How to perfect all 16 ways to say ‘the’ in German

“Memorise the definite article table!”
Yes, everyone says that, but the question is how?
At first, I avoided learning the ridiculous number of definite articles in the hope that I’d just pick it up over time, but I soon gave in when I realised that my optimism wasn’t getting me anywhere! 15 years of speaking German later, I’ve managed to come up with a few techniques:

New word = (article + pro/noun)

You’ll usually learn new words in the nominative case (the case used for a noun or pronoun when it is the subject of a verb). It’s only possible to work out the correct definite article to fit the sentence if you learn the article (der, die, das) that goes with the word every time you learn a new pronoun or noun.
We have to bear in mind that new word = (article + pro/noun). Ask whoever you’re with, google it, or write it down for later, just don’t forget that in German, we haven’t really learnt the word unless we learn its article too.

Break it down

Rather than actually reading the next text that you come across, just skim through and every time you see the word ‘the’, refer to a definite article table and prepositions list, and work out exactly why the ‘the’ is der, die or das. This speeds up your association of prepositions and articles, and will make life easier during daily conversations.

Learn articles on the go

If living in Germany, you can also do this whilst you’re out and about as you’re probably reading a lot more German than you think: advertisements at the train station, signs in the city and packaging on the food you buy. Next time you’re waiting for the train, take a quick look at that adverts around you and see if you can point out the nominative, dative, accusative or genitive definite article cases. A good way to make use of your time whilst you’re on the go.

Learn the articles like you know the lyrics to a song

Ok, so I proactively did the above, however this is how I actually memorised the indefinite article table. It’s a little long winded (what isn’t about German?) but it did the trick and I now have the table imprinted in my mind.

I honestly learnt the definite articles as if I was practising the lyrics to a song. As with song lyrics, you start from the top, not half way through, so I began with the nominative and gradually added one ‘verse’ (case) at a time.

I spent one day repeating the nominative case over and over again:
“Der, Die, Das, Die. Der, Die, Das, Die.”
The first step is simple, so within hours (or even minutes) you’ll know it by heart. It’s just important to keep in mind that the order of your definite articles is always ‘masculine, feminine, neutral, plural.’ Piece of cake.

Masculine Feminine Neutral Plural
Nominative Der Die Das Die

I then moved on to the dative. I added the second ‘verse’ to the song lyrics, by repeating the the dative articles directly after the nominative articles.

“Der, Die, Das, Die.
Dem, Der, Dem, Den”

I did this over and over again until I subconsciously picked up some sort of rhythm, which is when I also began to pick up some speed. I was constantly repeating this until it was as annoying as having a song stuck in my head (or der Ohrwurm as they call it in German). I was still keeping in mind that the order was always ‘masculine, feminine, neutral, plural.’ I also made sure I could easily distinguish when I was moving from nominative to dative.

Masculine Feminine Neutral Plural
Nominative Der Die Das Die
Dative Dem Der Dem Den

For me, repeating the words in my head worked well, but some people prefer to write things down, and if you have the time to do so, then it will only help!

Once I knew the nominative and dative perfectly and was able to easily distinguish the case for each ‘the’ (give yourself a couple of days), I then used the same technique for the accusative ‘verse’.

“Der, Die, Das, Die.
Dem, Der, Dem, Den.
Den, Die, Das, Die”

Masculine Feminine Neutral Plural
Nominative Der Die Das Die
Dative Dem Der Dem Den
Accusative Den Die Das Die

And then kept up the rhythm for the genitive case too.

Masculine Feminine Neutral Plural
Nominative Der Die Das Die
Dative Dem Der Dem Den
Accusative Den Die Das Die
Genitive Des Der Des Der

“Der, Die, Das, Die.
Dem, Der, Dem, Den.
Den, Die, Das, Die.
Des, Der, Des, Der.”

I went through this pattern (and still do now when I need to work out an article) repetively  until I knew it by heart. At this point, I realised that as long as I know what case needs to be used and the gender of the pronoun or noun, I would have no problem with working out the correct nominative article. Woo!

Although I try to stick to new word = (article + pro/noun), there are still some words that I just don’t know the article to. It happens! But as soon as I’ve looked it up or asked, I can refer to my personal definite article table and produce the correct ‘the’.

As soon as I used the above techniques, I saw huge improvements in my German skills and a lot of growth in my confidence, especially as you can apply the definite article endings to the indefinite articles too.

If you’re anything like me, getting the articles wrong will kill you inside, but I can promise you that Germans really don’t take as much notice as we think. If we’re not making mistakes then we’re not practising and if we’re not practising then we’re not progressing.

Alisa Jordan Writes on Facebook

9 thoughts on “How to perfect all 16 ways to say ‘the’ in German

Add yours

  1. German grammar is not hard at all! – If german is your native language 😉
    Just kidding.
    The german language can be very confusing. – Sometimes even for native speakers. Most german speaking people are aware of this and show respect to people who speak german fluently. And fluently is not flawless!
    My respect goes to you, Alisa!

    Liked by 1 person

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