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Definite and indefinite articles

An article is used with a noun to show whether a noun is specific or general. For example, articles determine whether you are talking about ‘the car’ or ‘a car’.

Definite and indefinite articles

In English:

  • The is the definite article, eg the man.
  • A is the indefinite article, eg a house, an ambulance.

In German there’s an additional indefinite article:

  • Kein – the negative form (it means not a or not any)

In German, there are a wide range of words used for the definite and indefinite articles.

What do you need to know

To know which word to pick, you need to know two things.

  • The gender of your noun (see ‘Gender’ section, or look it up in a dictionary).
  • What case your word is going to be in, eg nominative, accusative, dative or genitive.

Definite and indefinite article reference table

The bold bits highlight where the patterns are easy to learn and are commonly used.

 

Definite article (the)

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative case der die das die
Accusative case den die das die
Dative case dem der dem den (*1)
Genitive case des (*2) der des (*2) der

 

Indefinite article (a)

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative case ein eine ein keine (*3)
Accusative case einen eine ein keine (*3)
Dative case einem einer einem keinen (*1, 3)
Genitive case eines (*2) einer eines (*2) keiner (*3)

 

More on dative and genetive

  • (*1) = In the genitive, add an -(e)s to the end of the noun, eg des Mannes
  • (*2) = In the dative plural, add an –n to the end of the noun eg den Kindern
  • (*3) = kein/e/n is being used to show the plural because you can say ‘no shoes’ but not ‘a shoes’!

Note: demonstrative pronouns like ‘this’, ‘that’ and ‘some’ (dieser/jener/mancher) follow the same pattern as the definite article.

Possessive pronouns like ‘my’, ‘his’ and ‘our’ (mein/sein/unser) follow the same pattern as the indefinite article.

Practise using the reference table

In this table the endings are divided up into two sections:

  • Definite article (the)
  • Indefinite article (a)

For example, ‘the new canteen is great’ uses the – so with this sentence you should look in the definite article section to find the correct pattern of endings.

  • Find the correct column for the gender of your noun (canteen is feminine).
  • Follow it down to the correct case (the canteen is subject therefore nominative, so is die).
  • Write the article down in your sentence – die neue Kantine ist toll.

Nominative examples

  • The man only eats burgers (Mann – masc) -> Der Mann isst nur Hamburger.
  • The baby sleeps all day (Baby – neut) -> Das Baby schläft den ganzen Tag .
  • A lady is sitting at the next table (Frau – fem) -> Eine Frau sitzt am nächsten Tisch.

Accusative examples

  • Do you see the cat? (Katze – fem) -> Siehst du die Katze?.
  • I’m going into the shops in town (Geschäfte – pl) -> Ich gehe in die Geschäfte in der Stadt..
  • The man doesn’t eat any pizza (Pizza – fem) -> Der Mann isst keine Pizza.
  • We’re walking through a wood (Wald – masc) -> Wir laufen durch einen Wald.

Dative examples

  • I give the teacher my homework (Lehrer – masc) -> Ich gebe dem Lehrer meine Hausaufgaben.
  • I’m sitting next to the girl (Mädchen – neut) -> Ich sitze neben dem Mädchen.
  • I’m sending my CV to a firm (Firma – fem) -> Ich schicke meinen Lebenslauf einer Firma.
  • I don’t go out with any boys (Jungen – pl) -> Ich gehe mit keinen Jungen aus.

Genitive examples

  • The car’s motor was broken (Wagen – masc) -> Der Motor des Wagens war kaputt.
  • Because of the weather I’m staying home (Wetter – neut) -> Wegen des Wetters bleibe ich zu Hause.
  • A child’s shoe is lying on the floor (Kind – neut) -> Das Schuh eines Kindes liegt auf dem Boden.

Common mistakes made by English speakers

  1. Guessing rather than looking at reference materials.
  2. Using nicht ein not kein for a negative (not a/not any).

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