Grammar and Usage Advice: German 232/325/326

Grammar and Usage Advice: German 232/325/326

Check these Essay Correction Symbols BEFORE consulting this list of additional common errors!

1. Proofread more carefully!! (indicates tpyos, eesily avvoidibel speling errrors ect.)

2. Check info on course website re: how to type umlaute & ß. This is OK for your first essay, but will affect your “Sprache” grade if it recurs on subsequent essays. Please consult your instructor if you’re unable to find or implement the information on typing umlaute. [This note may also just be a reminder to use an umlaut or an ß.]

3. This marks passages that sounded like you were translating from English to German. This is often a lot more work than just coming up with an essay in German, and yet generally produces substantially lower grades, because what you write becomes very hard to understand. Students are often intimidated by the prospect of trying to “think in German,” but you absolutely have to do that to write a good essay, and it’s easier than you think. For a procedure you can use to start doing this step-by-step, by using the German you’ve learned as sort of a construction kit, beginning with really basic phrases and then expanding and connecting them using what you’ve learned about e.g. adjectives, conjunctions and prepositions, refer to:

4. Embed quotes so they fit the grammar of your sentence; if you can’t, modify the quote as needed using square brackets.

5. Definite Article (appropriate form of der/das/die) is missing.

6. Indefinite Article (appropriate form of ein/eine) is missing.

7. Remember to use er/sie/es etc. as pronouns for he/she/it etc., not der/die/das. Exception: relative pronouns (here, you do use der/die/das to mean who/whom). Remember also that the pronoun for an inanimate object is not automatically es, but rather will be ersie or es (or the accusative or dative of those pronouns) depending on the thing’s gender.

8. Pronouns generally come “ASAP” (“as soon as possible”) in the sentence.

9. Remember the Time/Manner/Place rule for word order: e.g. Wir fahren (1) oft (2) mit der Bahn (3) nach Graceland; Ich tanze (1) morgens (2) gern (3) auf dem Bett.

10. In English, if a sentence does not start with the subject, the initial element is set off by a comma, as in “Today, I have become comfortably numb.” In German, this does not happen, and that’s important to remember because accidentally inserting the comma may make you forget to put the verb in position 2. Thus, you need to say “Heute bin ich angenehm abgestumpft geworden,” NOT “Heute, ich bin angenehm abgestumpft geworden.”

10a. BUT: A few initial elements in German are set off by a comma. The most common ones are “Ja,” “Nein,” “Doch,” and “Na ja.” When this happens, the verb should follow in position two after the comma, i.e. “Ja, ich tanze gern,” NOT “Ja, tanze ich gern.”

11. Here is a short list of noun endings with their associated genders: DIE: –ei, –schaft, –heit, –keit, –ung, –tät, –tion, –ik, –ie, –enz, –anz, –ur; DER: –ig, –ling, –ant, –us [mnemonic: der Iglingantus – picture some arbitrary fantasy being smiley]; DAS: –ment, –um, –ium, and diminutives ending in –chen or –lein

11a. About 90% of the time, -e endings mean the noun is feminine: die Nase, die Katastrophe, die Sonne. Some important exceptions: das Auge, der Käse, nouns referring to men (der Biologe, der Kollege) or to some animals (der Affe, der Hase), and nouns beginning with Ge- (das Gebäude, das Gebirge).

11b. das Auto is neuter, but all specific car brands are masculine: der VW, der Toyota, der Porsche, der Honda

11c. Verb infinitives turned into nouns are neuter: das Schwimmen, das Singen, das Schweißen [=welding]

11d. Collective nouns beginning with Ge- are neuter (das Gebäude, das Gebirge). However, a feminine ending (such as -schaft) overrides the Ge-: die Gemeinschaft, die Gesellschaft.

11e. Most metals are neuter: das Gold, das Silber, das Eisen, das Blei [=lead]

12. Commas come before subordinating conjunctions, not after them: “Ich denke, dass das stimmt,” NOT “Ich denke dass, das stimmt.”

13. Remember that if you have a sequence of adjectives, they all take the same ending.

14. Don’t confuse adjective endings and ein-word endings! The table of endings for ein is something you learned very early, and in particular, you should remember that in the Masc. & Neut. Nominative and the Neut. Accusative, “ein” has no ending; otherwise, its endings are like those of der/das/die. Adjective endings are different and only rarely the same as the endings for “ein.” In particular, if you find yourself saying something like “eines großes Haus” or “einer großer Mann” you know you’re making a mistake: when “ein” has an ending, the adjective following it can only end in -e or -en.

15. Remember “ein” doesn’t have a plural, just like “a” in English!

16. Something we don’t always emphasize: the coordinating conjunctions und, denn, sondern, aber, oder actually preserve word order, as opposed to requiring the verb to follow in position two. ==> If e.g. an “und”-clause follows a subordinating conjunction and continues its thought, the verb will be last: Ich bin müde, weil ich viel arbeite und jede Nacht bis 4 Uhr morgens auf dem Diag tanze.

17. Auxiliary Verb (appropriate form of haben/sein) is missing in the conversational past.

18. Remember that normally, you should replace “nicht + ein” by “kein.” [Some exceptions: to emphasize “ein” [not one…] (Im Inneren von Nauru gibt es nicht einen Baum”); to say things like “Isn’t that/it a…” (“Ist das nicht ein Baum?”)]

19. This note indicates that you should use a contraction, e.g. im, am, vom, zum, zur.

20. This note indicates that you’ve used a contraction that would be appropriate in speech but not in writing, e.g. any of the contractions with “das” (ins, ans, aufs, vors, hinters etc.), occasionally vomzum, or zur, and (rarely) im or am.

20a. This note indicates that you’ve used “im,” which is short for “in dem,” when actually you just need “in.”

21. Comparatives are always formed by adding “-er” and possibly changing the adjective stem; NEVER by using “mehr + adjective” in the way in which you sometimes can in English.

21a. If the verb in a comparative sentence is “sein,” both things being compared are nominative [e.g. Du bist größer als mich ich.]

22. This note means you need to use a da-compound.

22a. This note means you need to use an anticipatory da-compound. (e.g. “Ich freue mich darauf, nach Deutschland zu reisen”; “Man war überrascht darüber, dass die Erde rund war.”)

22b. This note indicates that you’ve used a da-compound (e.g. “damit”) where you needed to use a preposition + a relative pronoun (e.g. mit dem/mit der/mit denen).

23. “das” vs “dass“: “Dass” is a conjunction meaning “that,” and always introduces a clause. “Das” is of course an article and is often used as an indeterminate pronoun [e.g. “Ich verstehe das nicht; Was ist das?”], but remember it can also be a relative pronoun.

24. If someone wants someone else to do something, you have to use “wollen” or “möchten” with a “dass”-clause, not with an infinitive: Of course “Ich möchte schwimmen” = “I want to swim,” but if I want you to swim, I have to say “Ich möchte, dass du schwimmst,” NOT “Ich möchte du/dich schwimmen.

25. “mögen” vs “gern“: Use “mögen” if you like a noun, i.e. a thing; use “gern” with verbs to say you like to do something.

25a. Use “möchte” for “I would like” (to have a thing or to do something); remember “möchte” has no past tense ==> you have to use “wollte” to say what you wanted in the past.

26. als/wenn/wann: For completed past events, use “als.” For present and future events, and for repeated past events (“Whenever I…”), use “wenn.” Use “wann” only for questions and indirect questions. [Indirect questions don’t have a question mark, but imply a question, e.g.: “I have no idea when [==> wann] that is.”]

27. Use “um…zu” [+ infinitive] if (and only if!) you could say “in order to” in English: I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields, only [in order] to be with you = …nur um mit/bei dir zu sein.

27a. Do NOT use “um…zu” if you could not say “in order to” in English: Es ist leicht, um Deutsch zu lernen.

27b. Use damit instead of um…zu if the two clauses do not have the same subject. Note the difference between these two examples: Ich arbeite, damit meine Familie essen kann = I work so that my family can eat; Ich arbeite, um meine Familie essen zu können = I work in order to be able to eat my family 🙂

28. “Viel” and “wenig” take no adjective endings in the singular (when they are not preceded by a determiner, which they usually aren’t): “Ich habe viel Zeit und viel Geld, aber wenig Schokolade.” [But: Wo ist das viele Geld, das ich dir gegeben hatte?”] They take regular adjective endings in the plural: “Ich habe viele Elvispuppen.”

28a. “Mehr” never takes an ending. The word “mehrere” means “several.”

29. “viel” vs “sehr“: Use “viel” if you could say “many, a lot of, much” in English, and use “sehr” if you could say “very” in English.

30. When “über” means “about,” it is always followed by the accusative.

31. “Auch” should come before the thing in common, or at the end of the clause if the whole clause is the thing in common. Thus, the position of “auch” is sort of like that of “nicht.” Begin sentences with “auch” only if you want to emphasize it.

32. “Man” or “frau” or “mensch” is repeated in German, unlike in English: Wenn man/frau/mensch Hunger hat, muss er/sie man/frau/mensch SPAM essen. “One’s” = sein/ihr + ending. The accusative form of “man/frau/mensch” is “einen/eine,” and the dative is “einem/einer,” but avoid these in writing if possible, as they sound colloquial.

33. “wenn” vs “ob“: Use “ob” if and only if you could say “whether” in English; otherwise use “wenn” to translate English “if.”

34. vor/bevor; nach/nachdemvor and nach are prepositions and just need to be completed by a noun: Vor der Klasse esse ich, nach der Klasse schlafe ich. Bevor and nachdem are conjunctions and need to be used as part of a clause including a verb: Bevor die Klasse beginnt, esse ich. Nachdem ich esse, schlafe ich.

34a. Vorher = “before” as in “previously, before that.” früher = “before” as in “in the old days; in the past.”  Später and nachher = “later.”

35. “Next,” as in “Next, we paint(ed) the lab pink and run (ran) away” is “dann” [=then] or “danach” [=after that] or “als Nächstes” [=next, “the next thing we’ll do…”].

35a. DO NOT use “zunächst” to mean “next”: “zunächst” [=initially, first] is actually a good way of saying “to begin with” in writing!

35b. “Erst/zuerst” = “first,” and can be followed by “dann” [=then] and perhaps “schließlich” [=eventually]. “Firstly, secondly, thirdly…” = “Erstens, zweitens, drittens…”; note that overuse of these terms can sound awkward.

36. Phrases like “in conclusion” are not common at the end of essays in German. If you really want to say something like that, choose appropriately from: “abschließend lässt sich sagen” [=to conclude this discussion, one can say…] “alles in allem,” and “insgesamt” [=in total, all in all, overall].

36a. Warnings: “schließlich” means “finally, eventually, in the end” after a list of events or actions, but otherwise, it means “after all”; “endlich” means “finally” with the implication that it took a long time to reach that point; “überall” means “everywhere,” not “overall.”

37. “so” vs “also“: Use “also” to translate English “so” if you could replace “so” by “thus” in English. Remember English “also” is “auch” in German. Use “so” in English and German if you could replace “so” by “so very” in English. Also use “so” for “in this manner”: “Wir haben es so gemacht.”

37a. For “so that,” use “damit” [to emphasize the purpose] or “so dass” [to emphasize the result].

38. used to/would: These two verbs are sometimes used in English to indicate that you did something habitually. In German, just use the verb + oft or normalerweise or immer, or use früher [=earlier, in the past] to emphasize that this is no longer the case: “I used to eat lots of meat” = “Ich habe früher viel Fleisch gegessen”; “I would cry whenever I heard the ice cream man” = “Ich habe immer geweint, wenn ich den Eiswagen gehört habe.”

39. could: If could indicates something you might do in the future, it’s subjunctive: “Ich könnte ein ‘A’ in diesem Kurs bekommen.” If it indicates something you were or were not able to do in the past, it’s just the past tense of “können,” not subjunctive: “Ich konnte ein ‘A’ in meinem Deutschkurs im letzten Semester bekommen” [no umlaut on “konnte”]. For what you could have done in the past (but didn’t), you need the double infinitive construction: Ich hätte ein ‘A’ bekommen können, wenn ich mehr gelernt hätte.”

40. making X do Y: “Machen” cannot be used for making someone/something do something. There is no simple way to express this in German, so one has to rephrase it some other way. E.g.: “The voices in my head made me do it” is not “Die Stimmen in meinem Kopf haben mich das tun gemacht,” but rather “Die Stimmen in meinem Kopf haben mich gezwungen [=forced, obliged]/überredet [=persuaded], das zu tun.” “The engine makes the wheels turn” is not “Der Motor macht die Räder drehen,” but rather simply “Der Motor dreht die Räder.” “The high temperature makes the plastic melt” is not “Die hohe Temperatur macht das Plastik schmelzen,” but rather “Das Plastik schmilzt wegen der hohen Temperatur.”

41. “kennen” vs “wissen“: Use “kennen” to express familiarity/acquaintance with something, and use “wissen” for knowing facts.

42. When the verb “sein” is followed by a plural noun, it’s plural, even if it’s preceded by a singular noun or a generic “das”: Das Problem ist sind die hohen Preise; Das ist sind meine Eltern; Eine schöne Sehenswürdigkeit [=sight worth seeing] in Tübingen ist sind die vielen alten Fachwerkhäuser [=half-timbered houses].

43. “ander-” vs “verschieden“: Use “verschieden” to express differences within a pair or group of things or people [die Studenten in unserer Klasse sind alle verschieden; sie trägt zwei verschiedene Schuhe; Neon und Chlor haben ganz verschiedene Eigenschaften [=characteristics, qualities]. Use “anders” to express differences between things or people [Ich habe es anders gemacht; ich habe eine andere Meinung; ich möchte ein anderes Buch lesen]. Occasionally, you can choose which perspective you want to adopt: “Ich bin anders als du” OR “Du und ich, wir sind verschieden.” Note that “Wir sind anders” would mean “We are different from other people” (not: “We are different from each other“).

44. Be careful translating English “most.” Examples: “most people” = “die meisten Leute”; “most of the trees” = “die meisten Bäume” [i.e. “of” is not translated]; “I spent most of the money” = “Ich habe fast das ganze Geld ausgegeben.” “Der größte Teil von/des/der…” also often works to translate “most of.” “Most of the time” = “meistens,” or use “hauptsächlich” for this if you mean “mainly.”

45. “Seit” only means “since” in the temporal sense (e.g. seit einem Jahr, seit gestern, seit ich in Ann Arbor wohne). Use “weil,” “da” or “denn” for “since” in the sense of a reason for something.

46. “Denn-clauses” need to follow the clause they explain. If you want to begin a sentence with a reason for something, you have to use “weil” or “da.”

47. “die Zukunft” vs “das Futur“: “Die Zukunft” actually means “the future”; “das Futur” is only used as a grammatical term.

48. The indeterminate term “people” is used much more frequently than its German equivalents, “Leute” and “Menschen.” Unless you’re referring to specific people (“Leute“), or the people in a crowd (“Menschen“), try to use “man/frau” or the passive, or find another way to rephrase your sentence, if you would say “people” in English. Note also: “Humanity” = “die Menschheit.”

49. A very short laundry list of useful words and phrases whose meaning may not be immediately obvious: nicht mehr = no longer; not yet = noch nichtnoch nie is never as in “I’ve never gone skydiving,” i.e. for never in the sense of not yetEven if auch wennOnly, as in “I’ve only known you for a year” or “The zipper was only invented in 1893” = erstAnother = noch einEven, as in “I got up on time and I even made the bed” is sogarImmer noch = still as in “I’m still breast-feeding the baby.”

50. “Das Haar” and “Die Hausaufgabe” are singular; “Die Haare” and “Die Hausaufgaben” are plural. “Leute” are plural. “Die Polizei,” “die Familie” and “die Gruppe” are singular.

51. This note means that you have used an adjective ending for an adverb, i.e. for a word that is describing an adjective or a verb, and not a noun. Adverbs do not take adjective endings. Examples: “Der Audi TT ist ein relativ schnelles Auto”. Here, “relativ” is describing “schnell” (relatively fast) not “Auto” (“ein relatives Auto: a relative car“). “Wir sahen einen laut bellenden Hund” [=We saw a loudly barking dog]. Here, “laut” is describing “bellend” (loudly barking), not “Hund” (“ein lauter Hund: a loud dog“).

52. Adjectives ending in -el-auer or -euer drop the final “e” when they take an adjective ending or a comparative ending, but keep it in the superlative. Common examples are dunkel, teuer and sauer: mein teures Auto ist in einer dunklen Garage; Zitronen sind saurer als Äpfel; das teuerste Auto ist in der dunkelsten Garage.

53. The adjective “hoch” drops the “c” when it takes an adjective ending (e.g. “bei hohen Temperaturen”); its comparative form is “höher” and its superlative is “am höchsten.”

54. Relative clauses always follow the noun they are providing information about, but if this would cause a single verb to follow a relatively long relative clause by itself, then that verb should precede the relative clause. Thus “Ich habe den Ring, den du mir gestern auf der Party gegeben hast, verloren” is not entirely wrong, but “Ich habe den Ring verloren, den du mir gestern auf der Party gegeben hast” sounds better.

55. When ein is used as a pronoun instead of as an indefinite article, i.e. when it does not precede a noun [or adjective + noun], it takes the same endings as “dieser.” These are mostly the same as the normal “ein”-endings, so you only need to know about this in the Masculine Nominative (“einer” instead of “ein”) and the Neuter Nominative and Accusative (“eines” instead of “ein”; especially in speaking, this tends to be shortened to “eins“). This occurs most commonly when you say “One of the…”, e.g. “Der VW Käfer ist eines der erfolgreichsten Automodelle der Geschichte” or “Einer der wichtigsten Vorteile…” The other ein-words also follow this ending pattern when used as pronouns. More examples: Das ist nicht mein Baby, sondern sein(e)s [“sein” functions here as a pronoun for “sein Baby”]. “Das ist nicht mein Hut, sondern ihrerIhrer ist blau, meiner ist gelb.” Note the idiomatic expression “die einen…die anderen,” e.g. “Die einen [some] essen lieber SPAM, die anderen [others] essen lieber Spätzle.”