I am very new to german, but I'm having a hard time understanding this one (so far.) The sentence "She does not like the elephant." and "She does not like the elephants." as far as I can tell, they are the same in German "Sie mag den Elefanten nicht." How do you know if elephants is plural or singular? Am I missing something? Danke im Voraus!
I a few words: in singular accusative you have DEN ElefantEN, in plural accusative you have DIE Elefanten. So there would be the difference.
There is indeed a DEN ElefantEN in plural, but that is in the Dative case. I've explained more below.
She + does not like + the elephant Subject + verb + substantive in Akkusativ
your substantive in the accusative case - Elephants - is masculine - der Elefant
in singular masc you will have: ---Sie mag DEN ElefantEN nicht. in plural Accusative it is: --Sie mag DIE ElefantEN nicht. (not DEN as you had translated)
So in this particular case it is DEN/DIE.
However, there is a case - Dative plural - where there is the same form as the singular in accusative (aka DEN ElephantEN), the diference is .. well.. that it is in Dative. Let me give you an example:
Accusative singular : She likes the elephant. Sie mag den Elefanten. -action directly on the elephant aka Direct Object who does she like : the elephant.
Dative plural: She likes the little picture with the elephants. Sie mag das kleine Bild mit den Elefanten. in this case den Elefanten is what is called Indirect Object aka action does not happen ON the Elephants. Who/What does she like? she likes the picture. Which picture? The one with elephants.
check Accusative versus Dative case and der/die/das changes for cases, then you will really understand. Hope it helps.
Ok. Got what you mean. I will re-explain.
you look for the case: <Akkusativ> or <other>
if Akkusativ: A. Er mag den kleinen Elefanten - singular B. Er mag die kleinen Elefanten - plural so you recognize it by the article den(sg)/die(pl)
other (here dative) A. das Essen is dem kleinen Elefanten willkommen. - singular B. das Essen is den kleinen Elefanten willkommen. - plural do here you recognize the same, by dem(sg)/den(pl)
so if it's Accusative and it is den <someword> it is singular if it is Dative and it is den <someword> it is plural. those are the single two places where you have den <someword>.
You will find more info about the cases here: http://german.about.com/library/blcase_acc.htm
An observation to this, as related to what siebolt said: in case 2.A. if you'd have Bleistift instead of Elefanten, the sentence would be like this: 2.A. Er mag den kleinen Bleistift - singular you should notice Bleistift does not have the -EN ending. This is because the general rule is to add -en to the adjective(small, big, ugly, tall) and not to the substantive. Some substantives just get an -en / -n ending.
So: if you know the case and the article, you won't get confused.
Plus the fact, that there is a whole group of masc. nouns which get -n/-en in any case except Nominativ singular. (for instance, masc Nationalities ending with -e: der Grieche, der Ire)