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Basic grammar problems in German

Learning a new language has a lot to do with learning to make mistakes. And what is the point of making mistakes? Right, to learn out of them! When learning German there are unfortunately many more mistakes you can make than the ten we listed below. However, we want to concentrate on the top ten kinds of mistakes that beginning learners of German are likely to make:

1. Grammatical Gender: It’s not always easy to tell the gender of German nouns since every noun in German is either der, die, or das, you need to learn each noun with its gender.

2. ‘Sie’ and ‘Du’ – ‘You’ in German: Learning to use and differentiate between ‘Sie’ (formal form) and ‘du’ (familiar form) for the English word ‘you’ can be tough.

3. Plural forms of German nouns: In German there are 8 different endings to mark the plural of a noun.

4. Case: Very confusing issues for learners of German are the 4 different cases Nominative, Accusative, Dative and Genitive that also put different endings on articles and adjectives. When der changes to den or dem, it does so for a reason. That reason is the same one that makes the pronoun “he” change to “him” in English (or er to ihn in German).

5. Word order: German syntax is more flexible than English syntax and depends more on case (see above). For example, in German, the subject may not always come first in a sentence.

6. Prepositions: German and English often use different prepositions for similar idioms or expressions, e.g. in English you take medicine “for” something, in German “gegen” – “against” – something.

7. Umlauts: German “Umlauts” (Umlaute in German) can lead to problems for beginners. Since only a, o, and u can have an umlaut (ä, ö, ü), those are the vowels to be aware of because they can also change meanings of words, as for example zahlen means to “pay” in German but zählen means to “count.”

8. Punctuation in Contractions: German punctuation and the use of the apostrophe is often different than in English. German uses contractions in many common expressions, some of which use an apostrophe (“Wie geht’s?” from “Wie geht es dir?”) and some of which do not (“zum Rathaus” from “zu dem Rathaus”). Contractions such as am (“an dem”), ans (“an das”), ins (“in das”), or im (“in dem”) can be possible pitfalls.

9. Capitalization: German is the only modern language that requires the capitalization of all nouns, but there are also other potential problems, for example with hazards or adjectives of nationality that are not capitalized in German as they are in English.

10. Verbs with “haben” oder “sein”: In English, the present perfect is always formed with the helping verb “have.” German verbs in the conversational past (present/past perfect) can use either haben (have) or sein (be) with the past participle.