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Differences in usage of determiners (articles)

Could anybody provide a source where I could learn about differences in usage of determiners between German and English. For example I know that in sentences like I am a student Germans do not put ein and say Ich bin Schüler. But sometimes I see Ich bin ein Schüler and I do not know why. Another example is the expression From child to man, without determiners in English, but in German it is Vom Kind bis zum Mann, with determiners. So, in which circumstances Germans use determiners whilst English do not, and in which circumstances Germans do not use determiners whilst English do.

May 11, 2017


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The most important construction where German doesn’t use an article while English does is what you already mentioned: The predicative of sein and werden usually doesn’t have an indefinite article. The only exception is if what you want to say is “x is/becomes an example of group y/x is one among group y”. In this case you do have an indefinite article (this is why JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” is perfectly correct. He wasn’t saying that he was from Berlin but simply wanted to express solidarity with the citizens of Berlin).

For constructions where German uses an article but English doesn’t: English often doesn’t need an article for abstract concepts: heaven, hell, freedom etc. These usually need a (singular) definite article in German: der Himmel, die Hölle, die Freiheit etc. There are some environments where you can omit the article in German, too, but for the moment I would go with the general rule that they need one.

Apart from these two, use (or non-use) of articles seems largely idiomatic to me.


Hi Randy, it is indeed a bit confusing, but in german (i am a native speaker) it is never wrong to use the determiners "Ich bin ein Schüler" is as common and as right as "Ich bin Schüler" So as a rule of thumb you can always leave the determiners away if you are talking about professions, but if you feel insecure just stick to using it. Unfortunately if have no source for you :/


I don't see your determiner in "vom Kind zum Mann". Anyway, you seem to be save to use them all the time. All you can get is a slightly raised eyebrowfor using one twist too many. If you leave them away you quickly are in uncharted territory.


Im not sure what the OP means with determiners (I guess articles? because of the first example). Anyway vom and zum are "merged" preposition and defined article -> von dem / zu dem and you need the articles in this example, even when the engish sentence uses no article.

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