Simplifying the German Declension (Part I)

The German declension is like a nightmare to many students. However, it is not as complex as many people say or think.

In this article, I‘m going to concentrate on the declension of the determiner (article words: die, eine, keine, meine etc., welche).

1. What is the declension for?

“Declension” means changing the endings of a word–mainly articles, adjectives, nouns and pronouns–depending:

  1. on the syntactic function they fulfill (see below) and
  2. the gender of a noun (including plural).
  3. (Or depending on the preposition they follow: look here.)

The syntactic functions or elements we have in German are:

  1. The subject = nominative: the person or thing that acts or does something (“Helga reads a book” – Who does something? – Helga.).
  2. The direct object = accusative: the person or thing that suffers ↑ this action (“Helga reads a book” = The book is read [by Helga].).
  3. The indirect object = dative: This is, in most cases, a person that receives the direct object (Helga gives a book to her brother. – To whom does she give a book? – To her brother.)
  4. The genitive object: To whom something belongs (Her brother’s book. – Whose book? – Her brother’s.)

2. The endings of the determiner


Notice: Every letter is preceded by an “e” (except the feminine “-e” and the article “das”): der, den, welchen.

These are the only endings you need to know. 🙂

As you can see, nominative and accusative are almost the same, only masculine changes!

In dative case, masculine and neuter are identical.

3. How to use these endings

Use the table from above as coordinates: start with the case needed and then go down to the gender of the noun (for rules look here).

The letter where you “land” has to be added to the determiner. Example:

Mein Freund hat keinen Fernseher (haben accepts accusative + Fernseher is masculine = letter for accusative masculine: –n).

But there is one thing you need to know about nominative and accusative: the determiners that have the same endings as the indefinite article (kein and the possessive articles) can never take the -r of nominative masculine nor the -s of the nominative and accusative neuter!

This is the reason why mein from the example above has no ending. 😉

Continue reading Part II.

Download “Exercise: The German Declension”

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