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How do you distinguish between "the cow is drinking water" and "the cow drinks water" in German?
Only by context. No difference in the translation.
"Die Kuh trinkt Wasser" for both of them.
No in this sentence "die" is the determinative article in nominative case for a feminine noun.
The determinative articles in nominative case (=it refers at the subject that makes action in a sentence) are the following:
der = singular masculine
die = singular feminine
das = singular neuter
die = plural for all genders.
Cause "die" can be singular (only feminine) or plural (ever), you need to see the verb to know which of them it is.
Examples for our sentence:
Die Kuh trinkt = The cow is drinking (singular)
Die Kühe trinken = The cows are drinking (plural)
Another example that is probably better than the previous I posted just a few minutes ago:
Das Mädchen trinkt = the girl is drinking
Die Mädchen trinken = the girls are drinking
Indefinite articles for nominative case:
Ein = for masculine and neuter nouns.
Eine = for feminine nouns.
In the accusative case (= when there is a direct object acted by the verb referring to the subject in nominative case) "ein" becomes "einen" only for masculine nouns. It doesn't change both for feminine (eine) and neuter (ein) nouns.
Ein Mann = a man (M)
Ein Apfel = an apple (M)
Eine Orange = an orange (F)
Ein Mann isst einen Apfel A man is eating an apple
Ein Mann isst eine Orange A man eats an orange.
So note and memorize the difference; and remember to learn every new noun you find on your way with its article (for the gender) and also with its plural. In the examples I wrote you the plurals are Männer, Äpfel and Orangen.
That sentence gets into the past tense formation of verbs, which gets a little more complicated. It would be "Die Kuh hat Wasser getrunken."