What are Articles?
Articles - like ‘em or not, we use them every day, but do we know the meaning of them? You definitely will after this post because today we’ll be talking about the German Articles. Not the ones in the newspaper, but those used in grammar.
So, what are Articles? The definition is pretty clear. They belong to a group of words which we call determiners and we link them to nouns. With an Article we can determine the noun we are using. Important to know: the Article always goes before the noun.
In English the Articles are for example: the (definite), an / a (indefinite). In German there are some more Articles and after reading through this post you’ll be familiar with most of them and know exactly how to use them. So, take one last bite of your “Brezel” because you’re about to get a mouthful of Articles!
Definite and indefinite Articles
Just like English, there are also definite and indefinite Articles in German. “What is a definite or an indefinite Article?”, you might ask? I’ll tell you. We use an indefinite Article when we are introducing a noun for the first time and the noun is not known to us yet.
Das ist ein Apfel. (This is an apple.)
We use the definite Article when we have already introduced our noun to the conversation and we are talking specifically about this one noun that we already know.
Der Apfel ist rot. (The apple is red.)
Check out this table with definite and indefinite Articles in German.
Here are some more examples with the German definite and indefinite Articles.
- Das ist eine Blume. Die Blume ist schön. (This is a flower. The flower is beautiful.)
- Das ist ein Auto. Das Auto ist neu. (This is a car. The car is new.)
- Das sind - Kinder. Die Kinder sind laut. (These are - kids. The kids are loud.)
As you can see, there is no plural of the indefinite Article, just like in English.
One thing you should know about German Articles is that they change their form according to the gender of the noun (as you could see in the example) and they also change according to the grammar case that needs to be applied. So far we are using the nominative case. If you wanna dig deeper here you can find the Accusative, Dative and Genitive case.
How to know which Articles to use
Now that we know what Articles are we can jump to the next question that always arises : How do I know which Article I have to use? In English, things are pretty easy because every specific or plural noun has the Article “the”. But in German, things are a bit different. German nouns can be masculine, feminine or neutral.
And here is where the confusion starts. In English the noun “moon” has the Article “the” because we’re talking specifically about the moon. In Italian it’s feminine and in German it’s masculine. I’ll give you a few hints on how to know which Article to use.
You use the masculine Article “der” for:
Male people: der Mann, der Student, der Vater (the man, the student, the father)
Days of the week, months, seasons: der Montag, der Januar, der Frühling (Monday, January, spring)
Words with specific endings: der Häuptling, der Elefant, der Zirkus, der Teppich (the chief, the elephant, the circus, the carpet),
Many nouns deriving from verbs with the ending “-en”: schlafen / der Schlaf (sleeping / the sleep)
You use the feminine Article “die” for:
Female people: die Frau, die Journalistin, die Schwester (the woman, the journalist, the sister)
German rivers: die Elbe, die Mosel
Nouns with specific endings: die Zeitung, die Logik, die Meisterschaft, die Universität, die Therapie, die Resistenz, die Struktur (the newspaper, the logic, the championship, the therapy, the resistance, the structure)
You use the neutral Article “das” for:
Letters: das A, das B, das C
Nouns with specific endings: das Mädchen, das Fräulein, das Experiment, das Drama, das Universum (the girl, the young woman, the experiment, the drama, the universe)
Nouns derived from a verb: Das Essen, das Trinken, das Lesen (the eating, the drinking, the reading)
Nouns derived from English ending in “-in”: das Training, das Timing
Collectives beginning with “Ge-”: das Gebüsch, das Gebirge
Check out this post where you can find in detail and with many examples all the great hints about how to use the Articles correctly! (LINK)
A little disclaimer: Although there are many rules which help you remember the Articles better, there are also many tricky exceptions. Therefore I would recommend you to always learn new vocabulary together with the Articles.
And watch Anja's video on that topic!
The Zero Article
As your brilliant mind might suspect, the Zero Article means that we’re not supposed to use any Article in front of a noun. This happens in some specific situations that you’ll learn now.
Indefinite plural nouns
One case where you don’t need to use an Article is when you have indefinite nouns in the plural. As we learned in the section above we have indefinite Articles and there is no plural form of them. This means that we won’t use any Articles before the noun.
- Da steht ein Baum. (There is a tree.)
- Da stehen Bäume. (There are trees.)
- Sie hat eine Katze. (She has a cat.)
- Sie hat Katzen. (She’s got cats.)
- Wir haben ein Buch. (We have a book.)
- Wir haben Bücher. (We have books.)
Names without adjectives
When using names without having adjectives before them, you also omit the Article.
- Ich tanze mit Gogo. (I’m dancing with Gogo.)
- Er arbeitet bei Lidl. (He works at Lidl.)
Things will look a little bit different when you have an adjective before the name because you will have to add an Article. It’s not the most common thing to do, but it’s used to make sure that the person you’re talking to really understands who or what you’re talking about.
- Ich tanze mit dem netten Gogo. (I’m dancing with the nice Gogo.)
- Er arbeitet beim neuen Lidl. (He works at the new Lidl.)
Also in these cases we have the infamous Zero Article and don’t need to add definite or indefinite Articles.
- Die Gäste trinken 10 Liter Bier. (The guests drink 10 liters of beer.)
- Sie kauft fünf Eier. (She buys five eggs.)
- Er trinkt eine Tasse Tee. (He drinks a cup of tea.) In this case the indefinite Article refers to the measurement, which is one cup. The Article does not refer to the tea.
- Wir essen ein Kilogramm Nudeln. (We eat a kilogram of pasta.)
After abstract nouns there is no need to use an Article.
- Sie beweist viel Mut. (She’s showing a lot of courage.)
- Stefanie hat Angst vor der Dunkelheit. (Stefanie is afraid of the darkness.)
- Wir brauchen Hilfe. (We need help.)
Nationalities and languages
When talking about nationalities and languages you can skip the Article without any problem!
- Er ist Italiener. (He’s Italian.)
- Sie lernen Deutsch. (They’re learning German.)
- Katie und Jan sprechen Französisch. (Katie and Jan speak French.)
- Pedro ist Spanier. (Pedro is Spanish.)
Countries and Cities without adjectives
- Wir kommen aus Deutschland. (We’re from Germany.)
- Sie kommt aus Berlin. (She’s from Berlin.)
But be careful! Some countries always require an Article!
- Sie kommt aus der Schweiz. (She’s from Switzerland.)
- Er lebt in der Türkei. (He lives in Turkey.)
And just like we had the situation with the names in the previous paragraph, we can add an Article to the noun when we have an adjective and talk about this one city, country or region in specific.
- Sie kommt aus dem schönen Berlin. (She comes from beautiful Berlin.)
- Ich lebe im sonnigen Spanien. (I live in sunny Spain.)
Here a question for 100 points: which city is this?
The Zero Article for professions
When we talk about professions and use the verbs “sein” or “werden” or the conjunction “als”.
- Gogo ist Lehrer. (Gogo is a teacher.)
- Katie will Tierärztin werden. (Katie wants to become a veterinarian.)
- Sie arbeiten als Kellner. (They work as waiters.)
Possessive Articles are determiners, just like definite and indefinite Articles. They belong to the nouns and cannot be used alone, only in connection with nouns. The possessive articles indicate possession or belonging.
These Articles are nearly the same as the possessive pronouns. However, the difference between the two is just as I explained earlier: The Articles are determiners and have to stand before a noun. Pronouns, on the other hand, can be used instead of nouns.
The possessive Articles change depending on the person and gender they refer to. Here’s a table where you can see all the Articles at a glance.
Let’s have a look at some examples.
- Ist das dein Kaffee? Ja, das ist mein Kaffee. (Is this your coffee? Yes, this is my coffee.)
- Das sind Katie und ihr Hund. (These are Katie and her dog.)
- Wie ist Ihr Name? (What is your name?)
- Das ist Christian und das ist sein Bruder. (This is Christian and this is his brother.)
- Das ist mein Bruder und das sind unsere Eltern. (This is my brother and these are our parents.)
Dig deeper into the topic of the possessive Articles and watch Anja’s video. You will find plenty of exercises to practice with Anja. Have fun!
The negative Articles
Negative Articles are used to explain when “something is not”. While in English there is always one way to express that, in German there are two different words and ways to say that something is not.
The two magic words are “nicht” and “kein”. Now, I can already see that look on your face, asking me how to know when to use “nicht” and when to use “kein”.
We use “nicht” to negate verbs, adjectives and adverbs
- Ich verstehe. Ich verstehe nicht. (I understand. I don’t understand.)
- Du bist lustig. Du bist nicht lustig. (You’re funny. You’re not funny.)
- Wir sind immer pünktlich. Wir sind nicht immer pünktlich. (We’re always punctual. We’re not always punctual.)
We use “kein” for nouns
- Das sind Äpfel. Das sind keine Äpfel. (These are apples. These aren’t apples.)
The world of Articles is fun! It can be a bit challenging sometimes, but if you follow the rules and indications I promise you won’t have any problems with them.