Temporary German grammar page
Under construction, please ignore for the time being. :)
If you see any minor mistakes in this page please feel free to correct them. If you would like to make any major revisions, or have any suggestions or questions, please contact me (generalebriety), because otherwise I'll get confused. :p Note that this page will undergo serious shuffling and so on before it's published as a final version, so don't worry too much about the aesthetics for now. :p
To do: * 1 Verbs o 1.1
Principal partso 1.2 Regular (weak), irregular (strong) and mixed verbs o 1.3 Tenses and forms of the verb+ 1.3.1 Present, and present participle+ 1.3.2 Imperfect+ 1.3.3 Perfect, and past participle+ 1.3.4 Future+ 1.3.5 Conditional+ 1.3.6 Konjunktiv I/II+ 1.3.7 Other* 22.214.171.124 Pluperfect* 126.96.36.199 Conditional perfect* 188.8.131.52 Future perfecto 1.4 Modal verbs o 1.5 Separable verbs o 1.6 Common irregular verbs * 2 Nouns o 2.1 Cases + 2.1.1 Nominative + 2.1.2 Accusative + 2.1.3 Dative + 2.1.4 Genitive o 2.2 Weak nouns * 3 Adjectives * 4 Prepositions* 5 Word order o 5.1 Simple sentences, main clauses and questions o 5.2 Subordinate and relative clauses o 5.3 Time-manner-place o 5.4 Order of objects o 5.5 Adverbs * 6 The spelling reform
insert introduction here :)
- explanation on weak/strong/mixed verbs
- explanation of infinitive/stem
- explanation of pronouns used
The principal parts of a verb are very helpful in forming various tenses of the verb. Although some can often be guessed by more experienced learners of German, they should always be looked up with an irregular verb and learnt.
The principal parts are often given as:
- the infinitive (spielen),
- 3rd person singular, present tense (spielt),
- 3rd person singular, imperfect tense (spielte),
- past participle (gespielt).
Note that the 3rd person singular, present tense, is not always given; however, this guide will include it for simplicity.
As spielen is a regular verb, there is no need to list its principal parts. However, for irregular verbs such as fahren, it is often very useful to be able to look up its principal parts, as they do not follow the same basic rules as regular verbs like spielen. The principal parts of fahren are often given (abbreviated) as "fahren (ä-u-a)". The letters in the brackets indicate the vowel change in the stem of the word; so, the principal parts of fahren, written in full, are fahren (given), fährt, fuhr, gefahren.
N.B. If the vowel in the stem is a long vowel or a diphthong (two vowels written together that sound as one, e.g. "nein") and comes before a single consonant, but changes to a short vowel in one of the principal parts, the consonant immediately after it will double. The converse is true: if the vowel is short and comes before a double consonant (which must be the same letter twice, not as in schwinden), one consonant will drop if the vowel becomes long. Note that the short version of ss is ß. (As a rule of thumb, i and e are short vowels, o can be either, and a is most commonly a long vowel.)
sehen (ie-a-e): sehen, sieht, sah, gesehen
fressen (i-a-e): fressen, frisst, fraß, gefressen
schmeißen (ei-i-i): schmeißen, schmeißt, schmiss, geschmissen
treffen (i-a-o): treffen, trifft, traf, getroffen.
Note, though, that some verbs are wholly irregular, or simply cannot be abbreviated easily. In this case, their principal parts will usually be given in full.
gehen (geht, ging, gegangen)
sitzen (sitzt, saß, gesessen)
Regular (weak), irregular (strong) and mixed verbs
Tenses and forms of the verb
The verbs used most often in this guide are spielen (to play) and fahren (to drive, to go)
Present, and present participle
The present tense of the verb is generally translated as either "I play", "I am playing" or "I do play". Note that there is no way of distinguishing between these ideas in German; they are all formed in the same way. To form this form of the verb, take the stem of the infinitive, and add the following endings, remembering the vowel change in the du and er forms of irregular verbs.
- Verbs such as arbeiten or reden, whose stems end in t or d, gain an extra -e- in the forms of the verb which would be hard to pronounce otherwise:
- du arbeitest, du redest
- er arbeitet, er redet
- ihr arbeitet, ihr redet
- Verbs such as lächeln or wandern, whose infinitives end in -ln or -rn, are conjugated similarly to normal present tense verbs; the stem is formed by removing the final n. There is an optional first person singular form:
- ich lächle, ich wandre
- wir lächeln, wir wandern
- sie lächeln, sie wandern
The present participle is formed by adding a -d onto the end of the infinitive: spielend, lächelnd, fahrend, arbeitend, and means "playing", "smiling", etc. It can function as an adjective: "ich sah das spielende Kind". Be careful not to use it to form the present tense - "I am playing" is always translated as ich spiele.
The imperfect tense of the verb is generally translated as either "I played", "I was playing" or "I did play". Note that there is no way of distinguishing between these ideas in German; they are all formed in the same way. To form this form of the verb, take the stem of the verb (for regular verbs) or the imperfect form of the verb (for irregular verbs; this form is the second principal part), and add the following endings.
- Areas of North Germany use this tense as a legitimate past tense when spoken; however, most German-speaking regions consider the imperfect predominantly a written tense, and it can sound clumsy and even comical when spoken. For this reason, the tense is extremely rare in the du and ihr forms. The imperfect tense is the main past tense used when writing a book or a newspaper; it is very rare to find the perfect tense. The two tenses are, however, interchangeable in letter-writing.
- As in the perfect tense, verbs such as arbeiten and reden gain an extra -e- in the imperfect, this time in all forms:
- ich arbeitete, ich redete etc.
Perfect, and past participle
The perfect tense of the verb is generally translated as either "I played", "I have played" or "I did play". Note that there is no way of distinguishing between these ideas in German; they are all formed in the same way. To form this form of the verb, take the relevant form of the present tense of haben or sein and the past participle (see below). Haben is used with most verbs; sein is used with verbs of motion (gehen, fahren, laufen), verbs of state change (sterben, wachsen, werden), and the two verbs sein (itself!) and bleiben.
- The past participle is always sent as far towards the end of the clause as possible (see word order).
- Schwimmen can optionally take either haben or sein.
To form the past participle in regular verbs, add ge- and -t to the stem of the verb. Example: the past participle of "lernen" is "gelernt". To form the past participle in irregular verbs, add ge- and -en to the stem, having applied the vowel change (see principal parts). Example: the past participle of "singen" is "gesungen".
The past participle can also be used as an adjective: "ich sah einen gefallenen Baum", "I saw a fallen tree".
The future tense of the verb is generally translated as either "I will play" or "I am going to play". Note that there is no way of distinguishing between these ideas in German; they are both formed in the same way. To form this form of the verb, take the relevant form of the present tense of werden and the infinitive.
|ich||werde||spielen / fahren|
- The future tense can seem clumsy, particularly in complex sentences. For this reason, the present tense is often used (along with a future time reference, stated or implied) instead of the future, as it is neater. Compare: morgen werde ich nicht zur Schule gehen and morgen gehe ich nicht zur Schule.
- The infinitive is always sent as far towards the end of the clause as possible (see word order).
The conditional tense of the verb is generally translated as either "I would play". To form this form of the verb, take the relevant form of Konjunktiv II of werden and the infinitive.
|ich||würde||spielen / fahren|
- The conditional tense is often used with a non-conditional meaning as a simple replacement for the Konjunktiv in reported speech and after a few constructions. Conversely, it is common for modal verbs, sein and haben (and uncommon, but possible, for other verbs) to use Konjunktiv II instead of the more clumsy conditional tense.
- The infinitive is always sent as far towards the end of the clause as possible (see word order).
Konjunktiv I is generally used with indirect speech, after verbs such as "sagen" or "behaupten". So the sentence "Ich habe eine Katze" would be reported as "Er sagte, er habe eine Katze". It is possible to use the standard indicative present tense, "er hat", but this can seem quite colloquial. To form KI, take the infinitive of the verb, remove the -en, and add the following endings.
Konjunktiv II can be used in indirect speech, when the relevant form of KI would not be distinguishable from the standard tense of the verb. So, for example, the sentence "Ich habe eine Katze" would be reported as "Ich sagte, ich hätte eine Katze". It is possible to use the standard indicative present tense, "ich habe", but this can seem quite colloquial. It is not possible to use the relevant form of Konjunktiv I, as it is the same form as the standard present tense.
KII can also be used as an alternative to the conditional tense. Common forms are hätte (haben), wäre (sein), möchte (mögen), and the other modal verbs. KII is rarely used except in these cases.
To form KII, take the imperfect stem of the verb. If the verb is irregular, add an umlaut (if possible) to the final vowel. Then add the endings as follows.
- The du and ihr forms of these verbs are rare.
- Be careful not to cause any possible confusion, for example, between führen (KII of fahren) and führen (present tense verb meaning to lead).
- Use these forms of the verb with caution - KI and KII can have a comical effect in speech if overused, apart from the KII forms of haben, sein and the modal verbs.
- Some verbs have irregular KII forms, for example stürbe, stünde, hülfe - but these are extremely rare and generally should not be used.
The pluperfect tense of the verb is translated "I had played", and is formed in a similar way to the perfect tense. Take the relevant form of the imperfect tense of haben or sein, as required, and the past participle. The same rules for agreement and word order apply as for the perfect tense.
Examples: ich hatte Fußball gespielt; ich war nach Frankreich gefahren.
The conditional perfect tense of the verb is translated "I would have played", and is formed in a similar way to the perfect tense. Take the relevant form of the conditional tense of haben or sein, as required, and the past participle. (In fact, Konjunktiv II very often replaces the conditional tense, as the conditional tense can sound clumsy in this structure.) The same rules for agreement and word order apply as for the perfect tense.
Examples: ich hätte Fußball gespielt; ich wäre nach Frankreich gefahren.
The future perfect tense of the verb is translated "I will have played", and is formed in a similar way to the perfect tense. Take the relevant form of the future tense of haben or sein, as required, and the past participle. The same rules for agreement and word order apply as for the perfect tense.
Examples: ich werde Fußball gespielt haben; ich werde nach Frankreich gefahren sein.
Common irregular verbs
The flexible word order that German provides would result in ambiguity without the language's case system. Four cases - nominative, accusative, dative, and genitive - allow the speaker to show the role of each noun within the sentence clearly and unambiguously. This section serves both as an explanation of the individual cases and to demonstrate how each case affects the formation of the noun, but the cases also affect articles and adjectives. Please refer to other sections of this article for explanations of how the cases affects these words.
The nominative case is generally used for nouns which are the subject of the sentence - that is, nouns in the nominative case generally perform the action of the verb. In the sentence "The boy kicked the ball", the verb is "kicked", and there are two nouns. Since the "boy" is performing the "kicking" (compare: "The ball kicked the boy"), the boy is in the nominative case in German. The nominative case does not require any change to the noun.
This allows us to write "The boy kicked the ball" in German completely unambiguously, regardless of the word order. In the sentences "Der Junge trat den Ball", as in the sentence "Den Ball trat der Junge", the noun der Junge is nominative and therefore carries out the action of the verb. Therefore, both of these sentences translate as "The boy kicked the ball".
The nominative case is also used as a complement to sein. For example, in the sentence Er ist ein Mann, both bolded terms are nominative.
Prepositions are words which relate one noun (or pronoun) to another, in time or space, such as "before" (school starts before 9am), "with" (I went to the cinema with him), "by" (the house was destroyed by the earthquake), "over" (he went over the bridge), "after" (July comes after June), and so on. Prepositions in German are always followed by nouns in a certain case (accusative, dative or genitive), and this case depends on the preposition itself and the sense in which it is used. It is highly recommended to learn which case(s) each preposition takes when you are learning the word (e.g. mit is always followed by dative). Below is a list of common prepositions which take each of the various cases.
Prepositions which take accusative or dative often have subtly different meanings depending on their case. For example, in means "in" when followed by the dative, but "into" when followed by the accusative. Similar distinctions are made for the other prepositions, although not all have equivalent distinctions in English. The rule is: when the sentence implies motion from one place to another (e.g. "I climbed into the box"), the preposition takes the accusative; otherwise (e.g. "I was sitting in the box"), it takes the dative. To make the distinction clearer, note the difference between ich fahre in der Stadt ("I am driving [e.g. around] in town") and ich fahre in die Stadt ("I am driving into town").
- Ich habe mich hinter dem Baum gesteckt. (no motion)
- Ich bin hinter den Baum gegangen. (motion from elsewhere to "behind the tree")
- Er stand unter der Brücke. (no motion)
- Er lief unter die Brücke. (motion from elsewhere to "under the bridge")
- Das Poster steht an der Wand. (no motion)
- Ich habe das Poster an die Wand gestellt. (motion from "off the wall" to "on the wall")
Many verbs also take prepositions, such as in English: to think of/about, to strive for, to chase after, to talk about. As in English, the verbs often have very different meanings if you change the prepositions, especially with common verbs (cf. "go for it!" and "go after it!"). Unfortunately, the prepositions often do not match up with the English prepositions (e.g. "to smell of" = riechen nach + dative; "to think of" = denken an + accusative). These, and the cases they take, must be learnt separately with the verb.
Prepositions taking the accusative:
(N.B. entlang comes after the noun it refers to: er läuft die Straße entlang.)
Prepositions taking the dative:
(N.B. entgegen comes after the noun it refers to: er steht mir entgegen.)
(N.B. gegenüber can come before or after the noun it refers to.)
Prepositions taking the genitive:
(N.B. wegen can also take the dative, but this is colloquial and not used throughout Germany.)
Prepositions taking either the accusative or the dative, depending on context:
Simple sentences, main clauses and questions
Subordinate and relative clauses
Order of objects
The spelling reform