Definite articles are an important part of the German language – it is recommended you familiarise yourself with them right at the start of your journey of learning German. So go ahead!
What are ‘bestimmte Artikel‘?
The phrase ‘bestimmte Artikel‘ is sometimes translated as ‘definite articles‘. While there is only one definite article in English – the -, the German language has three definite articles for singular and one for plural words.
The form of the article depends not only on the gender of the corresponding noun and on whether it’s singular or plural but also on the case the noun is in. German has four grammatical cases. You will learn more about them soon.
Take a listen to the theme song of the German series “die Sesamstraße” for children (also known as the ‘der die das song’), so you get a feel of what it was like to grow up as a German kid in the nineties…
What are the German definite articles?
The three German definite articles are der (masculine), die (feminine), and das (neutral). However, the gender of a noun does not follow any logical rules. For example, ‘the girl’ in German is ‘das Mädchen‘ – with a neutral article!
As a learner of German as a second language, you cannot guess a noun’s gender. Thus, when learning German vocabulary, always learn them together with their definite article.
And the plural form?
German nouns always use the plural definite article ‘die‘ – beware, this is not the same ‘die‘ as the singular feminine definite article ‘die‘. Those are two different words with the same spelling!
Do German nouns always need articles?
German nouns always need to be used with their articles. Leaving out an article is a grave grammatical mistake and will get you some odd looks! There are, however, some exceptions when certain nouns don’t need an article:
- Personal names:
Gestern habe ich Sabrina gesehen.
Yesterday I saw Sabrina.
There is an exception to this exception! In colloquial language, people sometimes use definite articles with a person’s name. So, you could also say ‘Gestern habe ich die Sabrina gesehen.‘ This is informal, however, so don’t use it in writing!
2. Names of geographical locations (such as continents, countries, counties, and towns):
Hans lebt in Togo.
Hans lives in Togo.
There are also some exceptions of location names that have a definite article. Some of those are:
Note that rivers and mountains do not fall into this category. They all have a definite article.
3. National Holidays
Do you know which holidays count as national holidays in Germany? To be honest, not even every German knows all of them!
Some tips for getting the definite article right
There are indeed no strict grammatical rules for whether to use der, die, or das in front of a singular noun. However, some suffixes are almost exclusively used with certain articles.
Suffixes that are often used with ‘der‘ (the masculine article):
- –ant, –ich, –ig, –ismus, –ling
Suffixes that are often used with ‘die‘ (the feminine article):
- –enz, –ei, –ie, –heit, –keit, –ik, –sion, –tion, –sis, –tät, –ung, –schaft
Suffixes that are often used with ‘das‘ (the neutral article):
- –lein, –ma, –ment, –tum
The ending ‘-lein‘ serves to belittle a word. For example, ‘der Frosch‘ (‘the frog’) can turn into ‘das Fröschlein‘ (‘the little frog’ / ‘the froggy’). It can be compared with the English ending ‘-y’ (froggy, doggy, lovey, …)
Those tips will help you to learn and remember the correct articles. But there are other efficient ways that will help you to learn the German articles.
More help with learning German
Check out my blog posts for more tips and tricks and how to learn German! Or maybe you want to immerse yourself into the German language directly? In that case, you may want to research scholarships for learning German in Germany.