When you are learning a foreign language, you might find that at first you are struck by the variances before seeing the similarities. However, this is exactly what makes it so motivating. You may have been advised against studying the German language - or encouraged that the best way to learn to speak German is with a really good private German tutor.

In this article, we will take a look here are a few of the dissimilarities you can anticipate coming across over the duration of your German grammar practice.

German Grammar 101: Gender and Cases

Gender and cases are frequent themes in most German Grammar 101 courses, but that’s since it is the sole greatest stumbling block to any student studying German to have to grasp that German nouns have genders.

Anyone who is looking at learning German grammar rules as a foreigner will have to learn this which is not unique as most Latin-based Romance languages use gender too. In English gender is only used with the use of pronouns, while articles and adjectives are not expected to agree and are usually left to function on their own. And these are some of the hazards of learning German grammar rules, but of course, this is all achievable if you are serious about German grammar practice. What is more, if you intend to learn German quickly, taking up a good course is another best way to learn to speak German.

When it comes to gender, most of the Romance languages use male and female, however, German includes a third option, one that is used for inanimate objects - neuter!

This might actually be easy for some English speakers to grasp, but most are stumped by the fact that genders are spread copiously throughout the German vocabulary. It can get even more complex, because not only are all female living things female, but there are exceptions to learning German grammar rules, like this one. For instance, “das Mädchen”, the girl, is in fact neuter because it contains the diminutive suffix “-Chen”), but non-living, known in language as inanimate objects, which are simply known in English as “it” is given a gender too!

“Milk”, for instance, is feminine, “head” for instance, is masculine. Children and babies are neuter.

woman handing book to child
German grammar is complicated, but you can master it. - Source: Pexels

Which German Words Are Declined?

Naturally, with German being such a well-ordered language, it is vital that both adjectives and nouns know their proper grammatical order in the sentence, in order to do that, they are declined.

On the upside, is that, besides adding an “-s” to the masculine, and singular neuter in the genitive and an “-en” to plurals in the dative and genitive, the nouns are left to stand alone, which is unlike Ancient Greek which declined everything. So then this leaves the articles, both determinate and indeterminate, pronouns, demonstrative adjectives able to change their grammatical character.

Generally speaking, the accusative is used for the direct object, while the nominative is used for the subject, the dative is used for the indirect object, while the genitive is used for possession. In addition, there are some prepositions that can take on specific cases.

All of this should be covered by a good German grammar teacher who teaches German grammar 101!

How German and English Word Orders Differ

If you are learning German grammar rules the main difference you will encounter is that in German the sentence structure is more rigid and yet more fluid than in English, depending on the type of sentence.

Verb Placement

One of the very first things you are bound to find out when learning German grammar rules is that verbs have an immovable place in a sentence.

In the main clause, the verb is always positioned in second place, even when whatever comes in the first place is a secondary clause.

When it comes to subordinate clauses the verb always comes at the end.

In tenses that use auxiliary verbs, the auxiliary will take the verb position: the participle, or infinitive, will be positioned at the end of the sentence, while the auxiliary will be in either second place when there is a main clause or at the very end when it’s a subordinate clause.

Direct and Indirect Objects

If you want to learn German quickly, you will need a handle on German grammar 101 as quickly as possible, because as you can see, it is a complex language. This is further demonstrated when using direct and indirect objects.

In English, there is pretty much a fixed order when it comes to both direct and indirect objects.

Theoretically, in German the order is as follows:

Subject, plus a verb, plus indirect object, plus direct object.

But German has cases and this is what makes it possible to switch the order around. In theory, you can mix them and still understand the sentence, in practice, one element replaces the subject at the beginning of the sentence, moving the subject to the place just after the verb.

Where Do Adverbs Go in German?

In English adverbs are typically placed just before the verb. In German, they come after the verb. They can either come right after the verb or after the dative (indirect) object and after all the objects if they happen to be pronouns.

German and Continuous Tenses

Another complexity that you can expect to find in your German grammar practice is that in German there is past, present, and future perfect tense, but there is no continuous tense.

In English, the present continuous tense (to be, plus any present participle ending in-ing) is used to demonstrate that action is busy taking place at that moment. It can also be used to show that something is happening repeatedly.

But in German, this tense does not exist!

As an example, I am showering, in German simply means Ich Dusche, I shower, which is the simple present tense. German also doesn’t have future or past continuous tenses either. This is why, even if you want to learn German quickly, the best way to learn to speak German is still through a native German teacher or reputable course.

In German, to express the meaning of continuous tenses, adverbs can be used:

I am learning German = Ich lerne derzeit Deutsch.

German Uses Long Words

English may have some complex constructions, but in German, you can build almost any noun to create a word that means precisely what you want it to mean. In English, you have to load yourself with verbs, adjectives, verbs, and all those small words that connect them all together. In German, you can simply say:

Farhzeugversicherungsscheinsmappe, which means “a folder for the car insurance policy.”

German Exceptions to Grammar Rules  

girl having video call
With the help of a German tutor, you'll start to gain confidence in your abilities. - Source: Pexels

Students of the English language are used to having many exceptions to grammatical rules, but in German, there are fewer exceptions, which is one positive if you want to learn German quickly.

Weak Masculines

However, their exclusions sometimes have their own exclusions.

Weak masculines, for instance, are a type of noun that take an “-en” ending, except the nominative. Some take an “-n” instead of “-en”, while others take an “-s” when using the genitive, and “Herr” takes an “-n” when using the singular and “-en” when using the plural.

There is also a single neuter noun that can be declined like a weak masculine ("das Herz”, the heart).

The German Participle of Verbs ending in “-ieren”

German verbs finishing in “-ieren” do not take the prefix “ge-” when creating the participle; one advantage for the student is that all of them end in “-t”:

  • “Machen” becomes “gemacht”
  • “Kochen” becomes “gekocht”
  • “Lesen” becomes “gelesen”

BUT

  • “Deklinieren” becomes “dekliniert”
  • “Zu Hause” and “nach Hause”
  • “Dekorieren” becomes “dekoriert”.

Zu” is a preposition that means “to” a place, “Nach” typically means “after”. Yet when you are at home, you say you are “Zu Hause”. If you are on your way home, you are going to “Nach Hause”.

If you are going to another person’s house, you say “Zum Haus von Gaby” and once you have arrived, you say “I'm Haus von Gaby”. Or, “bei Gaby Zu Hause” - at Gaby’s home, which is different from her house.

In English, however, you would say that you are at home, or at Gaby’s house. However, you go home even when you go TO Gaby’s house.

Prepositions in German

In English you would say that you are “on the bus”, or “on the plane”. However, in German, you would say that you are “Auf dem Bus” which can make understanding each other quite comical. There are many other differences to look out for, including punctuation and other trickier topics like capitalising nouns, or declension of adjectives.

All of this proves that if you want to learn German quickly, you should still do it properly.

There is no doubt, like with any language, the best way to learn to speak German is through a private one-on-one tutor who understands both the level that you are at and the goals that want to reach.

Need a German teacher?

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.