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Basic Introduction to German

Hello everyone,

If you are a beginner in German, this post will hopefully be of use to you and lay a foundation for your future studies!
I will give you the "first, but not least" principles you need to know if you want to learn German.

Formal and Informal

In the German language there is the Formal and Informal speech.

Formal is the manner of speech you use when communicating with strangers, elders, and persons in leadership or control (e.g. police).

Informal is the manner of speech you use when communicating with family (Typically younger then yourself) and friends.
Informal speech is also used among students and children.
You would also use informal speech when talking to children, whether you know them or not.

There is also an Royal speech. That is when you talk to royalty.

Capitalized or Lowercase

In German, the ifrst letter of a noun is capitalized and verbs' first letter is lowercase (unless they are at the beginning of a sentence).

Genders in German

In German there are three genders; Masculine, Feminine and Neuter (sometimes also called Neutral).
The definite article for Masculine nouns is "Der".
The definite article for Feminine nouns is "Die".
The definite article for Neuter nouns is "Das".

The indefinite article for Masculine nouns is "Ein".
The indefinite article for Feminine nouns is "Eine".
The indefinite article for Neuter nouns is "Ein".

Masculine and Neuter nouns use the same indefinite article.

So, how do we know which gender a noun has? There are a few rules by which you can tell, they are discussed here (The ones discussed there are not all, you will come across many more rules, although those are the basics).

Whenever you learn a noun, I recommend you learn the article with the noun.


The German alphabet is the same as the English alphabet; the only difference is that there are four letters that we don't use in English.

They are ä, ö, ü, and ß.

The three letters with the dots on them are called the "Umlaute", the singular form is an "Umlaut".

The letter with the form of a B is called the "Esszet". It is a mix between a Z and a S.
The "Esszet" is pronounced just like the English S.
In writing, you can usually use 'ss' instead.

The Four Cases

The German language has four cases, Nominative, Accusative, Genitive and Dative.

The Nominative case is the subject of the sentence.

For example: John is driving his old car.
"John" is the subject because the sentence revolves around what "John" is doing.

The Accusative case is the direct object of the sentence, so it's the object or person that has an action being done to it.

For example: John is driving his old car.
"The car" is the direct object of the sentence because "the car" is being driven.

The Dative case is the indirect object, or recipient of an action or something.

For example: He gives his wife flowers.
"The wife" is the indirect object because the flowers is being given to her.

(English mostly uses prepositional phrases instead of using the Dative case, in expressions where German uses the dative case.)

The Genitive case is about the object or person that shows possession. That is normally indicated in English by an 's.

For example: This is Maria's bicycle.
The -'s ending indicates that the word "Maria's" here, is in the Genitive case.

Endings and Pronouns

The German pronouns are:

First person:
ich (I)

wir (we)

Second person:
du (you - informal)

Sie (you - formal)

Third Person:
er (he)

sie (she)

es (it)

sie (they)

ihr (you - plural - informal)

Ihr (Capital "I") You - Plural/Singular - Royal)

Sie, sie and sie
So what's the difference between "Sie", "sie" and "sie"?
"Sie", with a capital S, is the Formal 'you'.
"Sie", with a lowercase S, means either 'she' or 'they'.

You can use this link to understand this better; look at the "he/she/it" and "they" sections and you will see that they use different endings which will help you determine whether a You, They or She is meant.

How do I know whether She or They is meant when "sie" is at the beginning of a sentence and the S is thus capitalized? Look at the ending on the verb following the "sie" (if there is a verb).
If there is no verb in the sentence that concerns the "sie", you should probably be able to gather it from the context.

Good luck! AP4418

June 18, 2018



Very well done Dr. Rose, newbies will love it and so do I!


Nicely done, Dessert-Rose. You might want to add that "Sie" at the beginning of a sentence can also mean "she" or "they".


Thank you for the suggestion phb2013, but you can see that by the endings:

You can use this link to understand this better; look at the "he/she/it" and "they" sections and you will see that they use different endings which will help you determine whether a You, They or She is meant.

What I'm trying to say is that you can see which word it is by the ending one the verb following it, if that makes sense.

Thanks for the suggestion though, and if you still want it, please tell me, don't feel bad to, and I will see what I can do. :D Thanks and cheers!


all good stuff! did you miss out ihr?
: )


I sure did! Thanks for reminding me! :D


You're very welcome!


I personally have no trouble with the sie and Sie, but since you're directing this to beginners I thought it might be helpful to point this out. You've done a great job.


I see your point. Sure, I'll see what I can do! :D Thanks!


Thumbs up!

One thing, though: You explain the German cases using English sentences. This works OK with the direct object, but you run into issues with your example of the indirect object: “to the woman” can never be an indirect object because it is a prepositional phrase. You are right that the German translation of the English would use the dative instead of the preposition phrase, but you never say so and never show that actual German sentence.

I would use German sentences as examples and the English translations (in parentheses, maybe) only to help understand the meaning of the German. Plus add an English example where a real dative indirect object is used: He gives her the ring. In order to avoid confusion, you could also add that the direct object and the indirect object never ever follow a preposition.


you could also add that the direct object and the indirect object never ever follow a preposition.

I never knew that! ... But i need some clarification... Are you saying that
in the sentence: The man gives a ring to the woman, the woman is not the indirect object, but in the sentence: The man gives the woman a ring. she is?

My brain is melting

: (


Yes, exactly! There sometimes are different ways to express the same idea where an indirect object can be replaced by a preposition phrase. In German, for instance, you can say: “Ich schreibe ihr (einen Brief)” (I write her (a letter)) and “ich schreibe (einen Brief) an sie” (I write (a letter) to her). The first one uses the indirect object (dative), the second one a prepositional phrase in accusative.

There are only few verbs, though, that can use either indircet object or a prepositional phrase, just like in English. Sometimes, as in “write someone/to someone”, English and German work the same, in other instances, as in “give someone something/something to someone”, German is less flexible and must use the indirect object: “jemandem etwas geben.”

The knowledge that direct and indirect objects never follow preopositions should actually help avoid confusion when you’re trying to determine which is which in a complex German sentence structure. So it should actually keep your brain from melting! :)


thanks so much, Jileha. I'll definitely remember that.


Hi Jileha, Thanks for your suggestion and input.

I completely understand what you mean with English sentences explaining German concepts, so to speak, and that it's a problem, but I did it that way deliberately because I'm talking to newbies, people who have no idea (or maybe only a small idea) of the German language.
I hope you understand my problem.

Do you mind giving me an English example that will work then?
(I also want to note that I don't want to make things too complicated in the beginning.)



I completely get your point, however, I doubt that it will be very helpful trying to explain the concept of dative with English, a language that basically, with a few exceptions, does not use the dative anymore, and if it does, it looks identical to an accusative. Better to use German examples where there is a clear difference between accusative and dative inflections. You can use the English (I write her a letter, He gives his wife flowers) to show that a rudamentary dative exists in English so that the can relate to it, but also point out that there are many cases where English uses prepositional phrases instead of dative, or “something” where it is absolutely not clear whether it is a dative or an accusative (e.g. he helps his brother with his homework - is it a dative like in German, or has it completely morphed into an accusative?). This way, they see similarities and important differences between English and German.

Just my 2 cents. :)


That's like $100 worth! I appreciate your opinions because then I can adjust my posts to be more understandable.

I think I understood what you mean and I've added a note in my post!

Please take a look and tell me if that's what you meant. :D


Minor thing: you changed your “ring” to “flowers”, but the explanation thereafter still uses ring.

Your explanation in parentheses could be misunderstood. I’d change “while German uses only the dative case” to “in expressions where German uses the dative case.”


That makes perfect sense. Thanks Jileha!


Great job taking the time to write all of this out to help out the community.

Where you say,

The article for masculine nouns is Der...

and so on...

I thought it might be helpful to point out that there are two kinds of articles:

-The definite article (which you used in your discussion above)


-The indefinite article.

The definite article is "The," used to indicate a definite or particular individual(s), class, group ect…

While the indefinite article "A" does not indicate a particular class, individual, class, group, ect.

Also, when you write about capitalization and un-capitalization (which I have never heard used before), you are referring about lowercase correct?


Hi Jack!
Thanks for your suggestions, they are really helpful.
(Yes, I do mean lowercase!)
I added that there are definite and indefinite articles. Great suggestion!

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