First it is a good idea to review exactly what an article in English is.
In English, there are two forms of articles: definite and indefinite.
Definite articles are “the/these/this”, or essentially the classifiers for a noun that is specifically mentioned. So for example, if you are referring to a specific car as your own, you can say “this car”, or “that car”.
Or, if you are referring to a specific mountain, you can say “the mountain” or “that mountain”, etc. Indefinite articles are used to discuss general existence of unspecified objects, employing “a” or “some”.
This could be exemplified by saying that “some apples are on the table” or “I would like a banana”. The specifics behind the apples or the banana are unnecessary for the message being conveyed, but rather describing a broader existence.
Definite and Indefinite Articles
In German, both definite and indefinite articles are used for exactly the same purposes as described above. They are not capitalized, unlike the nouns which follow them, and take the following forms:
|der||the||der Hut||the hat|
|ein||a||ein Berg||a mountain|
|dieser||this||dieser Affe||this monkey|
|jener||that||jener Planet||that planet|
|die||the||die Banane||the banana|
|eine||a||eine Ehre||an honor|
|diese||this||diese Stadt||this city|
|jene||that||jene Welt||that world|
|das||the||das Kind||the kid|
|ein||a||ein Ehre||an honor|
|dieses||this||dieses Kleid||this dress|
|jenes||that||jenes Leben||that life|
|die||the||die Lieder||the songs|
|diese||these||diese Omas||these grandmas|
|jene||those||jene Länder||those countries|
Yet German also has two other types of articles non-existent in English, namely negative articles and zero articles.
Negative articles indicate negation. Whereas in English one would say “there are no” or “I do not like”, using the words “no” and “not”, in German, one employs the negative article, again used according to gender.
|kein||no/not||kein Hut||no hat|
|keine||no/not||keine Banane||no banana|
|kein||no/not||kein Kind||no kid|
|keine||the||keine Lieder||no songs|
The concept of the zero article is essentially the use of a noun without an article. While the list is extensive, here are five common scenarios in which zero article is used.
Identifying or Becoming
If you use the verb “sein” or “werden” in some descriptions such as “he is a doctor” or “he wants to become a doctor”, you will not use an article.
- Mein Bruder ist Arzt. (My brother is a doctor.)
- Mein Bruder will Arzt werden. (My brother wants to become a doctor.)
Cities, countries, states, and many other geographical locations are not accompanied by an article.
- Ich lebe in Frankreich. (I live in France.)
- Ich komme aus Moskau. (I come from Moscow.)
Uncountable Food and Drink
Things that are uncountable an are consumed, such as bread, wine, or cheese fit the category of “zero article”.
- Gestern habe ich in Spanien Brot und Käse gegessen. (Yesterday I ate bread and cheese in Spain.) Note: If a quantity word is attributed to the food or drinks, an article comes before the quantity.
- Gestern habe ich in Spanien eine Scheibe Brot und einen Stück Käse gegessen. (Yesterday I ate a slice of bread and a piece of cheese in Spain.)
If you want to describe the material makeup of an object, zero article is used.
- Der Tisch ist aus Holz. (The table is wooden.)
- Ich habe die Schuhe aus Leder hergestellt. (I made the shoes from leather.)
Abilities combined with verbs are zero articles.
- Ich kann Gitarre spielen. (I can play guitar.)
- Ich lerne Deutsch. (I am learning German.)
- Ich springe jedes Wochenende Fallschirm. (I go parachuting every weekend.)
Declensions of Articles and Nouns
If you haven’t already read the section on declensions, please read that first. Nouns and articles are declined according to all four cases.
Article Declensions Table
As you can see, many of the declined forms are shared between gender and case.
For example, the nominative masculine, the dative feminine, the genitive feminine, and the genitive plural all share “der”. Thus, it is important to recognize the case (according to context) the article is being used in.
Der Junge gab der Katze der Schwester der Zwillingsbrüder Süßigkeiten. (The boy gave the cat of the sister of the twin brothers candy.)
- Der Junge = nominative masculine
- der Katze = dative feminine
- der Schwester = genitive feminine
- der Zwillingsbrüder = genitive plural
Nouns are not quite as changing as other components, such as adjectives, pronouns, and articles. Unfortunately, in the case of noun declensions, a table is not practical, as there are far too many exceptions. However, I will provide some generalizations below.
Please learn the genitive form for each noun you learn to be sure you don’t encounter and falsely learn an exception to these generalizations.
(1). Feminine nouns normally keep their nominative form for every case
- Nominative: Meine Frau liebt mich. (My wife loves me.)
- Accusative: Ich liebe meine Frau. (I love my wife.)
- Dative: Ich gebe meiner Frau Blumen. (I give my wife flowers.)
- Genitive: Die Blumen meiner Frau sind wunderschön. (My wife’s flowers are beautiful.)
(2). Masculine and Neuter nouns normally have an “-es” or “-s” ending in the genitive case
- Das Feuer des Kamins. (The fire of the fireplace.)
- der Kamin (nominative) becomes des Kamins (genitive).
- Der Anzug meines Bosses. (My boss’ suit.)
- der Boss (nominative) becomes des Bosses (genitive).
(3). Masculine animate (people and animals) nouns ending in “-e” will often have an “-n” ending in accusative, dative, and genitive
- Nominative: Der Drache fliegt schnell. (The dragon flies quickly.)
- Accusative: Ich habe den Drachen gesehen. (I saw the dragon.)
- Dative: Die Orks gaben dem Drachen eine Rüstung. (The orcs gave the dragon armor.)
- Genitive: Legolas schoss einen Pfeil in das Auge des Drachens. (Legolas shot an arrow at the dragon’s eye.)
(4). Masculine nouns ending in “-and”, “-ant”, “-ent”, “-ist” will often have an “-en” ending in accusative, dative, and genitive
- Nominative: Mein Lieblingsbassist ist Matthew Freeman. (My favorite bassist is Matthew Freeman.)
- Accusative: Ich habe den Bassisten im Konzert gesehen. (I saw the bassist in concert.)
- Dative: Ich habe dem Bassisten einen Luftkuss zugeworfen. (I blew an air kiss to the bassist.)
- Genitive: Ich glaube, der Bandmitglied des Bassisten hat mich gesehen. (I think the bandmate of the bassist saw me.)
(5). Plural words that do not already have an “-n” or “-s” ending in nominative plural form will have an “-n” ending in the dative form.
- Ich habe gestern mit meinen Brüdern gegessen. (Yesterday, I ate with my brothers.)
- The nominative plural form for “der Bruder” is “die Brüder”, which ends in an “-r” (so not “-n” or “-s”), thus taking an extra “-n” on the end in dative.
What to Read Next
- Basic German Grammar Structure for Beginners
- German Declensions: Rules, Regulations, and Chart
- German Nouns: Gender, Masculine, Feminine, and Plural Forms
- German Pronouns: Personal, Possessive, Reflexive, Table, and More
- German Clauses: Independent, Dependent, and Types
- German Adverbs: Explanation, List, and Usage
- German Prepositions: Accusative, Dative, Genitive, and More
Or go back to our Learn German Language page for more learning resources.