German declension

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German declension is the paradigm that German uses to define all the ways articles, adjectives and sometimes nouns can change their form to reflect their role in the sentence: subject, object, etc. Declension allows speakers to mark a difference between subjects, direct objects, indirect objects and possessives by changing the form of the word—and/or its associated article—instead of indicating this meaning through word order or prepositions (e.g. English, Spanish, French). As a result, German can take a much more fluid approach to word order without the meaning being obscured. In English, a simple sentence must be written in strict word order (ex. A man eats an apple). This sentence cannot be expressed in any other word order than how it is written here without changing the meaning. A translation of the same sentence from German to English would appear rather different (ex. "Ein Mann isst einen Apfel" (a man)-subject eats (an apple)-directobject) and can be expressed with a variety of word order (ex. "Einen Apfel isst ein Mann (an apple)-directobject is eaten by (a man)-subject) with little or no change in meaning.

As a fusional language, German marks nouns, pronouns, articles, and adjectives to distinguish case, number, and gender. For example, all German adjectives have several different forms. The adjective neu (new), for example, can be written in five different ways (neue, neuer, neues, neuen, neuem) depending on the gender of the noun that it modifies, whether the noun is singular or plural, and the role of the noun in the sentence. English lacks such declinations (except for rare and exceptional ones, such as blond / blonde [1]), meaning that an adjective can be written in only one form.

Modern High German distinguishes between four cases—nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative—and three grammatical genders—feminine, masculine, and neuter. Nouns may also be either singular or plural; in the plural, one declension is used regardless of gender―meaning that plural can be treated as a fourth "gender" for the purposes of declining articles and adjectives. However, the nouns themselves retain several ways of forming plurals which often, but not always, correspond with the word's gender and structure in the singular. For example, many feminine nouns which, in the singular, end in e, like die Reise ("the journey"), form the plural by adding -n: die Reisen ("the journeys"). Many neuter or masculine nouns ending in a consonant, like das Blatt or der Baum ("the leaf" and "the tree") form plurals by a change of vowel and appending -er or -e: die Blätter and die Bäume ("the leaves", "the trees"). Historically, these and several further plural inflections recall the noun declension classes of Proto-Germanic, but in much reduced form.

Articles

Definite article

The definite articles (der, etc.) correspond to the English "the".

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem den
Genitive des der des der

Indefinite article

The indefinite articles (ein, etc.) correspond to English "a", "an". Note: ein is also a numeral which corresponds to English "one" (i.e. 1).

Ein has no plural; as in English, the plural indefinite article is void, as in "There are cows in the field." ("Es gibt Kühe auf dem Felde.").

Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative ein eine ein
Accusative einen eine ein
Dative einem einer einem
Genitive eines einer eines

Adjectival pronouns

Certain adjectival pronouns also decline like der: all-, dies-, jed-, jen-, manch-, solch-, welch-. These are sometimes referred to as der-words.

The general declension pattern is as shown in the following table:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative -er -e -es -e
Accusative -en -e -es -e
Dative -em -er -em -en
Genitive -es -er -es -er


Examples:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative dieser diese dieses diese
Accusative diesen diese dieses diese
Dative diesem dieser diesem diesen
Genitive dieses dieser dieses dieser
Case jeder (singular) alle (plural)
Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative jeder jede jedes alle
Accusative jeden jede jedes alle
Dative jedem jeder jedem allen
Genitive jedes jeder jedes aller

Adjectival possessive pronouns (or possessive determiners) and kein decline similarly to the article ein. The general declension pattern is as shown in the following table:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative - -e - -e
Accusative -en -e - -e
Dative -em -er -em -en
Genitive -es -er -es -er

Examples:

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative kein keine kein keine
Accusative keinen keine kein keine
Dative keinem keiner keinem keinen
Genitive keines keiner keines keiner
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative dein deine dein deine
Accusative deinen deine dein deine
Dative deinem deiner deinem deinen
Genitive deines deiner deines deiner
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative ihr ihre ihr ihre
Accusative ihren ihre ihr ihre
Dative ihrem ihrer ihrem ihren
Genitive ihres ihrer ihres ihrer
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative euer eure euer eure
Accusative euren eure euer eure
Dative eurem eurer eurem euren
Genitive eures eurer eures eurer

Euer is slightly irregular: when it has an ending, the e can be dropped and endings are added to the root eur-, e.g. dative masculine eurem (also euerem).

Nouns

Only the following nouns are declined according to case:

  • Masculine weak nouns gain an -n (sometimes -en) at the end in cases other than the singular nominative. e.g. der Student, des Studenten.
  • The genitive case of other nouns of masculine or neuter gender is formed by adding -s (sometimes -es). e.g. das Bild, des Bildes.
  • Nouns in plural that do not already end in -n or -s (the latter found in loanwords) gain an -n in the dative case. e.g. der Berg, die Berge, den Bergen.

There is a dative singular marking -e associated with strong masculine or neuter nouns, e.g. der Tod and das Bad, but this is rarely regarded as a specific ending in contemporary usage, with the exception of fossilized phrases, such as zum Tode verurteilt ("sentenced to death"), or titles of creative works, e.g. Venus im Bade ("Venus in the Bath"): In these cases, the omission of the ending would be unusual.

Pronouns

Personal pronouns

Genitive case for personal pronouns is currently considered archaic[2] and is used only in certain archaic expressions like "ich bedarf seiner" (I need him). This is not to be confused with possessive adjectives.

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
ich - I mich - me mir - to/for me meiner - mine
du - you (familiar singular) dich - you dir - to/for you deiner - your
er - he ihn - him ihm - to/for him seiner - his
sie - she sie - her ihr - to/for her ihrer - her
es - it es - it ihm - to/for it seiner - its
wir - we uns - us uns - to/for us unser - our
ihr - you (familiar plural) euch - you euch - to/for you euer - your
Sie - you (formal singular and plural) Sie - you Ihnen - to/for you Ihrer - your
sie - they sie - them ihnen - to/for them ihrer - their

Note that "er" and "sie" can refer to any masculine or feminine noun, not just persons.

Interrogative pronouns

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
Personal ("who/whom") wer wen wem wessen
Impersonal ("what") was was
  1. Generally, prepositions that need to be followed by either case merge with "was" to form new words such as "wovon" ("whereof" / "whence [from where]") or "weswegen" ("for what reason").

Relative pronouns

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative der die das die
Accusative den die das die
Dative dem der dem denen
Genitive dessen deren dessen deren
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative welcher welche welches welche
Accusative welchen welche welches welche
Dative welchem welcher welchem welchen
Genitive welches welcher welches welcher

Possessive pronouns

Possessive pronouns are treated as articles in German and decline the same way as kein; see Indefinite article above.

Demonstrative pronouns

These may be used in place of personal pronouns to provide emphasis, as in the sentence "Den sehe ich" ("I see that"). Also note the word ordering: den corresponds to "that", and ich corresponds to "I". Placing the object at the beginning of the sentence places emphasis on it. English, as a generally non-declined language, does not normally show similar behavior, although it is sometimes possible to place the object at the front of a sentence for similar emphasis, as in: "Him I see, but I don't see John".[3]

The table is the same as for relative pronouns.

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are used when a subject and object are the same, as in Ich wasche mich "I wash myself".

Nominative (Subject) Accusative (Direct Object) Dative (Indirect Object)
ich - I mich - myself mir - to/for myself
du - you dich - yourself dir - to/for yourself
er/sie/es/man - he/she/it/one sich - himself/herself/itself/oneself sich - to/for himself/herself/itself/oneself
wir - we uns - ourselves uns - to/for ourselves
ihr - you (pl.) euch - yourselves euch - to/for yourselves
Sie - you (formal) sich - yourself/yourselves sich - to/for yourself/yourselves
sie - they sich - themselves sich - to/for themselves

Indefinite pronouns

[citation needed]

The pronoun man refers to a generic person, and is usually translated as one (or generic you). It is equivalent to the French pronoun on.

Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive
man - one/you/they einen - one/you/them einem - to/for one/you/them sein - one's/your/their

Adjectives

Predicate adjectives

Predicate adjectives (e.g. kalt in mir ist kalt "I am cold") are undeclined.[4]

Attributive adjectives

Attributive adjectives use the following declension patterns.

Strong inflection

Strong declension is used when:[5][6]

  • there is no preceding article; or
  • the preceding article does not fully indicate the case, gender, and number of the noun.[7]
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative -er -e -es -e
Accusative -en -e -es -e
Dative -em -er -em -en
Genitive -en -er -en -er

Here is an example.

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative schwieriger Fall rote Tinte schönes Haus alkoholfreie Getränke
Accusative schwierigen Fall rote Tinte schönes Haus alkoholfreie Getränke
Dative schwierigem Fall(e) roter Tinte schönem Haus(e) alkoholfreien Getränken
Genitive schwierigen Fall(e)s roter Tinte schönen Hauses alkoholfreier Getränke

Note that the ending for genitive masculine and neuter is -en. This is a source of confusion for learners, who typically assume it is -es, and also native speakers, who interpret some of the less common definite articles (e.g. jed-) as adjectives with no article, to be declined strongly.

Weak inflection

Weak declension is used when the article itself clearly indicates case, gender, and number.[5][6][7]

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative -e -e -e -en
Accusative -en -e -e -en
Dative -en -en -en -en
Genitive -en -en -en -en
Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nom. welcher schwierige Fall solche rote Tinte dieses schöne Haus alle alkoholfreien Getränke
Acc. welchen schwierigen Fall solche rote Tinte dieses schöne Haus alle alkoholfreien Getränke
Dat. welchem schwierigen Fall(e) solcher roten Tinte diesem schönen Haus(e) allen alkoholfreien Getränken
Gen. welches schwierigen Fall(e)s solcher roten Tinte dieses schönen Hauses aller alkoholfreien Getränke

Mixed inflection[5]

Mixed declension is used when there is a preceding indefinite article (e.g. ein-, kein-), or possessive determiner (mein-, dein-, ihr-, etc.).

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative -er -e -es -en
Accusative -en -e -es -en
Dative -en -en -en -en
Genitive -en -en -en -en

Mixed inflection is the same as weak inflection, except for the masculine nominative, neuter nominative and accusative, that are the same as strong inflection.

Masculine Feminine Neuter Plural
Nominative mein schwieriger Fall seine rote Tinte euer schönes Haus keine alkoholfreien Getränke
Accusative meinen schwierigen Fall seine rote Tinte euer schönes Haus keine alkoholfreien Getränke
Dative meinem schwierigen Fall(e) seiner roten Tinte eurem schönen Haus(e) keinen alkoholfreien Getränken
Genitive meines schwierigen Fall(e)s seiner roten Tinte eures schönen Hauses keiner alkoholfreien Getränke

Undeclined geographic attributive words

Many German locality names have an attributive word associated with them which ends in -er, for example Berliner for Berlin and Hamburger for Hamburg, which are not marked for case but always end in -er. Die Berliner Mauer (‘the Berlin Wall’) and das Brandenburger Tor (‘the Brandenburg Gate’) are prominent examples of this. Note the -er ending despite the neuter gender of the word Tor. If the place name ends in -en, like Göttingen, the -er usually replaces the terminal -en.

See also

References

  1. ^ http://grammarist.com/usage/blond-blonde/
  2. ^ Handbuch zur deutschen Grammatik, Third Edition, p. 209
  3. ^ Handbuch zur deutschen Grammatik, Third Edition, p. 213
  4. ^ Handbuch zur deutschen Grammatik, Third Edition, p. 169
  5. ^ a b c Canoo guide to adjective inflection
  6. ^ a b Handbuch zur deutschen Grammatik, Third Edition, p. 170
  7. ^ a b Zorach, Cecile; Melin, Charlotte (1994). Morton, Jacqueline, ed. English Grammar for Students of German (3d ed.). Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Olivia and Hill Press. p. 125. ISBN 0934034230. 
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