe what the the noun refers to. There are two kinds:

  1. the definite article, 'the'
  2. the indefinite articles, 'a/an'

In English we have one definite article that we used for all nouns, 'the', and two indefinite articles, 'a/an', that are distinguished by whether or not the noun that follows it begins with a vowel or consonant.

In German, however, there are several varieties of the definite and indefinite articles, which change depending on the gender of the noun being modified, whether the noun is singular or plural, and the case of the noun in the sentence.

Definite Articles

Here are all the variations of the definite article, 'the':


Case Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural Meaning
Nominative der die das die the
Accusative den die das die the
Dative dem der dem den to the
Genitive des der des der of the


  • Nominative: Der Mann geht spazieren. (The man goes for a walk.)
  • Accusative: Ich grüße den Mann. (I greet the man.)
  • Dative: Ich gebe dem Mann ein Buch. (I give the book to the man.)
  • Genitive: Ich habe das Buch des Mannes. (I have the man's book (literally: the book of the man).)


Translation: At the flea market. Do you want the tea pot, the book or the picture frame?
flea market


Indefinite Articles


The indefinite article (a/an) also must agree in gender, number, and case with the German noun it modifies:


Case Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural Meaning
Nominative ein eine ein none a/an
Accusative einen eine ein none a/an
Dative einem einer einem none to a/an
Genitive eines einer eines none of a/an


Examples:

  • Nominative: Ein Mann spielt Karten. (A man plays cards.)
  • Accusative: Ich sehe einen Mann. (I see a man.)
  • Dative: Ich gebe einem Mann ein Buch. (I give the book to a man.)
  • Genitive: Ich habe das Buch eines Mannes (I have the book of a man = a man's book.)


Translation: The kid gives a ball to the dog.
dog


When trying to figure out which article to use, ask yourself:

  1. What gender is the noun?
  2. Is it singular or plural?
  3. What case is the noun representing in the sentence?

How do you know what case the noun is in?

  • Nominative = the subject of the sentence
  • Accusative = the direct object of the sentence
  • Dative = the indirect object of the sentence
  • Genitive = possession

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