German Study Card
This section provides easy to understand explanations to help you get the most out of your German Study Card. It goes through the layout and content and it gives you a brief explanation of each topic with examples.
If you come across an English Grammar Term you are not familiar with, check the Glossary section on the website. Remember that you can use your German Study Card with any textbook you may be using.
Practising your exercises out loud helps you absorb the language effectively!
The German Study Card displays 38 independent tables with the most important grammar elements such as pronouns, possessives, adjectives, verb tenses, key words and expressions.
The NOMINATIV PRONOUNS (Subject Personal Pronouns) determine the three main colours used throughout the card. They are the persons who the sentence refers to. In English they are the words I, you, he, she, it, we, you and they.
- The singular personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, it), are represented in a light shade of yellow, purple and green.
- The plural pronouns (we, you, they), are represented in the same colour but in a darker shade.
In German you need to use specific endings and words for the different persons in different tenses and cases. The colour coded system will help you find the word needed for a specific person.
The four cases Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ and Genitiv, are shown in the following colours:
. Get familiar with these colours and in no time, you’ll see the relation the other tables with similar colour pattern have with each other.
With your card in hand, go through this section to find the explanations of the content of your German Study Card. Or skip to the name of the table you wish to expand your information on. .
The section below is intended to be a general explanation on grammar created for you to understand the layout of your card in order to take full advantage of it. By no means should this section be considered a course on its own.
The cases are an important part of German grammar because they determine the endings of articles and adjectives. Also, specific pronouns and prepositions are used depending on the case.
- It refers to the subject of the sentence. It’s used for a person, animal or thing which is being described or performing the action. This is the form you’ll find in the dictionaries for the nouns, articles, and adjectives.
Der Hund beißt den Mann. The dog bites the man.
The dog performs the actions in this sentence, therefore its article der (the) is in the Nominativ case.
- The Akkusativ case is used for a person, thing or animal that is directly affected by the action of the verb. Except for the masculine, it is exactly like the Nominativ.
Der Hund beißt den Mann. The dog bites the man.
The man is affected by the dog, therefore, its article den (the) is in the Akkusativ case.
- The dative case is used to show the indirect object of the verb. The indirect object (Dativ) is usually the receiver of the direct object (Akkusativ). It usually answers the question to or for whom?
Wir backen euch einen Kuchen. We’re baking a cake for you. (pl.)
In the previous example, for you is the answer to the question for whom? Therefore, the preposition used is in the Dativ case. This case is also used after certain prepositions and Dativ verbs.
- The Genitive case is used to show that something belongs to someone.
Das Buch meines Lehrers. The book of my teacher or my teacher’s book.
The possessive adjective with a Genitive case ending shows the possession form in the sentence.
DEFINITE AND INDEFINITE ARTICLES
These tables display the Definite and Indefinite Articles in masculine, feminine, neuter and plural.
- Definite and Indefinite articles are the words the and a/an in English.
- They have to agree with the number, gender, and case of the noun they precede.
Masculine: Der Mann – the man
Feminine: Die Frau – the woman
Neuter: Das Brot – the bread
Masculine: Ein Mann – a man
Feminine: Eine Frau – a woman
Neuter: Ein Brot – a (piece of) bread
Examples with cases:
Akkusativ: Ich grüße einen Mann – I greet a man
Dativ: Ich gebe dem Mann ein Buch – I give the book to the man
Genitiv: Ich habe das Buch des Mannes – I have the book of the man
The articles change depending on the cases, so make sure to learn all the different article in the tables.
The Nominative Pronouns or Personal pronouns are used to replace a previously introduced noun. They can decline in three ways. This table shows the Nominativ declension, when the subject of a sentence is the person or thing that performs the action of a verb.
In German, there are three ways of saying you. In an informal way, singular and plural ( a familiar way) and in a formal way (to express politeness). ich – I du – you (singular, informal) er – he sie – she es – it wir – we ihr – you (plural informal) sie – they Sie – you (singular and plural formal)
SEIN - TO BE - PRESENT
This is a very important verb which you will be using all the time. This verb is also used as an auxiliary verb so make sure you know it very well.
- This verb means to be in English. With this verb and the Nominativ pronouns, you can say: I am, you are, he is, etc. The table shows you the conjugation for each person.
- Remember to refer to the colours in the table to find the word you need to use depending on which person you are using in your sentence.
Wir sind Freunde. We are friends.
Das Wetter ist schön. The weather is nice.
Ist sie da? Is she here?
HABEN - TO HAVE - PRESENT
This is another important verb which you should learn very well as you will use it in other structures as an auxiliary verb.
- This verb means to have in English. With this verb and the personal pronouns, you can say I have, you have, she has, etc. The table shows you each conjugation for each person.
- Remember to refer to the colours in the table to find the word you need to use depending on which person you are using in your sentence.
Ich habe zwei Brüder. I have two brothers.
Wir haben samstags keine Schule. We have no school on Saturday.
Sie hat einen Nebenjob. She has a part time job.
Adjectives describe a noun or a pronoun. Look at the following sentences:
- The coffee is hot. Der Kaffee ist heiß.
- The hot coffee. Der heiße Kaffee.
- In the first sentence, the adjective hot describes the coffee but it is separated by the verb to be (is). This is a Predicative Adjective. These adjectives maintain the same form whether the noun is in singular, plural, masculine, feminine, neutral or declined.
- In the second sentence, the adjective describes the noun directly. This is an Attributive Adjective. These adjectives always precede the noun. The ending of these adjectives change to agree with the noun in gender, number, and case.
Your German Study Card contains four tables with information about adjectives.
The first table on the front page, COMMON ADJECTIVES shows 32 adjectives.
The three tables at the back of your card called DECLENSION OF ADJECTIVES, show the endings you need to add to the adjectives depending whether they have a definite article, indefinite article, or no article at all. They give the ending for the specific gender, number, and case.
Der gute Mann. The good man. = Nominative Masculine with Definite Article
Die schöne Dame. The pretty lady. = Nominative Feminine with Definite Article
Ein kleines Buch. A small book. = Nominative Neuter with Indefinite Article
Eines kleinen Buches. Of a small book. = Genitive Neuter with Indefinite Article
- The possessive adjectives show ownership. In English, they are the words my, your, his, her, etc.
- The adjectives need to be declined and the endings need to agree with the noun (number, gender, case). The declension table is beside the Possessive Adjectives in your card.
- In order to decline your adjective, identify the possessive adjective you need, and add the ending to it.
To say: I like his dog, you need to identify the possessive you need. In this case his is sein. Then, look at the noun and identify which part it plays in the sentence. It’s in Akkusativ because the dog is the affected one, the one that receives the liking. Dog is a masculine noun so now you have your ending.
So the sentence I like his dog is Ich mag seinen Hund.
- Remember to refer to the specific colours on your table for each person:
Form short sentences and practise them out loud with common nouns to get used to the possessive adjectives.
This table refers to the order you need to follow when constructing a sentence.
If you want to say: Erik is coming home by car today. The sentence has the elements: home (place) by car (manner) and today (time).
- In German, you have to follow a specific order for these elements: time + manner + place. So you’ll end up saying something like: Erik is coming today by car home:
Erik kommt heute mit dem Auto nach Hause.
On the centre left page, your card displays a lot of information about the Present tense. In the centre of the page, you’ll see the endings needed to conjugate the verbs in the colour coded system. The Present is used a lot in German because it is used to express many different things:
- To talk about things that are happening now. (I’m talking to John.)
- To talk about facts. (I live in Dublin.)
- To talk about your routine and habits. (I play football on Sundays.)
- You also use it to talk about the future tense. (I’m meeting some friends on Friday.)
- If you use it with the word seit (since), you can express the Present Perfect. (I have been here since this morning.)
To form the Present tense is quite easy:
- First, you need to get the infinitive of the verb. Your German card has a top U table with 19 verbs. They all end in –en like in lernen. This form is the infinitive of the verb and it’s the form you find in the dictionary.
- Next, remove the infinitive ending –en. You are now left with the present stem: lern-.
- Finally, add the personal ending shown in the centre of the card. Remember to follow the colour coded system.
ich lerne, du lernst, er/sie/es lernt, wir lernen, ihr lernt, sie lernen
- Some verbs that end in –d or –t, need to have an e added to the -st and -t endings:
warten – wart – du wartest, er wartet
The bottom U table in your card shows some irregular stem changes that happen to the du and er/sie/es pronouns.
The verbs on the bottom U table, give you the stem with the change, so you only have to add the ending. Remember that this change only applies for the du and er/sie/es pronouns.
The vowel change can be:
e to i
e to ie
or a to ä
geben – geb-/gib- (change e – i)
ich gebe, du gibst, er/sie/es gibt, wir geben, ihr begt, sie geben
lesen – les-/lies- (change e – ie)
ich lese, du liest, er/sie/es liest, wir lesen, ihr lest, sie lesen
fallen – fall-/fäll- (change a – ä)
ich falle, du fällst, er/sie/es fällt, wir fallen, ihr fallt, sie fallen
The U-bottom table contains these coloured boxes to remind you that the changes only happen in the second and third person singular.
SEPARABLE AND INSEPARABLE VERB PREFIXES
The two tables in your card display a few separable and inseparable prefixes. The German language can create new verbs with the addition of prefixes. When you add a specific prefix to a verb, it can give you a new meaning. Note that not all prefixes have a specific meaning and the same prefix can have different meanings: verschlafen (to oversleep) or versprechen (to promise).
- Separable Prefixes are detached from the verb root when the verb is conjugated.
- Separable Prefixes are detached from the verb root when the verb is in infinitive.
rufen (to call, to shout)
anrufen (to call by phone)
Heute ruft er seine Freundin an. Today he’s calling his girlfriend.
- Separable prefixes don’t separate with modal verbs, future and in the present perfect with ge-.
- Inseparable prefixes stay attached to the verb stem in all forms of conjugation.
besprechen – to discuss
Wir besprechen die Situation. We’re discussing the situation.
PRONOUNS - AKKUSATIV / DATIV
In English the Akkusativ and Dativ Pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, you and them. However, in German, there are two different types. One substitutes the Direct Object, and the other one the Indirect Object.
Bill bought flowers for Helen.
- Bill is the subject, it answers the question who?
- the flowers are the direct object, it answers the question what?
- Helen is the indirect object, it answers the question for who?
- The direct and indirect objects can be substituted by a pronoun.
Bill bought them for her.
These pronouns use the same colour coded system for easy reference.
- The Akkusativ pronouns replace the direct object of a sentence. Remember that the object is the person or thing affected by the “doer”.
Ich liebe dich. I love you.
Du liebst mich. You love me.
Das Mädchen trinkt die Milch. The girl drinks the milk. (milk is feminine)
Das Mädchen trinkt sie. The girl drinks it.
mich – me
dich – you (singular informal)
ihn – him (it masculine)
sie – her (it feminine)
es – it
uns – us
euch – you (plural informal)
sie – them
Sie – you (singular and plural formal)
- The Dative Pronouns replace the Indirect Object of a sentence. Remember that the indirect object is the person or thing affected by the direct object.
Mein Vater gibt mir das Buch. My father gives me the book.
My father is the subject
the book is the object
me is the indirect object (I’m given a book, the book affects me, not my father)
Der Lehrer stellt Ihnen die Frage – The teacher asks you the question (you plural formal)
The teacher is the subject. (who?)
The question is the object. (what?)
you is the indirect object. (to whom?)
mir – me
dir – you (singular informal)
ihm – him (it masculine)
ihr – her (it feminine)
ihm – it
uns – us
euch – you (plural informal)
ihnen – them
Ihnen – you (singular and plural formal)
- Reflexive pronouns are used when the action is done and received by the subject.
- The meaning in English is myself, yourself, himself, herself, etc.
- They are more common in German than in English because there are more verbs in German that need them.
- The plural forms can mean each other or one another.
Wir sehen uns. The literal translation would be we’ll see each other but the idiomatic meaning is see you later.
Er setzt sich auf den Stuhl. He sits (himself) on the chair.
Sie interessiert sich für Deutsch. She’s interested (herself) in German.
Ich schminke mich. I’m putting on makeup.
Julian und Megan küssen sich. Julian and Megan kiss each other.
They can be in Akkusativ and Dativ. However, they are mostly used in Akkusativ. The only two which differ in the Dativ form are mich/mir and dich/dir.
- In German the Dativ reflexive pronouns are used with certain verbs when they refer to doing things to parts of the body like putting on, taking off, washing. However, there are other types of nouns that can make the reflexive pronoun Dativ.
- Normally if you have two objects in a sentence with a reflexive verb, the reflexive pronoun is in Dativ.
Ich wasche mich. I’m washing myself. (one object, mich)
Ich wasche mir die Hände. I’m washing my hands. (two objects: mir and die Hände)
Ich ziehe mir einen Mantel an. I’m putting on a coat. (on myself)
Ich koche mir Kaffee. I’m making (myself) coffee.
This means there is/ there are.
Es gibt ein Problem. There is a problem.
Es gibt nichts im Fernsehen. There’s nothing on TV.
Samstags gibt es Live Musik da. There’s live music there on Saturdays.
The table in your card displays the Relative Pronouns for each case in masculine, feminine, neuter and plural. Remember that a relative pronoun is used to connect a clause or phrase to a noun or pronoun: that, who, whose, which, etc.
- You will find these pronouns easy to study as they are very similar to the definite article. Except for the Genitiv case and the plural in Dativ.
- Relative clauses are set off by commas.
Das Glas, das vom Tisch gefallen ist, ist gebrochen. The glass that fell off the table is broken.
Das Buch, das ich lesen will, ist Der Kleine Prinz. The book that I want to read is the Little Prince.
Das ist das Haus, in dem ich gewohnt habe. That’s the house (that) I lived in.
CONJUNCTIONS (VERB AT THE END)
This table in your card displays a few Conjunctions. They are words like: when, before, as, that, after, because, etc.
- They join two clauses in a sentence.
For example, if you say: Because I’m tired. It doesn’t make any sense, this sentence means that you have said something else before, like: I’m not going to the gym tonight because I’m tired. This is the purpose of the conjunction. It joins two sentences together for them to make sense.
- When you use these conjunctions, the conjugated verb goes at the end of the sentence.
Wenn ich reich wäre, würde ich mir ein grosses Haus in den Bergen kaufen. If I was rich, I would buy (myself) a big house in the mountains.
Ich kaufe mir etwas zu essen, weil ich Hunger habe. I’m buying something to eat because I’m hungry.
Mach deine Arbeit fertig, bevor du nach Hause kommst. Finish your work before you come home.
Get familiar with the layout of the Present Perfect in your card. It will be easier for you to identify the different types of verbs.
- You can then take one of the verbs from the U tables and conjugate it accordingly with the colour coded endings in the centre of the page. In this case, all the pronouns use the same ending.
- The Present Perfect is the tense used in German to refer to the Past tense you normally use in sentences like I saw John.
- The literal meaning of the Present Perfect in English is like in the following sentence: I have written. As you can see, you need an auxiliary verb, have, in order to form the tense.
- In German, it’s formed with the conjugated auxiliary verbs in present haben (have) or sein (be), and the participle of the verb.
- There are weak and strong verbs. Weak verbs are conjugated with haben. Strong verbs are conjugated with sein or haben.
- To conjugate a verb in the Perfect tense with a weak verb, add the prefix ge– to the verb and suffix –t to the stem. Use the right conjugation for haben in present. The conjugation for haben is on the front page of your card if you’re not too familiar with it yet.
spielen (to play)
spiel – stem
ge + spiel + t = gespielt
Sie hat gut gespielt. She played well.
- If the verb has a separable prefix, –ge is inserted between the prefix and the stem. Use the auxiliary haben conjugated in the right person.
zumachen (to close)
zu mach – stem
zu + ge + stem + t = zugemacht
Wir haben die Tür zugemacht. We closed the door.
- If the verb has an inseparable prefix, you don’t need to add -ge.
entdecken (to discover)
entdeck – stem
stem + t = entdeckt
Christopher Columbus hat Amerika entdeckt. Christopher Colombus discovered America.
- Strong verbs can be conjugated with the auxiliaries haben or sein. Most verbs that show motion or change of condition, are used with the auxiliary verb sein.
- To conjugate a verb in the Perfect tense with a strong verb, add the prefix ge– to the verb and suffix –en to the stem. In other words, the verbs keep the regular ending –n, o –en. Some stems change when conjugated, so they need to be memorised.
sprechen (to speak)
sproch – stem
ge + stem + en = gesprochen
Du hast zu schnell gesprochen. You spoke too fast.
Er hat mein Buch nicht gelesen. He didn’t read my book.
PRESENT PERFECT EXCEPTIONS IN CONSTRUCTION
- Ending in –den or –ten add: ge…et
arbeiten – gearbeitet
Ich habe gearbeitet – I worked / I have worked
- Ending in –ieren – without ge.
studieren – studiert
Du hast studiert – You studied / you have studied.
- Inseparable verbs – without ge.
entdecken – entdeckt
- Separable verbs – ge comes after prefix
zumachen – zugemacht
This table displays the endings needed to form the Imperfect for weak verbs (regular verbs), and the conjugation for the verbs sein (to be) and haben (to have).
- The Imperfect is used to express past events. It’s mostly used in written German. To form it, remove –en and add the specific ending for the specific person.
Kaufen – to buy
Er kaufte. He bought.
- If the verb ends in –den or –ten, add e before the ending.
Arbeiten – to work
Du arbeitest. You worked.
- The verbs sein and haben are commonly used in Imperfect to express the Past tense instead of the Present Perfect, so make sure you learn these verbs really well as they’re very common.
Es war gut. It was good.
Ich war müde. I was tired.
Ich hatte Kopfschmerzen. I had a headache.
VERBS WITH HABEN - IRREGULAR PARTICIPLES
This table displays 8 common irregular participles which you should learn by heart.
denken – to think
Ich habe gedacht – I thought/ I have thought
This table displays the conjugation of the verb werden, needed to form the Future tense. It’s shown in the specific colours for each person.
- The Future expresses something that will happen in the future. Remember that sometimes future plans can be expressed with the Present.
- The future is formed by conjugating the verb werden in present and adding the verb in infinitive.
Wir werden Basketball spielen. We will play basketball.
DECLENSION OF ADJECTIVES
Look at the ADJECTIVES section above.
Unlike English, German’s nouns have a masculine, feminine and neutral gender. While it’s easier if you learn the noun with its gender, some endings and categories can follow a pattern. This table displays some masculine, feminine and neuter endings.
der Garten (the garden)
die Universität (the University)
das Mädchen (the girl)
This table displays the two form to negate sentences in German.
- Use nicht to negate a verb. Nicht goes at the end of the sentence.
Er schläft nicht. He’s not sleeping.
- Use nicht to negate a noun with a definite article.
Sie liest das Buch nicht. She’s not reading the book.
- Use kein to negate a noun with an indefinite article or with no article.
Ich will keinen Apfel essen. I don’t want to eat an apple.
- The ending for kein needs to match the possessive adjectives’ endings. They’re on the centre right page on your card.
Ich habe keinen Kaffee, sondern Tee bestellt. I didn’t order coffee, but tea.
Prepositions connect a noun or pronoun with another word. This table displays common prepositions. The colour coded system shows the case that is needed in the following article or noun.
- Most prepositions are placed before the noun or pronoun they modify.
- There are three prepositional cases, Akkusativ, Dativ and Genitiv. There is a group of prepositions that can take either the Akkusativ or Dativ case. This depends on the meaning of the sentence.
- A good way to remember which one to use:
To express movement, direction, use Akkusativ.
To say where something is (position) use Dativ.
Ich lege den Buch auf den Tisch. I put the book on the table. (direction)
Das Buch liegt auf dem Tisch. The book is on the table. (position)
Example in Akkusativ:
Er arbeitet für eine große Firma. He works for a big company.
Example in Dativ:
Peter kommt aus Amerika. Peter comes from America.
Example in Genitive:
Während der Woche. During the week.