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German Articles: All You Need To Know Posted by on Feb 13, 2020 in Grammar, Language, Prepositions

German Artikel (articles) seem quite confusing. The infamous der/die/das scheme spooks many students – but fear not, there is some logic to it all. Let’s have a look at this today!

First, an overview

Der/die/das! (Image by author)

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Artikel belong to their corresponding Nomen (noun). They’re helpful to identify what Nomen is being referred to, but also that a definitive number is referred to. English simply gives you this information with “the”:

The men work hard. (Compare this with “men work hard” – the article refers to a specific group of men).

Could German go with simply one Artikel, too? Sure. In fact, it is a handy tip for people that simply need to get a quick understanding of spoken German to omit this whole hassle of getting the Artikel right and just go with “de” as a substitute for any Artikel. Try it, you’ll see that from context, you will still be able to understand the sentence. Here’s an example:

Die Frauen laufen den Marathon mit der Armbanduhr. (The women run the marathon with the wristwatch.)

De Frauen laufen de Marathon mit de Armbanduhr

Definite Case

But there is a reason for these different ArtikelNomen in German have different Geschlechter (genders): maskulin, feminin, neutrum (masculine, feminine, neuter). These three Geschlechter take different forms for each of the four Fälle (cases): Nominativ, Genitiv, Dativ, Akkusativ (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative). All of these can of course also be singular (singular) or plural (plural). Let’s put that in a table!

Singular Nominativ (nominative):

der Mann (the man)

die Frau (the woman)

das Kind (the child)

Genitiv (genitive):

des Mannes (of the man)

der Frau (of the woman)

des Kindes (of the child)

Dativ (dative):

dem Mann (to the man)

der Frau (to the woman)

dem Kind (to the child)

Akkusativ (accusative):

den Mann (the man)

die Frau (the woman)

das Kind (the child)

Plural die Männer (the men)

die Frauen (the women)

die Kinder (the children)

der Männer (of the men)

der Frauen (of the women)

der Kinder (of the children)

den Männern (to the men)

den Frauen (to the women)

den Kindern (to the children)

die Männer (the men)

die Frauen (the women)

die Kinder (the child)

As you can see in the plural: It’s the same for each Geschlecht! Now that makes things a lot easier.

Only in the Dativ, the maskulin and neutrum forms gain an -n in the plural at the end of the Nomen (den Männern; den Kindern).

In the singular, the Genitiv is the only one that adds (e)s1why is the (e) in parentheses? Even though most nouns ending with -e are feminine, masculine or neuter nouns ending with -e don’t add an additional -e in the Genitiv. For example: der Anfang des Endes (the beginning of the end). at the end of the maskulin and neutrum.

Wanna know more about the Fälle? Click here to read that post!

Indefinite Case

These are the definite articles, by the way. What about the indefinite case, so where it is not der Mann or die Frau but ein Mann (a man) or eine Frau (a woman)? Another table:

Singular Nominativ (nominative):

ein Mann (a man)

eine Frau (a woman)

ein Kind (a child)

Genitiv (genitive):

eines Mannes (of a man)

einer Frau (of a woman)

eines Kindes (of a child)

Dativ (dative):

einem Mann (to a man)

einer Frau (to a woman)

einem Kind (to a child)

Akkusativ (accusative):

einen Mann (a man)

eine Frau (a woman)

ein Kind (a child)

No plural, of course (since in the indefinite case, the Artikel falls away, just like in English: ein Kind, Kinder (a child, children)).

As you can see, the endings for all Fälle are identical to the definite case. In the negative indefinite case, you simply add a k- before ein:

ein Mann (a man) – kein Mann (no man)

einer Frau (of/to a woman) – keiner Frau (of/to no woman)

For the plural negative indefinite case (keine Männer – no men), click here for an earlier post.

Now you can see where “de” as a substitute for all Artikel won’t work: The prepositions “to” and “of” are often included in the Artikel of a Nomen:

Die Handtasche der Frau (the handbag of the woman)

De Handtasche de Frau (doesn’t work! Of course, you can simplify it to Die Handtasche von de Frau. The problems occur more where the Fall dictates the meaning of a Präposition. More on this in the next post!)

How can you figure out the Artikel?

Image by Agustin Fernandez at Unsplash.com

Before we answer this question, just know that the Duden wrote an article about the Artikel, and shows that 46% of Nomen are feminine, 34% are masculine and 20% are neutral. Some can have multiple Artikel, but those are very few cases, which I discussed in another post.

This question has two answers.

Written Text

Are we talking about a written text? With the above tables, you can deduce the Geschlecht of a Nomen. Here an example from my Zeit für eine Geschichte story:

Es ist sieben Uhr dreißig. Zeit um auf zu stehen! Das Bett ist schön warm. Und mit den eisigen Temperaturen draußen fühlt es sich noch wärmer an. Aber Max muss raus – heute hat er einen wichtigen Termin. Sein Handy vibriert und klingelt auf dem Büro am anderen Ende des Zimmers. Dort legt er es immer hin, damit er auch wirklich aufstehen muss, um es abzuschalten. Normalerweise bringt dieser nervige Lärm ihn sofort auf die Füße. Aber heute Morgen, gerade an diesem Morgen, kann Max sich einfach nicht trennen von der himmlischen Wärme seines Bettes. Seine Füße kuscheln sich in die Decke, sein Kopf ruht sich noch ein wenig aus auf dem Kopfkissen. Sein Handy klingelt nochmals, aber jetzt ist es ein anderer Ton – ein Anruf! Max springt aus dem Bett um zu sehen wer es ist…

What Geschlecht is Bett? Termin? Or Lärm?  You can figure it out.

But many others are just very hard to deduce. Sein Handy could be das Handy or der Handy. This leads me to the other answer.

Doing It Yourself/Unclear From Text

And that is partly just learning it by hard. So it is always advised to learn a Nomen with its Artikel, so you remember it. But there are a few general rules, that you can read in earlier posts here:

German nouns: gender hints

Männliche Substantive im Deutschen erkennen: Teil 1 – Detecting German masculine nouns: part 1

German Masculine Nouns

Want to go deeper? Check out our free eBook on German basics here!

Do you have any other questions about Artikel in German? Do you have tips on how to remember them? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator and filmmaker.