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These are the Tips and Notes for this skill. There are Tips and Notes available for many skills, but at the time of writing this post, you can only access them through the web version of Duolingo on non-mobile devices (https://www.duolingo.com/). Make sure to read them all. If you don't, you will struggle to understand key grammatical concepts.
In German, all nouns are capitalized. For example, "my name" is "mein Name," and "the apple" is "der Apfel." This helps you identify which are the nouns in a sentence.
Three grammatical genders, three types of nouns
Nouns in German are either feminine, masculine or neuter. For example, "Frau" (woman) is feminine, "Mann" (man) is masculine, and "Kind" (child) is neuter. The grammatical gender may not match the biological gender: "Mädchen" (girl) is a neuter noun.
It is very important to learn every noun along with its gender because parts of German sentences change depending on the gender of their nouns.
Generally speaking, the definite article "die" (the) and the indefinite article "eine" (a/an) are used for feminine nouns, "der" and "ein" for masculine nouns, and "das" and "ein" for neuter nouns. For example, it is "die Frau," "der Mann," and "das Kind." However, later you will see that this changes depending on something called the "case of the noun."
Conjugations of the verb sein (to be)
A few verbs like "sein" (to be) are completely irregular, and their conjugations simply need to be memorized:
Conjugating regular verbs
Verb conjugation in German is more challenging than in English. To conjugate a regular verb in the present tense, identify the invariant stem of the verb and add the ending corresponding to any of the grammatical persons, which you can simply memorize:
trinken (to drink)
Notice that the 1st and the 3rd person plural have the same ending as "you (formal)."
Umlauts are letters (more specifically vowels) that have two dots above them and appear in some German words like "Mädchen." Literally, "Umlaut" means "around the sound," because its function is to change how the vowel sounds.
An umlaut can sometimes indicate the plural of a word. For example, the plural of "Mutter" (mother) is "Mütter." It might even change the meaning of a word entirely. That's why it's very important not to ignore those little dots.
No continuous aspect
In German, there's no continuous aspect, i.e. there are no separate forms for "I drink" and "I am drinking". There's only one form: Ich trinke.
There's no such thing as Ich bin trinke or Ich bin trinken!
When translating into English, how can I tell whether to use the simple (I drink) or the continuous form (I am drinking)?
Unless the context suggests otherwise, either form should be accepted.
Generic vs. specific (German is not Spanish or French)
Just like in English, using or dropping the definite article makes the difference between specific and generic.
I like bread = Ich mag Brot (bread in general)
I like the bread = Ich mag das Brot (specific bread)
It gets more complicated when it comes to abstract nouns, but we'll see about that later.