Writing in German Without Thinking in English

Note: If you see references on this page to grammar topics you haven’t encountered yet (e.g. Subjunctive, Relative Clauses, Comparative & Superlative, endings of Adjectives, Subordinating Conjunctions), just ignore them and use only the suggestions that make sense given your current knowledge!

1. Ideas/Information: Jot down auf Deutsch relevant words you know, and ideas and information you want to include. Try to think in German as you do this, instead of translating. Group the words and phrases that go together, and think of conjunctions that might link them (und, aber, obwohl, weil….)

2. Vocabulary: make a list of English vocabulary words you still need to know after Step 1. Look up and write down the German equivalents, including genders and plurals of nouns. Use your dictionary carefully: select the best one from the list of alternatives given; if in doubt cross-check with the German-English section to make sure the word says what you want. Note any usage examples given in your dictionary. Beware of translating idioms literally!

3. Write a first draft on a computer (for easy editing) using short, basic sentences.  Click here for information on how to type the German special characters on a computer.

4. Expand this first draft:

(a) add adjectives (including comparatives and superlatives), adverbs, descriptive phrases, prepositional phrases (with what, after what, for what, since when, …). Vary your verbs; use modals to say what can, should, must happen; use the subjunctive where appropriate.

(b) Connect sentences with conjunctions (und, denn, sondern, aber, oder, weil, dass, obwohl…); convert some simple sentences to relative clauses (but note: relative clauses with the verbs haben/sein are awkward and can usually be replaced by adjectives, e.g “Die große Frau” instead of “Die Frau, die groß ist”). Remember that subordinate clauses and relative clauses must be set off by commas.

(c) Vary your sentence structure–instead of always beginning the sentence with the subject, put another sentence element in the first position, and use inverted word order. Time expressions (manchmal, letztes Jahr, in einem Jahr, vor vielen Jahren…), adverbial conjunctions (daher, deshalb, trotzdem…), prepositional phrases (in der Rakete, auf dem Stern, nach der Explosion…), expressions of opinion (meiner Meinung nach…) and expressions of probability (wahrscheinlich, hoffentlich, vielleicht…) work well in first position. If you want to stress a subordinate clause, use it to begin the sentence. You should also vary the length of your sentences.


  1. Unlike in English, no comma is used in German when something other
    than the subject is in the first position.
  2. if you construct your longer sentences from short ones in this way, you
    can also avoid the danger of producing confusing sentences.

(d) Occasionally, you may want to use direct or indirect rhetorical questions (e.g. “Warum ist das wichtig?”)

5. Use the essay writing checklist to proofread your expanded draft.