Handout: Grammar Terminology

A noun is a person, place, thing or idea. In German, all nouns are capitalized. So, if something in the middle of a sentence is capitalized, it is a noun or a word acting as a noun.

A pronoun replaces a noun in a sentence and refers back to a noun that was previously mentioned (e.g. when we are talking about John, we can say "he" or "him" instead of using his name again). It does the same job in a sentence as a noun, and can be a subject, direct object, indirect object or the object in a prepositional phrase.

The subject of a sentence is almost always a noun or pronoun. It is the person or thing that does the action of the verb in the sentence.

The verb is the action of the sentence and describes what is being done. IN GERMAN, THE CONJUGATED VERB IS ALWAYS IN THE SECOND POSITION IN A MAIN CLAUSE! In other clauses (with conjunctions like dass or weil), the verb will be at the end of the clause.

The direct object is the "do-ee" of the sentence, meaning the object to which something is being done. It too is almost always a noun or pronoun.

The indirect object is a noun or pronoun that answers the question 'to whom' or 'for whom' the action is being done -- the receiver of the direct object.

An article is a special kind of adjective that is used to indicate whether the noun refers to something or someone in particular, or to one of a general group. A definite article ("the" in English) refers to a particular, specific noun. In German, these are die, der and das, and all their various case and gender forms (dem, denen, etc.). An indefinite article ("a" or "an" in English) refers to a noun whose exact identity is not specified; not the bird (that bird there specifically), but a bird. In German, this is ein and its various forms. Other types of articles, such as demonstrative articles like "this" and "that", function in a similar specifying manner. Dieser, mancher, jeder, etc. are demonstrative articles in German, and follow the same rules as definite (der) articles.

An adjective describes a noun or pronoun by answering 'what kind?' or 'which one?' For example, the "good" wine, der gute Wein.

An adverb describes a verb, adjective or another adverb by answering 'how?' 'when?' 'where?' or 'to what extent?' In German, adjectives and adverbs look the same in their base forms (e.g. schön can mean "nice" or "nicely"); however, adjectives get endings when they come before a noun -- adverbs never have endings.

A preposition shows the relationship of a noun or pronoun to some other word in a sentence.

Ex:He strolled over the hill.
He strolled down the hill.

Prepositions answer the same types of questions as adverbs. A preposition is used with a noun to form a prepositional phrase:

He strolled past the store.Where did he stroll?Past the store.

"Past the store" is a prepositional phrase. The noun following a preposition ("the store") is called the object of the preposition. In German, prepositions can put their objects into the accusative, dative, or genitive case.

A conjunction joins words or groups of words. Some conjunctions in German are aber (but), oder (or), und (and), weil (because), and dass (that).

An infinitive is the base form of the verb, which has not been changed to show tense or given any endings. In German, an infinitive almost always ends in -en or -n, and is the form of the verb found in the dictionary (e.g. machen, gehen).

Conjugation simply refers to a set of endings (and sometimes vowel changes) for verbs which help to mark person and tense. For example, "to be" = I am, you are; sein = ich bin, du bist, etc.

Person is a term used to describe the 'point of view' of a sentence. There are three "persons," referred to as 1st, 2nd and 3rd. 1st person is used when the speaker of the sentence is the same as its subject. In this instance, the subject is either the singular form ich (I) or the plural form wir (we). 2nd person is used when the speaker of the sentence is talking directly to another party. The subject is then the singular du (you) or the plural ihr (you all). 3rd person is used when the speaker of a sentence is discussing the activities of another who is not being addressed directly. This is the most common person, and is used for ALL NOUNS. The 3rd person pronouns are er (he), sie (she), es (it) and sie (they).

Gender: In German, nouns are said to have gender. There are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. A noun's gender (and number) determine the endings for indefinite articles and adjectives, and also the form of the definite article. Gender is something that pretty much just has to be memorized. There are a few generalizations that can be made, but most have exceptions. There are only a few rules with no variations: Any noun that ends in -lein or -chen is neuter, any noun which ends in -in ,-ung, -keit, -heit, -tät, -ie, -tion is feminine, and any noun which ends in -mus or -ig is masculine. In compound nouns, the final word in the compound determines the gender of the whole word.

Ex:das Bier + der Garten  =  der Biergarten
das Haus + die Nummer  =  die Hausnummer

Case is a fancy way of referring to a noun or pronoun's role in a sentence. In German, there are four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. Nominative is used only for the subject of a sentence. Accusative is used primarily for direct objects and prepositions that require a noun in accusative. Dative is used for indirect objects, objects of dative prepositions, and a very limited set of verbs that take a dative object. The genitive indicates possession, and there are a few genitive prepositions and one or two genitive verbs.