German for Beginners: An Introduction

Introducing the German basics so you can start learning with confidence

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German culture is fascinating, and learning the language will help you experience it more fully.

This comprehensive introduction to the German language for beginners will take you through the essentials. We’ll guide you through adjectives, articles, nouns, pronouns, prepositions, verbs, and a few other features that form the backbone of German grammar. We’ll also provide helpful examples to illustrate each topic and show you some handy rules and patterns to follow.

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German nouns

Nouns are words for people, animals and objects, but also abstract concepts and feelings, such as “Richard”, “the man”, “the table” or “(the) love” and “(the) fear”—in short, anything that can follow “the” or “a” in a sentence. And as German nouns can be masculine, feminine or neuter, many learners struggle to master these different genders.

To help you get started, here are some examples of German nouns and their respective genders:

  • Masculine: der Schüler (male pupil/student), der Flughafen (airport), der Wecker (alarm clock), der Bus (bus),
  • Feminine: die Mutter (mother), die Lampe (lamp), die Blume (flower), die Straßenbahn (tram)
  • Neuter: das Museum (museum), das Auto (car), das Eis (ice cream), das Haus (house), das Bein (leg)

And as we’ve seen above, German nouns usually go with the equivalents of “the” or “a”—the little words we call “articles”.

Articles in German

German articles—the equivalents to “the” (called definite article) and “a” (called indefinite article)—change according to the gender of the noun they accompany. For instance, it is der Mann (the man—masculine), die Schule (the school—feminine) and das Auto (the car—neuter). Like in English, we use the definite articles der, die, and das to talk about a specific person, object, concept or feeling.

When talking about people or things in general, we use—also as in English—indefinite articles (“a” aka ein/eine). For example: ein Mann (a man—masculine), eine Schule (a school—feminine) and ein Auto (a car—neuter).

Masculine der Tisch the table
Feminine die Frau the woman
Neuter das Kind the child
Masculine ein Tisch a table
Feminine eine Frau a woman
Neuter ein Kind a child

It’s extremely useful to always memorize the definite article with every new noun you’re learning, as this will be the foundation of many other grammatical features that will aid understanding and enable you to fully express yourself as your learning journey progresses. You can also check out some great tips and tricks in some of our German lessons for beginners.

Personal pronouns

Pronouns are words that represent a noun. They exist so that you don’t need to repeat the noun every time you want to mention it. For example, in “Emma was early today. She took the fast train”, “she” is the pronoun and replaces “Emma”.

Likewise, in the sentence “I ate an apple, it was tasty”, “I” is the pronoun that refers to the speaker, and “it” is the pronoun which replaces “an apple”.

You’ll come across several different types of German pronouns during your learning journey, such as personal pronouns or relative pronouns.

Let’s have a look at personal pronouns (Personalpronomen) first. They come in especially handy when talking about yourself and others, e.g., Ich liebe dich (I love you).

English pronoun German Nominative German Accusative German Dative
I / me Ich komme aus Köln. (I am from Cologne.) Du rufst mich an. (You’re calling me.) Du hilfst mir. (You’re helping me.)
you Kommst du aus Köln? (Are you from Cologne?) Ich rufe dich an. (I’m calling you.) Ich helfe dir. (I’m helping you.)
he / him Er kommt aus Köln. He is from Cologne. Ich rufe ihn an. I’m calling him. Ich helfe ihm. I’m helping him.
she / her Sie kommt aus Köln. She’s from Cologne. Ich rufe sie an. I’m calling her. Ich helfe ihr. I’m helping her.
it Es ist kaputt. It is broken. Ich repariere es. I’m repairing it. Ich helfe ihm. I’m helping it.
we / us Wir kommen aus Köln. We are from Cologne. Sie rufen uns an. They’re calling us. Sie helfen uns. They’re helping us.
informal you (plural) Ihr kommt aus Köln. You (both/all) are from Cologne. Wir rufen euch an. We’re calling you (both/all). Wir helfen euch. (We’re helping you (both/all). (We’re helping you (both/all).
they / them Sie kommen aus Köln. They are from Cologne. Wir rufen sie an. We’re calling them. Wir helfen ihnen. We’re helping them.
formal you Kommen Sie aus Köln? Are you from Cologne? Ich rufe Sie morgen an. I’m calling you tomorrow. Ich helfe Ihnen gern. I’m gladly helping you.

When talking about ourselves, we use the German personal pronoun ich (I), also called the “first person singular”. To talk about ourselves and others at the same time, we use the personal pronoun wir (we), also called the “first person plural”.

However, you might have heard or noticed that there are three (!) different German versions of “you”. When talking to a single person that we know well, such as a friend or relative, or to a child, we use the German personal pronoun du (you singular, informal):

  • Kommst du aus Mainz? (Are you from Mainz?)

    To talk to more than one person at a time in an informal situation (or to more than one child at a time), we use the word ihr (“you two / you all”):

  • Kommt ihr aus Mainz? (Are you (both/all) from Mainz?)

And we say Sie (you, singular or plural) when we are talking to one or more people formally, e.g. in a business environment, or to respectfully address a stranger.

  • Kommen Sie aus Mainz? (Are you from Mainz?)

To talk about a male person or a thing that has the masculine gender, we say er (he/it).

  • Kommt Paul aus Mainz? / Ja, er kommt aus Mainz. (Is Paul from Mainz? / Yes, he is from Mainz.)

  • Ist der Baum alt? / Ja, er ist alt. (Is the tree old? / Yes, it is old.)

When talking about a female person or a thing that has the feminine gender, we say sie (she/it):

  • Kommt Anna aus Mainz? / Ja, sie kommt aus Mainz. (Is Anna from Mainz? / Yes, she is from Mainz.)

  • Ist die Kaffeekanne von deiner Oma? / Ja, sie ist von meiner Oma. (Is the coffee pot from your grandma? / Yes, it is from my grandma.)

And when talking about a person (e.g. a baby) or thing that has the neuter gender, we say es (it).

  • Kommt das Bier aus Mainz? / Es kommt aus Mainz. (Is the beer from Mainz? / It is from Mainz.)

Last but not least, to talk about multiple people or things, regardless of gender, we say sie (they).

  • Kommen Paul und Anna aus Mainz? / Ja, sie kommen aus Mainz. (Are Paul and Anna from Mainz? / Yes, they are from Mainz.)

As you can see, we use personal pronouns to refer to persons as well as objects! Now, let’s look at relative pronouns to learn how to give supplementary information within a sentence.

Relative pronouns

German relative pronouns (Relativpronomen) are words we use to introduce a “relative clause”, which allows us to add information to a sentence without having to start a new one.

More specifically, we use Relativpronomen to clarify which person or thing is actually meant in a particular part of the sentence. The English relative pronouns are “who”, “whom”, “whose”, “which” and “that”.

Have a look at the examples below:

  • Mein Freund, der aus München kommt, war letzte Woche hier. (My friend who comes from Munich was here last week.)
  • Meine Freundin, die Gitarre spielt, ist in einer Band. (My friend who plays the guitar is in a band.)
  • Mein Auto, das ich letzte Woche gekauft habe, ist schon kaputt. (My car, which I bought last week, is already broken/faulty.)

We use German relative pronouns similarly to their counterparts in English, but as German nouns are gendered, we make sure they match.

You might have noticed that German relative pronouns look exactly like the definite articles—and you’re right. We’ll address those similarities and more in our lessons. With some practice, you’ll be comfortably using relative clauses to pack additional information into your sentences in no time!

Verbs in German

As in English, we use verbs to express actions in German, such as ich rede (I’m talking) or ich baue (I’m building). This can be done in three different time forms, the “tenses”: past, present and future.

Just like the verbs “to be” and “to have” are essential for forming a variety of tenses in English (think about “I am doing” and “I have done”), their German counterparts sein and haben are equally important.

To begin with, we’ll focus on the present. You'll learn to form and use verbs in all tenses throughout our German lessons for beginners.

As with other languages, adapting German verbs to the person performing the action—this is called “conjugation”—comes with its own challenges. Let's look at some of them now.

Notes on verb conjugation in German

German verbs have different endings depending on the person, animal or thing performing the action. This is similar to the “-s” ending for English verbs in the he/she/it form: “I go” vs. “she goes”. , In order to communicate effectively in German, we need to know how to use verbs with their appropriate ending, or in other words: to “conjugate” them correctly.

For regular German verbs ending on “-en” in the dictionary form, we simply have to swap “-en” for a different ending, and that’s it:

Pronoun Ending Example verb: gehen (to walk) Example verb: bauen (to build)
I – ich -e ich gehe ich baue
you – du -st du gehst du baust
he/she/it – er/sie/es -t er geht, sie geht, es geht er baut, sie baut, es baut
Pronoun Ending Example verb: gehen (to walk) Example verb: bauen (to build)
we – wir -en wir gehen wir bauen
you – ihr -t ihr geht ihr baut
they/you – sie/Sie -en sie/Sie gehen sie/Sie bauen

This is only one example of how German verbs are conjugated, and it’s good to know that different verb categories require slightly different conjugations.

But don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it when diving into our German lessons.

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Sein (to be) and its present tense conjugation

Let’s dive right in with the most basic form of the verb sein (to be) in the Präsens (present tense). As in most languages, the verb sein is irregular.

Have a look at the conjugation chart below:

ich bin I am
du bist you are
er/sie/es ist he/she/it is
wir sind we are
ihr seid you are
sie/Sie sind they/you are

Knowing how to use sein (to be) in the present tense will come handy when you start making simple sentences, so it’s a great one to learn quickly.

Here are some different ways sein is used:

  1. You can use sein in connection with adjectives, for example:
  • Ich bin freundlich. (I am friendly.)
  • Bist du müde? . (Are you tired?.)
  • Sie ist lustig. (She’s funny.)
  1. You can also use sein to identify animate or inanimate things, for example:
  • Bist du Franzose? (Are you French?)
  • Ich bin Thomas. (I’m Thomas.)
  • Das ist ein Bleistift. (This is a pencil.)
  1. As in English, you can use sein to indicate where someone or something is:
  • Wo bist du? (Where are you?)
  • Ich bin zu Hause. (I’m at home.)
  • Wir sind in Italien. (We are in Italy.)
  1. Finally, you can use sein to specify an age, the date, and the time. Check out these examples:
  • Ich bin 12 Jahre alt. (I’m 12 years old.)
  • Heute ist Donnerstag, der 29. Juni 2023. (Today is Thursday, June 29th, 2023.)
  • Es ist 6:30 Uhr. (It’s 6:30 am.)

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the most essential German verb, let’s take it up a notch and look at “modal verbs” and how they are used in German.

Modal verbs in German

Modal verbs—or Modalverben—can be used to “modify” an action that you’re describing in a sentence. The most common ones include: mögen (to like) and its conjunctive form möchten (would like), wollen (to want), können (to be able to/can), müssen (to have to/must), dürfen (to be allowed to) and sollen (to be supposed to/should).

Look at how modals change the meaning of a sentence:

  • Ich spiele Gitarre. (I play the guitar.)
  • Ich möchte Gitarre spielen. (I would like to play the guitar.)
  • Ich kann Gitarre spielen. (I can play the guitar.)
  • Ich muss Gitarre spielen. (I have to play the guitar.)

Modal verbs are normally used together with another verb—called the “main verb”—in a sentence. The main verb usually moves to the end of the sentence and keeps its infinitive form aka the “dictionary form” which is not adapted to the person performing the action:

  • Meine Katze will auf dem Sofa schlafen. (My cat wants to sleep on the couch.)
  • Mein Kind darf am Abend keine Cola trinken. (My child is not allowed to drink Coke at night.)

An introduction to German adjectives

Adjectives describe nouns and pronouns and add important details to your sentences. With adjectives, we can say if someone is müde (tired) or nervös (nervous), or whether a Motorrad (motorcycle) is schnell (fast) or langsam (slow).

When first learning adjectives, try to use them after the verb:

  • Das Fahrrad ist neu. (The bicycle is new.)
  • Ich bin groß. (I am tall.)
  • Sie ist klein. (She is small.)

Once you’ve moved on from the beginner’s stage, you can start putting the adjectives before the noun. And why should you start using them in this order?

Well, all German nouns have a gender—masculine, feminine or neuter—and the German adjective endings have to match the genders if the adjective comes before the noun in a sentence..

Have a look at the following examples:

  • das neue Fahrrad (the new bicycle) / Ich habe ein neues Fahrrad. (I have a new bicycle.)
  • die kleine Schwester (the little sister) / Ich habe eine kleine Schwester. (I have a little sister.)

German comparative adjectives

Similar to English, we use the comparative—Komparative—and superlative—Superlative—forms of adjectives when we want to compare things.

Let’s get to know some German comparatives and superlatives:

  • Ich bin klein. Meine Schwester ist kleiner als ich. Unsere Mutter ist am kleinsten. (I’m short. My sister is shorter than me. Our mother is the shortest.)
  • Mainz ist groß, Frankfurt ist größer und Berlin ist am größten. (Mainz is big, Frankfurt is bigger, and Berlin is the biggest.)

German prepositions

Imagine you’re going to a party and want to know who else is coming. You know how to say “to come”, which is kommen. Next, you need to figure out how to talk about coming to the party. That’s where prepositions come in. The correct German preposition for this situation is zu: "Wer kommt zu der Party?" (Who comes to the party?).

German prepositions can indicate a spatial relation, direction, time, place, or reason.

Let’s have a look at a few examples. The words in bold are prepositions:

  • Ich gehe durch die Stadt. (I’m walking through the city.)
  • Er isst das Brot ohne Butter. (He eats bread without butter.)
  • Er kauft die Jacke für eine Freundin. (He is buying the jacket for a (female) friend.)

It’s important to note that prepositions in German are usually followed by the object (meaning: the person or thing affected by the action) of a sentence. And as German has two different types of these objects (called the “accusative” and “dative”), we also have to learn which type of object matches which preposition..

Let’s look at a few more examples (the object is highlighted in bold):

  • Gehst du auf den Markt? (Are you going to the market?—accusative object)
  • Wir fahren mit dem Auto. (We are going by car.—dative object)

German for beginners: Let’s wrap things up

We covered many topics in this article: from genders and nouns to articles and pronouns, to verb conjugation and modal verbs.

It might seem a lot, but thanks to super-short but regular practice sessions with our thoughtfully crafted German lessons and Busuu’s stellar community of other German learners, you’ll see progress in no time.

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