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Please explain this?

Why is "Die Frau hat einen Elefanten" correct, while "Die Frau hat ein Elefant" is wrong? I never understood when einen was used instead of ein, and where did the extra "en" come in Elefanten?

July 30, 2012



"einen Elefanten" is the direct object of the sentence. Hence, it takes the accusative case. http://www.pauljoycegerman.co.uk/abinitio/chap3-6.html


Some nouns like Elefant change when used as direct/indirect object. In particular, Elefant -> Elefanten when it is used as a direct object (accusative case).


we used to memorize it with corresponding questions: Wen hat die Frau? Einen Elefanten. Wer hat die Frau? Ein Elefant.



As has already been explained, when you have a singular masculine noun like "Elefant" or "Mann", "ein" is used if the noun is the subject and "einen" if the noun is the direct (accusative) object.

Ex. "An elephant is big". In this sentence, "an elephant" is the subject, because it is active, i.e. it is "doing" or "being" something. Thus, you have to use "ein": "EIN Elefant ist groß."

Ex. "The woman has an elephant." In this sentence, the elephant is the direct (accusative) object, i.e. it is passive and not doing something. Thus, you have to use "einen": "Die Frau hat EINEN Elefanten."


Normally, you just have to change the article if a noun is used as a direct (accusative) object. The noun itself does not change: "Ein MANN ist groß" [A man (= subject) is big] and also "Die Frau sieht einen MANN" [The woman sees a man (= direct object)].

However, there is an exception: a small group of nouns always add an "-n" or "-en" when they are used as objects. These nouns are called "weak nouns" or the "n-declension". The word "Elefant" belongs to this special group. As I said, this is an exception and not the norm.

See here (note that they misspell "Elefant", but the explanations otherwise seem to be okay): http://www.vistawide.com/german/grammar/german_nouns03.htm

See also the entry by the person who posted above you. He or she mentions exactly the same exception.


@esom: Thanks, also for the interesting link! About the spelling: "Elephant" is not listed in Duden, the authoritative reference work for German spelling. It is also not listed in the DWDS Wörterbuch in your link. Duden also has a website, so you don't have to take my word for it :): http://www.duden.de/suchen/dudenonline/Elephant In your link, there are some examples of the spelling "Elephant", but they all either date from around 1900 or are proper names ("Hotel Elephant"). The spelling with "ph" is dated, i.e. wrong in a modern text (when referring to the animal).


Go to basic 1 and read what it says in the tips section so that you can understand accusative and nominative cases a little better.


@christian: There's a typo in your answer: 'einen Elefanten'


@esom: in modern German spelling, 'Elephant' is not correct.


Nice link, @Katherle. Here is another way to approach this conundrum for native speakers: One of the remnants of the same declension of words in English can still be found in "whom", see e.g. http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/who-versus-whom.aspx N.b.: "Elephant" is an archaic spelling which is now out of use. Using "ph" instead of "f" is still valid in some words, e.g. Delphin and Delfin: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Delfin_Wal and Photo instead of Foto: http://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/foto_ So in general people will know what you mean, and you might even be right and look more sophisticated :D


@wataya: Thanks. It's all good now.


@wataya and @katherle: I now fixed my statement -- I got confused by dolphins, apparently.

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