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Double meanings, which can add spice to everything from limericks to e-mail, are nearly impossible to maintain in translation: How Much German Is Enough? Having a clear sense of why you re learning German can help save time. Take a moment to consider your motives: If these terms are unfamiliar to you, don t fret. You ll learn about them in Chapter 8. You may never speak a word out loud, so the pronunciation of words may be a waste of your time.
If you understand what you need from the German language, you easily can tailor this book to your needs. You Could Look It Up Whatever your particular needs are, a bilingual dictionary is as essential to your learning as doublespeak is to a lawyer. What do you need to know to use a bilingual dictionary? Using a bilingual dictionary is a little tougher than using anEnglish dictionary.
For starters, don t forget to look English words up in the English section and German words up in the German section you d be surprised how much precious time is wasted by people looking words up in their bilingual dictionaries in the wrong language. The next thing you should do is figure out what the abbreviations used in the definitions mean.
Here are a few of them: Prepositions are words such as above, along, beyond, before, through, in, to, for, etc. We ll discuss prepositions further in Chapter For example, you should know how to use the basic parts of speech. Take the word inside. Do you see how the meaning of the word changes in the following sentences when it is used as various parts of speech?
I ll meet you inside of an hour. He could feel it in his insides. Innerhalb, im Innern von or Gen. Page 13 Now It s Your Turn Using the German definition of inside just given, figure out the part of speech for inside in each of the following sentences, and complete the translated sentences in German. We will be home inside of two hours. He had inside information on the horse race. We go inside the cave. He hides the key inside the box.
The man s insides hurt. Compounding Your German Vocabulary You re likely to come across German compound words in everything you read from popfiction to political essays to letters to the editor in your local rag. Because the possible combinations of nouns are practically unlimited, you can actually create your own compound words pretty much as you please by linking nouns together.
The good news is that this is why the German language has been of such particular use to so many great thinkers. They have been able to express new concepts and ideas by making up brand new words. The bad news is, these compound words are not easily translatable. Page 15 Chapter 3 Pronounce It Properly: Vowels You think you ve got it bad with German pronunciation? Consider the baffled Italian, Spaniard, or Rumanian learning English.
You re going to have a much easier time learning German pronunciation, because what you see is what you hear. German words are pronounced exactly as they are spelled. In German it is always pronounced. Before you can pronounce German words correctly, however, you ll have to learn the difference in the way the vowels are read because the sounds of vowels in German are significantly different from the sounds of the same letters in English.
This chapter helps you figure out how to pronounce German vowels. They are sometimes written with two dots above them. These two dots are called an umlaut and signal a change in the sound and meaning of a word. When a vowel takes an umlaut it becomes a modified vowel. The vowel tables in this chapter provide hints, English examples, and the letters used as symbols to represent the sounds of vowels in German words.
No, stress in German isn t what happens to you when your Mercedes breaks down on the Autobahn. Stress is the emphasis placed on one or more syllables of a word when you pronounce it. If you say eether and I say eyether, and you say tomato and I say tomahto, it doesn t necessarily mean we ll have to call the whole thing off. A general rule for determining the stressed syllable in German is: Foreign words such as Hotel, Musik, and Natur that have been assimilated into the German language do not follow German rules of stress or pronunciation. Your Own Personal Accent.
Some people have no problem pronouncing new sounds in a foreign language. They were born rolling their Rs, and producing throaty gutturals. Some people spent their adolescence serving as conduits at seances for famous dead Germans, Russians, Spaniards, and Italians. Not all of us have been so lucky. To pronounce words correctly in a new language, you must retrain your tongue. You must teach Page 17 your tongue to make new sounds the same way you would teach your muscles to make new movements if you suddenly decided to change your hobby from long-distance running to mountain climbing.
It doesn t matter if you can t make the exact German sound. Trying is the important thing. Strive for approximate perfection, and chances are, what you re trying to communicate will be understood. A Few Peculiarities of the German Language Believe it or not, there s a much closer relationship between German pronunciation and spelling than there is between English pronunciation and spelling. After you learn how to pronounce German words correctly, reading them will be a breeze. You ll also be glad to hear that the German alphabet consists of the same 26 letters as the English alphabet, so you won t have to learn an entirely new alphabet as you would if you were studying Russian or Greek.
There are, however, a few distinctly German language phenomena that you just can t do without. The Famous Umlaut Remember those versatile two dots we spoke about earlier?
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In German, those two dots are known as an umlaut. The umlaut is used to color, or alter, the sound of a vowel and to change a word s meaning—sometimes slightly, as in a plural form or sometimes more significantly, as in the comparison of an adjective. Capitalizing on Nouns When you see half a dozen capital letters in the middle of a German sentence, they re not typos. Compare this English sentence with the translated German sentence. Don t be scared by the strange looking S in the German text. It s what is known as an es-tset we ll tell you all about it in the next chapter.
Note the capital letters: Which famous German writer and philosopher said that pleasure is simply the absence of pain? The answer is Arthur Schopenhauer. When it comes to the pronunciation of vowels, try to keep in mind that there are three principal types of vowel sounds. These three different types of vowel sounds are referred to throughout this book as vowels, modified vowels, and diphthongs. We ve already discussed vowels and modified vowels. In German, both of these groups can have long vowel sounds, which, as their name suggests, have a drawn out vowel sound like the o sound in snow or shorter vowel sounds, which have a shorter sound like the o sound in lot.
Diphthongs are combinations of vowels that are treated in German as a single vowel. Diphthongs do not have long vowel sounds. In the following pronunciation guide, each vowel is given its own private section. We try to give you an idea of how vowel sounds are pronounced by providing you with an English equivalent. Obviously, we cannot account for regional differences in either the German or English pronunciations of vowels and words. Say A as in Modern For the short a, assume a British accent and make the sound of the vowel in the back of your throat.
Now read the following German words out loud: Pretend you re at the dentist s office and say: Wagen haben Staat Mahl lahm vah-guhn hah-buhn shtaht mahl lahm German Letter Symbol Pronunciation Guide a short A Close to o in modern a, aa, ah long ah Say a as in father Say E as in Bed Smile while making the sound of the short stressed e and your pronunciation will be better.
Bett Dreck Fleck nett bet dRek flek net. When the e is unstressed, it is pronounced like the e in mother. Bitte alle bekommen Dame Hose bi-tuh A-huh buh-ko-muhn dah-muh hoh-zuh There is no exact equivalent of the long e sound in English, but you can approximate it by trying to make the sound of the stressed e and ay at the same time be careful not to produce a diphthong. Try saying these words: It sounds like the i in the English words wind or winter. Try saying the following words: Wind Kind schlimm Himmel hinter vint kint shlim hi-muhl hin-tuhR For the long i, try saying cheeeeeeeese! Mord Loch kochen Ort moRt loCH ko-CHuhn oRt There s no exact equivalent in English of the long o, but if you drop the woo sound at the end of snow and hold your jaw in place as the vibrations of the o sound come up your throat from your vocal chords, you ll be pretty darn close.
The sound of the short u has just a touch of the sound of the long u in it. If you can add a little moon to the sound of the short o, you ll be on the right track. The Long and the Short of It. In German, an umlaut changes the way a vowel is pronounced. Many German words are consistently spelled with umlauts, but other words take an umlaut when they undergo some change in pronunciation and meaning. This guide treats each modified vowel separately, giving you hints to help you make the correct sounds. Focus on getting the sounds right one sound at a time. Round your lips and say ew sound while tightening the muscles at the back of your throat.
If you speak French, though, you re in luck: How do you recognize a diphthong? In German, they are vowels that travel in pairs. Here are the diphthongs most frequently used in German. For other diphthongs, each vowel should be pronounced the same way it would be if pronounced separately: Kollision ko-lee-zeeohn , Familie fah-mee-leeuh. The Diphthongs EI and AI To make the sound of these diphthongs, start with your mouth half-way open, end with your mouth almost—but not quite—closed. Practice with these words: Bleistift Mai vielleicht klein fein blay-shtift may fee-layHt klayn fayn German Letter s Symbol Pronunciation Guide ei,ai ay Sayy as in cry The Diphthong AU Let s suppose that you ve been trying so hard to pronounce these new sounds correctly that you bite your own tongue by mistake.
You knit your eyebrows together and cry out Page 24 in pain: That s precisely the sound of this next diphthong. Try making this ow sound as you say these words: Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy. If you managed that without too much trouble, chances are you ve got the sound of this diphthong down. We re through with vowels. If you had a little trouble getting your mouth to do what you wanted it to, don t worry.
It will take you some time to get used to making sounds you ve never made before. This is where German friends or, in the absence of live, German-speaking human beings, German tapes from your local library come in handy. You should try to listen to native German speakers, particularly because there are no English equivalents for many of the modified vowel sounds.
At this point, concentrate on getting the sounds right. If worse comes to worse, try calling the German Consulate and playing the caller instructions in German over and over again just don t say we told you to! The Least You Need to Know. Start making vowel sounds way back in your throat. Practice making the umlauted vowel sounds. Page 25 Chapter 4 Pronounce It Properly: By now you should be able make the correct sounds of vowels in German. But what good are all the vowel sounds you learned in Chapter 3 without consonants?
What good is Astaire without Rogers, Siskel without Ebert, hamburgers without catsup, lettuce, a tomato slice, and a pickle?
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The bottom line is, say oo or ee as often as you like: The good news is, the sounds of German consonants are not going to be as unfamiliar as many of the sounds you tried in the previous chapter. In German, consonants are either pronounced like their English counterparts or are pronounced like other consonants in English. The only consonant sounds which you won t encounter in English are the two sounds represented in this book by the symbol H the ch in ich and the symbol CH the ch in Loch loCH. In written German, you ll also come across a new letter: It s a combination of the letters s and z, and is considered a single consonant.
When people can t find the es-tset key on their word processor, they often write the es-tset as a double ess ss. In either case, it should be pronounced like an s. Page 26 Conquering Consonants. Before you start stuttering out consonants, we should probably tell you a little about how this section works.
The consonants in the following tables are not given in alphabetical order. They are grouped according to pronunciation type. You should read the pronunciation guide carefully from beginning to end so that you ll know where to look later if you need to locate a specific consonant. For each letter, we provide English examples of how German consonants are pronounced along with the symbols used throughout this book to represent the sounds. Keep in mind that the symbols consonants or combinations of consonants, lowercase or uppercase are not the standard ones used in the dictionary.
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We ve tried to choose symbols that correspond closely to the sounds they represent and are easy for English speakers to recognize at a glance. It may seem like drudgery to read through these tables, but it s worth the effort: You want to speak German, don t you? When you see them, just go ahead and pronounce them the way you would pronounce them if you came across them in English words. B, D, and G Let s take a look at the letters b, d, and g. They are called plosives because of they way their sounds are articulated: At the beginning of a syllable, b is pronounced the same way as it is in English: Bleistift blay-shtift , braun bRoun , aber ah-buhR.
Laub loup , Korb koRp. German Letter Symbol Pronunciation Guide b b Say b as in big b at the end of a syllable p Say p as in pipe Page 27 At the beginning of a syllable, the d is pronounced like an English d: At the end of a syllable, the d is pronounced like a t: Leid layt or like the last d in Deutschland doytsh-lAnt.
German Letter Symbol Pronunciation Guide d d Say d as in dog t Say t as in tail At the beginning of a syllable, g is pronounced the same as it is in English: At the end of a syllable, g is pronounced like k: The consonant g has yet another pronunciation. In certain words, usually ones that have been assimilated into the German language from other languages such as French, pronounce the g as in: German Letter Symbol Pronunciation Guide g g Say g as in God k Say k as in kitchen j Say j as in jeans Freakin Fricatives Fricatives are consonants articulated when the air stream coming up the throat and out of the mouth.
We have subdivided the German fricatives as follows: Z and Sometimes C The z sound is made by combining the consonant sounds t and s into one sound: Otherwise, it should be pronounced like a k: Creme kReym , Computer kom-pew-tuhR , or like the last c in circa tseeR-kah.
If you can draw out this h sound longer than you do in these two English words, you should have very little trouble pronouncing the following words accurately: The second ch sound is articulated at the same place in the back of the throat as k, but the tongue is lowered to allow air to come through.
To approximate this sound represented in this book by the symbol CH , make the altered h sound you just learned farther back in your throat—a little like gargling. Can you pronounce Johann Sebastian Bach s name correctly? Give this a shot: Yoh-hAn zey-bAs-tee-ahn bahhhh gargle and hiss like a cat simultaneously at the end. Once you can do this, you have nothing to worry about: You ve mastered this second ch sound. Practice by reading the following words aloud: In general, when ch occurs at the beginning of a word, it is pronounced like a k: There are exceptions, however, as in China, where the ch is pronounced the same way it is in ich.
The ch has a fourth pronunciation: This pronunciation is usually used only for foreign words that have been assimilated into the German language: Chef shef , Chance shahnsuh. German Letter s Symbol Pronunciation Guide chs x Say x as in fox The h is silent when it follows a vowel to indicate that the vowel is long: In some cases, it is silent when it follows a t, as in Theater tey-ah-tuhR. Otherwise, it is pronounced very much like the English h—just a little breathier.
Think of an obscene phone caller breathing heavily on the other end of the line and try the following: Ja yah , Jaguar yah-gew-ahR. German Letter Symbol Pronunciation Guide. Kneipe knay-puh , Knie knee. In the other consonant combinations in this chart, both letters are pronounced: German Letter s Symbol Pronunciation Guide pf pf No English equivalent ph f Say ph as in photo ps ps Say ps as in psst The qu sound in German is a combination of the consonant sounds k and v: If you thought you were tongue tied the first time you asked a girl or guy for a kiss, wait till you try the German R.
Think of it as a fun challenge for any tongue. The sooner you master it, the sooner you ll be talking practically like a native. Position your lips as if about to make the r sound, and then make the same gargling sound you made when making the German sound represented in this book by the symbol CH. The sound should come from somewhere in the back of your throat. The r sound can be soft, as in the words: Vater fah-tuhR , Wasser vA-suhR , or harder, as in the word: The distinction between these sounds is a subtle one.
This book uses the same symbol R for both sounds. Sohn zohn , Seife zay-fuh , Rose Roh-zuh. At the end of a word, however, it is pronounced like the English s: Maus mous , Glas glahs. Now practice with these words: Spiel shpeel , Spanien shpah-nee-uhn. Practice by saying the following words out loud: The st sound is pronounced in some words or situations the same way as it is in English: Meister may-stuhR , Nest nest. It s easier to read than it appears.
Tsch is pronounced tch, as in the word witch. Matsch mAtch , lutschen loo-tchuhn , deutsch doytch. Page 32 Herbie the Love Bug: The Classic VW In most cases, the v is pronounced like an f: Vater fah-tuhR , Verkehr feR-keyR , viel feel , but in some cases, particularly with words that have been assimilated into the German language from other languages such as French, the v is pronounced v: Vampir vAm-peeR , Vase vah-zuh. German Letter Symbol Pronunciation Guide w v Say v as in vast Pronunciation Guide When you are further along in this book, you may not have time to flip through page after page looking for the letter or the symbol you would like to know how to pronounce.
If you have, we are willing to bet that you have succeeded in making most if not all of the sounds you will need to pronounce German words correctly. Now, practice some more by reading the following sentences out loud. German English Guten Tag, mein Name ist…. Good day, my name is…. Ich komme aus den Vereinigten Staaten. I m from the United States. Ich habe gerade begonnen Deutsch zu lernen. I just started to learn German.
Die Aussprache ist nicht so schwer. The pronunciation isn t so difficult. German is a beautiful language. You ll be understood. What seems peculiar in written German will soon become familiar to you, and soon—particularly if you listen to the German being spoken on a tape or by a native speaker—you will begin to associate letters with their corresponding sounds. Kitsch, Wind, Mensch, Angst, Arm, blond, irrational—the list of German words you already know is longer than you think.
This is because there are many words in German that are similar to or exactly like their English counterparts. These words are called cognates. There also are many German words that have been used so much by English speakers that they have been swallowed whole, so to speak, into the English language to become a part of our vocabulary.
There are many other German words that are so similar to English words that you can master their meanings and pronunciations with little effort. By the end of this chapter, you should be able to put together simple but meaningful sentences in German. She has been living and teaching in Berlin for as long as you can remember, and so you are Page 36 surprised when you find the invitation in your mailbox. You have a thousand questions you want to ask her. What has it been like living in Berlin? Has she learned to speak German yet? When the day of the show arrives, you go to the address on the invitation.
Shortly after you push the door open and step into a noisy, crowded room, you conclude that something must be wrong. Everyone around you is speaking in tongues. Just as you are about to turn and leave, your friend pushes through the crowd and grabs you by the arm. You have not, she assures you, been kidnapped, drugged, and carried in someone s luggage to Berlin.
You are in the right place. Almost all of her admirers are Berliners, she explains, and what you are hearing is German. You stay close to your friend all night. You listen to the conversations she carries on with other people—auf Deutsch ouf doytsh. What surprises you most is not how well your friend speaks the language—it s how well you, having as little knowledge of it as you do, understand what is being said.
You are able to pick up on certain words: Clearly, a new language—a hybrid, perhaps, of German and English—is being spoken, possibly even invented by this sophisticated crowd. How else would you be able to make sense of so many words? The fact is, German and English are not just kissing cousins—they re first cousins. It seems both languages like to borrow words from the same places, namely Latin and Greek. But the really great part about cognates is that they have the same meanings in German as they do in English.
Pronunciation does vary, of course, but most of the time, these words are as familiar to us as the rooms of our grandmother s old house seen again after a long absence. And don t forget! America has had such an influence on Germany since the late 40s, that the German language has taken many words from English, its American cousin, without changing them at all: Identical Twins Table 5. If you really want to get ahead of the game, use the pronunciation guide in Chapter 2 to pronounce these words the way a German would. Now you could probably go back to your friend s art opening, or to some other gathering of Germans, and carry on a simple conversation in German with a very patient German.
Let s imagine that you are walking arm in arm with an attractive German beau or belle and making comments about the subject matter of the paintings. How do we recommend that you practice pronouncing these new words? If you haven t already developed the habit of talking to yourself, start talking now.
Ist expresses is in German. Der Tiger ist wild. Although their spellings differ, their meanings are the same. Practice pronouncing the German words correctly. Don t forget to gargle those CHs and Rs! Page 39 Table 5. There is only one other person sharing your compartment, a member—and a very attractive member, you are pleased to see—of the opposite sex who alternates between reading a book and staring dreamily out of the window.
You were tired when you first boarded the train, but now sleeping is the farthest thing from your mind. Use the adjective and noun cognates and near cognates you have learned to engage your neighbor in conversation. The weather is good. Is the book interesting? The author is popular. The perfume is attractive. The wind is warm. The character is primitive. The heart is wild. Page 41 Where the Action Is: Verb Cognates It s time now to take a look at verb cognates in their infinitive forms. The infinitive form of a verb does not refer to a grammatical ghost that floats around in German sentences for all eternity.
They end, and when they do, it is usually in en, as in the words helfen hel-fuhn , lernen leR-nuhn , and machen mA-CHuhn. In English, to be is an infinitive. You can probably already read and understand the following fun and fanciful German sentences: Der Onkel trinkt Wein. Der Tiger und der Elefant schwimmen in dem Ozean. Der Film beginnt in einem Supermarkt.
Das Baby liegt in den Armen der Mutter. Mein Bruder hat eine Guitarre. Page 43 False Friends No shortcut is without its pitfalls. Now that you ve mastered the art of using words you already know to figure out words in German you didn t know you knew, we must warn you about false friends, or falsche Freunde fAl-shuh fRoyn-duh. In language as in life, false friends are misleading.
What are false friends in language? They are words spelled the same or almost the same in German and in English that have different meanings. As you can see, these two words, which are spelled exactly the same, have totally different meanings. A word of caution: Cognates can be of help to you in learning German, but false friends can trip you up. Don t assume you already know the meaning of every German word that looks like an English word. It s not always that simple. Don t let them trick you into saying things you don t mean.
It s raining cats and dogs and you re bored to tears so you sit down to hit the books and study a little German. Today you re going to focus on common expressions in German, many of which are idioms. They are combinations of words peculiar to a given language. What can happen when you don t learn idioms? Let s say you fall in love with a German politician and have a shotgun wedding.
Unfortunately, he s called away suddenly on a top secret mission. He arranges for you to have breakfast at the hotel with his mother the following morning. That night, you re so worried about your Mann mAnn that you are unable to sleep. You read a few children s stories to yourself, something that has always soothed and relaxed you, and soon you fall asleep. The following morning at breakfast your mother-in-law asks you how you managed to get through the night without her son. Without realizing it, you have used the German idiom for having a one-night stand.
What Are Idiomatic Expressions, Anyway? Idiomatic expressions are speech forms or expressions that cannot be understood by literal translation—they must be learned and memorized along with their meanings. Most differ greatly from their English counterparts in meaning as well as in construction, but there are perhaps an even greater number that differ only slightly. Most of the expressions you will be learning belong to this second group, and will differ from their English counterparts only slightly.
To help you get a clearer idea of what idiomatic expressions are, here are a few in English: He s worth his weight in gold. Don t blow your top. She s sick as a dog. He s under the weather. Idiomatic Expressions in German You probably won t be using too much German slang at hotels and restaurants, but you will certainly find it useful to learn and memorize idiomatic expressions, which are expressions that cannot be literally translated without forfeiting some or all of their true meaning.
Literally, he isn t ticking. Ich habe die Nase vol. Literally, my nose is full. Jetzt geht es um die Wurst. Literally, now it gets about the sausage. Literally,don t take me in your arms. Sie hat nicht alle Tassenim Schrank. Literally, all her cups aren tin the cupboard. Literally, out of thedeepest heart. Literally, I press my thumbsfor you. Let s say you live in Wisconsin and you re going away for the weekend to your parents farm in Vancouver, Canada.
One of your new German friends who doesn t speak any English asks you how you re getting there. You are at a loss for words. The truth is, you will be traveling by plane to Vancouver and then by car from the airport to the lake on the other side of your parents house, and then you ll be traveling by boat across the lake to the dock where there will be a horse waiting for you, which you will then ride to—but how in the world are you going to start explaining this?
What you need are some expressions for travel and transportation. Look at Table 6. It s Time to… We ve all benefited from—and suffered from—the vagaries of time expressions. It s hard to say. Sometimes it means tommorow, sometimes in ten years. Many time expressions have a wide range of interpretations, while others are more grounded and specific. What German idioms of time would you use in the following situations?
When your partner leaves on a business trip for the weekend you say: When you say goodbye to a friend you will be seeing later that evening, you say: If the movie begins at 5 p. If you watch TV every now and then, you watch it: You should brush your teeth: Germany, are the words for expressing location and direction. To use many of these expressions, you need to know about cases in German see Chapter 9.
Page 50 Table 6. Here s a simplified map of a street. See if you can fill in the blanks correctly by following directions in German. So, What Do You Think? Opinions—who doesn t have them? Some of us seem to have more of them than most people. We tell you how the food was. We tell you how the movie was. We tell you what we think of the government in our country and of the governments in other countries and of governments that don t even exist yet but should.
Now it s your turn: Express yourself—auf Deutsch, bitte ouf doytch, bi-tuh. Das ist viel besser. You re spending the weekend with a friend. She or he suggests ways for the two of you to spend the afternoon. Fill in the blanks with the appropriate German suggestions and the English meanings. Denkst du das es regnen wird? Today looks like a beautiful day. Do you think it will rain? Ich habe den Wetterbericht nicht gelesen. I haven t read the weather report today. Hast du lust heute Nachmittag schwimmen zu gehen?
Do you feel like going swimming this afternoon? Maybe we should read the weather forecast first. The weather may change. Das ist mir schon oft passiert. It s happened to me before. Welche Zeitung sollen wir kaufen? Which newspaper should we buy? Ich glaube in jeder Zeitung finden wir einen Wetterbericht. I think that we can find a weather report in any newspaper. How Do You Feel?
I am sad, I am happy, and so on. Chapter 9 discusses these verbs and their conjugations further. For now, concentrate on expressing how you feel: Page 53 Table 6. Express how you feel, using the expressions in the previous section. I m happy that the weather is good. My stomach is growling. I m in love. Not only is weather always a good conversation starter, it is bound to be—no matter what country you re in—a topic of conversation.
The infinitive form of ist is sein. Das Wetter ist schlecht. Das Wetter ist herrlich. Look at the weather map of Germany. Tell what the weather will be in the following cities:. Saying the Right Thing You know the saying, the early bird gets the worm. Do you know what it means? Still, sayings are everywhere in language, embodying familiar truths and generally accepted beliefs in colorful, expressive language. Here are a few German sayings and the English counterparts see Table 6. Page 56 Table 6. Wer zuletzt lacht, lacht am Besten. There are many sayings in German which, although they have the same sense as English sayings, are expressed using different words.
Page 57 Chapter 7 The Joy of Gender. Think your female baby-sitter is female der Babysitter? Not to a German. In this chapter, you ll learn everything you need to know about the sex of German nouns. If you have taken any French or Spanish, you have already dealt with nouns that have two genders. In German, it s more complex: German nouns have three distinct genders. Believe it or not, the English language used to share this fixation on gender with our German cousins. But very early on, even before Chaucer was writing his bawdy Canterbury Tales, English-speakers were quite politically correct.
All plural nouns are preceded by the plural article die dee. Determining gender can be tricky. But more often, you can t get the article for a noun just by looking at it. Walk on the noun, shake it, turn it upside down, throw it against the wall and still you will be no closer to uncovering its gender. It would, of course, be quicker and more effective to look the noun up in a dictionary, where masculine nouns are followed by m. Scholars have come up with many theories about why some nouns take certain definite articles, but the truth is, in German, there are no simple rules or explanations for determining gender.
Why is the meat you eat at dinner neuter das Fleisch , the potato feminine die Kartoffel , and the cauliflower masculine der Rosenkohl?
Your guess is as good as ours. Other than learning the gender and plural of a noun along with the noun itself, there is no fail-safe way of ensuring that you know the correct gender of the German noun you are about to use in a sentence. The gender of a noun affects its relationship to other words in a sentence, and if you learn the definite articles along with the nouns, it will be easier for you to form sentences correctly later.
Absolutely, Definitely Definite Articles Before you get into German nouns, there s one little obstacle you have to take a running leap over: The noun marker that precedes the noun. We use the term noun marker to refer Page 59 to an article or adjective that tells us whether a noun is masculine m.
The most common noun markers, shown in Table 7. There is an obvious correspondence between the grammatical gender of the noun marker and the natural gender of the noun. Page 60 Even in a world where hardly anything is what it seems, there are still certain kinds of nouns whose gender you can determine even if you haven t memorized their definite articles.
Das Berlin, das Deutschland, das Paris—countries, towns, and cities all take the neuter article das. So do the letters of the alphabet: Page 61 Table 7. In German, there are certain nouns that never change their gender, regardless of whether they refer to a male or a female person or animal. Here are a few of them. Believe it or not, that is a word—a compound noun, to be exact. Don t let these words frighten you. If you can recognize the individual nouns out of which the longer word is formed, you should have no trouble figuring out what the word means.
Remember that when you string nouns together to form a compound noun, it s the last noun in the word that determines the gender for the entire noun. See if you can put the following nouns together to form compound nouns: How many childs do you have, or rather children? Are they silly little gooses, uh, geese? And what about those fishes in the deep blue sea—aren t they fish? In German plurals seem to be confusing too, but there is a method to the madness.
In German, there are rules about forming plurals, in fact, an abundance of rules. This is what makes forming plurals in German such a challenge. For now, remember that when a noun becomes plural in German, the noun marker becomes plural with it. In German, the articles der, die, and das all become die in their plural form see Table 7. Page 63 Table 7. Everybody knows that if you ve got more than one cat you ve got cats and a year s supply of kitty litter ; if you buy more than one red Corvette you ve got Corvettes and a serious midlife crisis.
In German, however, it s a little trickier. Many nouns undergo a vowel modification. There are rules for forming plurals in German, however, and many exceptions to these rules. The best way to be sure that you are forming the plural of a noun correctly is to memorize it along with the noun and the article. The following tables give you some basic rules on how to form plurals. When the nouns in Table 7. A majority of German nouns fall into this group, including most feminine nouns.
The nouns in this group never. When the nouns ending in -e, -el, and -er in Table 7. All nouns referring to female persons or animals ending in -in double the n in the plural form. Page 64 Table 7. Some of the masculine nouns in the group undergo a vowel modification, as do the only two feminine nouns in this group. The neuter nouns don t change. All neuter and feminine nouns that end in -nis double the s in the plural form.
Wherever possible, vowels are modified. When they cannot be modified, as in the noun das Bild, the vowels e and i never take an umlaut in German the word takes the -er ending. Practice Those Plurals It s your first day in Berlin. Practice telling people what you re looking for in the plural.
You need some peace and quiet. You are looking for parks. Ich suche die Parks. You need to have your wisdom tooth removed. You ask someone where you can find dentists in Berlin. Tell this person that you need the names of a few dentists. You would like to relax somewhere and drink a cup of coffee. You ve never met them before. Ask two men sitting at a table if they re your friend s brothers.
You re curious to find out what the weather will be like tomorrow. Stop at a kiosk and ask the man at the counter if all German newspapers have weather forecasts. You enter the lobby of a hotel. Ask the receptionist how expensive the rooms are. In the following ads, which employers are seeking male employees?
Which are seeking female employees? Which ads are open to applicants of both sexes? Eine Ausbildung in diesem Bereich ist erforderlich. Restaurant sucht Koch zur Aushilfe. Plural forms of nouns should be learned along with the noun and the definite article. Page 69 Chapter 8 The Case of the Declining Noun Before we start, we should probably warn you that this chapter introduces some new grammatical concepts and that it just might take some time before you fully understand these new concepts. More understanding will come with time—and with exposure to the language. We all know that learning grammar can be about as exciting as watching grass grow, but lots of people have done it and are now happier, German-speaking individuals.
Now that you have familiarized yourself with nouns, it s time to learn how to start forming sentences. In English, once you have the subject, the verb, and the direct object, this is an easy enough thing to do; you put the words in the right order and start talking. It doesn t work this way in German, however, Word order—the position of words in a sentence—isn t as crucial in German as it is in English. The reason for this is that in German, nouns, pronouns, articles, adjectives, and prepositions occur in four cases: Page 70 The Four Cases in German. You don t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out cases in German.
Cases are the form nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and prepositions take in a sentence depending on their function. When we speak of cases and nouns, we are speaking of their articles, since it is primarily the article that comes before a noun that indicates its gender, number, and—you guessed it—case. There are four cases in German: Don t be put off.
Basically, the nominative case indicates the subject of a sentence, the accusative case indicates the direct object of a sentence, and the dative case indicates the indirect object of a sentence. It may look to you like the fish is eating the girl in the second sentence. Despite the position of the nouns, the noun markers remain the same in both sentences, clearly indicating that the fish is being eaten by the girl, and not that the girl is being eaten by the fish.