More Grammar Terminology

More Grammar Terminology

This summary is just intended as a quick reference. If it makes your head spin, you might want to look at English Grammar for Students of German, which is on the recommended reading list for German 101-232.

direct object: object in the accusative case:

Ich trete den Dinosaurier I kick the dinosaur

indirect object: object in the dative case:

Ich helfe dem Astronauten I help the astronaut

intransitive verb: this is a verb that cannot take an object “without the help of a preposition.” Examples are schlafen, gehen, stehen, geschehen, sterben etc. These are things one cannot do to anything. They can take prepositional objects (Ich schlafe im Bett, ich gehe in das Haus, ich stehe auf Barney etc]. Some intransitive verbs are made transitive by the prefix be-: Ich antworte auf die Frage = Ich beantworte die Frage; Ich kämpfe gegen dich = Ich bekämpfe dich; Wir steigen auf den Berg = Wir besteigen den Berg.

adjective: describes a noun:

Das gelbe Haus The yellow house

adverb: describes a verb, adjective, or another adverb (!):

Ich renne schnell I run quickly (quickly describes how I run)
Das Haus ist sehr schön The house is very beautiful (very describes the adjective “beautiful”)
Ich renne außerordentlich schnell I run extraordinarily quickly (extraordinarily describes the
adverb quickly

In English, many adverbs end in “-ly”: quickly, loudly, wisely; in German some (but fewer) end in the suffix “-(er)weise.” Typically, however, German adverbs are distinguished from adjectives by their lack of an ending:

Der schnelle, laufende Hund

The fast, running dog (schnell as adjective (with ending):

the dog is (generally) fast and is running)

Der schnell laufende Hund

The quickly running dog (schnell as adverb (no ending):

the dog is running fast (but it may not be a fast dog))

This distinction does not work for predicate adjectives (see below), which follow the noun and therefore take no ending.

adverbial phrase = a phrase that functions as an adverb. These phrases usually indicate time, manner or place. (See also prepositional phrases below.)

Wir fahren mit dem Bus We’re going by bus (manner)
Um neun Uhr kam ich in der Schule an At nine o’clock (time) I arrived at the school (place)

article: “the,” “a” or “an.”  “The” is called the “definite article” and corresponds to the forms of “der/die/das” in German; “A/An” is called the indefinite article, and corresponds to the forms of “ein” in German.

noun: a word that names a person, place, thing, animal, or concept.  Examples: man, woman, cat, dog, truth, beauty, speed, Austria, Steffi Graf.  Occasionally, nouns can even be derived from verbs, e.g. “Swimming is fun” [here, “swimming” is used as a noun: “What’s fun?  Swimming is!”].  Similarly, nouns can sometimes be derived from adjectives, e.g. “I devote my life to the beautiful and the good.”

preposition = a word that comes before a noun (i.e. is “pre-positioned”) to connect it to other words in the sentence. aus, außer, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu, für, ohne, gegen, um, trotzetc. are all prepositions.

Ich esse mit dem Hund I eat with the dog

prepositional phrases: these consist of a preposition and the noun it governs.

Wir fahren mit dem Bus We’re going by bus
Ich freue mich auf deinen Besuch I’m looking forward to your visit

Many prepositional phrases (e.g. mit dem Bus above) indicate time, manner or place and are thus adverbial phrases (see above).

complementing prepositional phrases: this is the name given to prepositional phrases whose preposition accompanies a “prepositional verb,” such as sich freuen auf or denken an. They are called “complementing” because they are needed to “complete” the verb.

Ich freue mich auf deinen Besuch I’m looking forward to your visit
Ich denke immer an den weißen Hai I’m always thinking of the white shark

complementing nouns: these are nouns that have become “part” of a verb, such as Tennis in Tennis spielen, Holz in Holz hacken or Fahrrad in Fahrrad fahren. The difference between “complementing nouns” and the “object” of a verb is sometimes fluid; it affects word order because complementing nouns are “final field elements” (i.e. they must come at the end of the phrase, as if they were a separable prefix for the verb), whereas verb objects are “middle field elements.”

conjunctions: these cute little words combine (“con-junct”) words, phrases, or clauses. German distinguishes coordinating conjunctions (und, denn, sondern, aber, oder) and subordinating conjunctions (weil, dass, als, damit etc.). Subordinating conjunctions only connect clauses. Clauses containing a subordinating conjunction (or a relative pronoun) are subordinate clauses, which means that the conjugated verb comes at the end of the clause. A main clause can stand on its own; a subordinate clause cannot, even though it contains a subject and a verb:

Ich bin hungrig, weil ich nicht gegessen habe
main clause subordinate clause

“Ich bin hungrig” makes sense by itself. “Weil ich nicht gegessen habe” does not.

predicate nominatives: nouns following the linking verbs sein, werden and bleiben are called predicate nominatives. The linking verbs take no objects.

Ich (nom.) bin ein Mensch (predicate nom.) I am a human being

predicate adjectives: these are adjectives following linking verbs (see above).

Ich werde alt (predicate adjective) I’m getting old

indirect questions: clauses that imply a question. These are subordinate clauses.

Ich weiß nicht, wie du heißt I don’t know what your name is
Ich frage mich, wo Texas ist I wonder where Texas is
Ich wüßte gern, wer “Copacabana” singt I’d like to know who sings “Copacabana”
Er fragt, ob du Geld hast He asks if you have money