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How to use a German dictionary?

To translate a German text only using a dictionary, and with limited grammar knowledge is an extremely complex task. We explain why.

As we have mentioned, many times, when looking up a word in the dictionary, it is nowhere to be found. We will explain how to find it.

Plural Nouns

Nouns are capitalized, and they only appear in singular form in the dictionary, so their plural ending must be removed in order for them to be found in the dictionary.

Depending on the noun, there are several ways to turn it into plural. Here we list the most common:

Frequently[-e], [¨-e]
o [ - ]
[-en], [-e]
o [-nen]
[-e] o [ - ]

Less often

[-en], [-n],
[ ¨ ], ...
[ ¨ ],
[¨-e], ...
[ ¨ -er], ...
Foreign words[-s]

Compound Words

The German language has another feature that makes it harder to use the dictionary, which is that words are frequently joined together. In German it is allowed to combine two or more words into one. But in the dictionary they will only appear on their own.

Das Schloss Neuschwanstein
The Neuschwanstein castle (maybe the most beautiful and famous castle in the world, its name meaning the new swan's stone)

For example, the word Neuschwanstein is made up of the words “neu” (new), “Schwann” (swan), and “stein” (stone).

Declined Adjectives, Articles, and Pronouns

Adjectives, articles, and pronouns only appear in the dictionary without endings. In order to find them, their endings, that is the adjective, article, or pronoun declensions respectively, must be removed, and those are basically::

"-e", "-en", "-er", "-em", "-es"

Conjugated Verbs

Verbs also change their form when conjugated, and only the infinitive appears in the dictionary. We must be able to infer the form of the infinitive verb. The more grammar we know, the easier it will become for us to “feel” the form of the infinitive verb.

This task of deducting the form of the infinitive verb can become hard, for reasons such as these:

  • To form the “Partizip II” (widely used), a prefix is added instead of a suffix:

gereist (Partizip II of travel [doesn't exist in the dictionary] reisen (infinitive)

  • There are irregular verbs, in which one verbal form does not look like the infinitive (which is the only one that appears in the dictionary).

liest (2nd person singular of read [doesn't exist in the dictionary] lesen (infinitive)

  • The hardest one is inferring the infinitive with separable verbs, because they could be found in their separated form in a sentence, but in the dictionary they appear joined.

Ich kaufe gerade ein
I'm shopping

In this case the verb is “einkaufen”, if someone with limited grammar knowledge tried to translate this sentence using only the dictionary, they are unlikely to succeed. As happens to Google Translate, when it incorrectly translates it as “I buy just one”.