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Article declension in German

The articles (der, ein, kein) change form (are declined) depending on the gender, case and number.

Differences between the definite and indefinite article

The definite article is used in German (just like in English) when we refer to a particular object.

Let’s look at two example phrases:

The (female) teacher reads
Die Lehrerin liest

A (female) teacher reads
Eine Lehrerin liest

There is a slight difference in meaning. In the first case, the teacher is known or relevant. In the second, the teacher is not known or irrelevant.

Declension of the definite article

The definite article (der, die, das,…) does not have an equivalent in English. We simply use "the" for any gender, case and number. It is very important to learn this table.

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativederdiedasdie
Accusativedendiedasdie
Dativedemderdemden
Genitivedesderdesder

Contractions: preposition + definite article

The definite articles are contracted with prepositions in these cases:

an + das = ans, an + dem = am, auf + das = aufs, bei + dem = beim, durch + das = durchs, für + das = fürs, in + das = ins, in + dem = im, um + das = ums, von + dem = vom, zu + der = zur, zu + dem = zum

Declension of the indefinite article

This is the equivalent of the English article "a" or "an".

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativeein (a)eine (a)ein--
Accusativeeineneineein--
Dativeeinemeinereinem--
Genitiveeineseinereines--

In German, "einige" (some) is sometimes used to refer to an indefinite number of objects (plural).

Contraction of the indefinite article in slang

In an informal setting it is common to contract the indefinite article ein to ‘n:

Ich habe 'ne Wohnung

or even

Ich habe ne Wohnung

instead of

Ich habe eine Wohnung
I have an apartment

More info at the apostrophe in German

Pronouns that can function as articles

Pronouns often accompany a noun (attributive function):

Mein Hund ist alt
My dog is old

which makes them behave like articles.

Pronouns that behave like articles are called attributive pronouns.

Determiners

Definite articles, indefinite articles and pronouns with an attributive function are called determiners (Artikelwort).

List of determiners

  • Definite articles
  • Indefinite articles
  • Possessive determiners (mein, dein, ...) or possessive articles [Possessivartikel]
  • Demonstrative determiners (dieser, jener, derjenige, derselbe) or demonstrative articles [Demonstrativartikel]
  • Indefinite determiners (kein, einige,…)

For practical purposes, often, when a pronoun acts like a normal pronoun or like a determiner, there is no difference. They have the same declension and if we want to be practical, we don’t need to worry about them.

We just have to pay attention to whether the determiner is:

  • A definite article
  • An indefinite article
  • A possessive determiner
  • Kein

Given that the declension is different depending on it being a determiner or not.

Audiovisual supplement

A beautiful song to supplement this lesson is "Schaurig Traurig" (terrible sadness). It’s quite easy to understand with the subtitles in German.

We hope you like it.




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