Imagine your body is the German language.
Your organs are the four major language skills (speaking, listening, writing and reading).
Your blood is German vocabulary, with the blood vessels being prefixes, phrasal verbs, collocations and word order.
But to keep your body as a whole, you need bones, you need a skeleton.
Grammar is that skeleton, and this post is an osteology (the study of the bones) German lesson.
Is German Grammar Hard?
Every language has its easy and challenging grammar topics.
German grammar is known for being hard, but is it, really?
Let’s have a look at some points in favor and against this claim:
German grammar is hard because:
- It has four grammatical cases.
- There are three grammatical genders.
- It has grammatical moods.
- Word order in German can be a headache.
- Verb prefixes are all over the place.
- Dual prepositions can be tricky.
German grammar is easy because:
- German is a very logical language.
- German is a Germanic language, just like English.
- Nouns are super easy to spot.
- It has fewer tenses than English.
- Conjugation is way easier than it seems.
- Adverbs are super easy to master.
These are only 12 examples of what German learners normally have to say about German grammar.
The list could go on and on, and we’d never reach an agreement, because German grammar is neither easy nor hard, it’s just important and unavoidable.
So you know you’re going to suffer a little bit here and there and have easier moments from time to time.
The rest of the time, you’re going to be studying grammar and learning this amazingly useful language.
Let’s see how you can do that.
How to Learn German Grammar
There are several tips and tricks on how to learn German grammar, but some are more helpful than others.
The following is a list of 12 easy strategies you can implement during your study sessions to make the most out of them.
Level your learning
As silly as this tip might seem, it’s actually pretty important.
You shouldn’t study grammar that doesn’t belong to your level of the language.
If you’re just starting your German language adventure, you need to master the German grammar basics first.
Once you reach the intermediate level, you can start playing with intermediate German grammar and all the interesting topics it includes.
Finally, when you’re ready to take the plunge into the advanced stages (C1 and C2), advanced German grammar will enter the stage, right on cue.
Remember to always work with grammar that’s just a tiny bit over your actual level of German. Find the Goldilocks spot: not too easy, not too hard.
Start with the basics
Before doing anything else, make sure you know the most basic German grammar rules. This’ll give you a small yet solid foundation upon which you’ll be able to keep on learning smoothly.
Make the Internet your new best friend and use it to learn German grammar online.
There are thousands, if not millions, of helpful resources of every kind that have been specifically created to teach you German grammar. Take advantage of them!
Are you looking for the best resource to master German grammar in a jiffy? Then you need to try FluentU.
FluentU is the kind of go-to resource you need if you want to learn German grammar in a fun and efficient way.
Imagine you’re watching one of its hundreds of videos and you come across the word fragen. With FluentU’s contextual subtitles, you just have to hover your mouse over this word to know what it means in the context of the video.
If you want to know more about the verb fragen, you can click on it and open its interactive flashcard. FluentU’s wonderful flashcards include grammar info, the native pronunciation of the word, a translation, sample sentences with pronunciation and even a list of other videos that contain your word.
After watching the video and learning its grammar and vocab with the flashcards, you get access to quizzes and exercises specifically tailored for what you’ve learned.
And in case you’re feeling adventurous, you can always search for the word or grammar topic you need in the video dictionary. This’ll provide you with all the flashcards and videos that contain it, divided into two big sections: Words/Phrases and Content by grammar/Vocab points.
As you can see, FluentU is an essential tool for those learners of German who want to learn grammar and vocabulary while they have fun. If you’re one of them, sign up for a free trial and see your German grammar skills skyrocket into the stratosphere.
Download some German grammar apps
There are plenty of great grammar apps to learn German on the go.
They’re very useful because you can take them with you everywhere and learn German while commuting, waiting for a friend or having lunch.
One such app has been developed by FluentU. It contains everything you’ll find in the web version, and it allows you to switch devices easily thanks to its automatic progress syncing. Download it now for your iOS or Android device and start learning like pros do!
Good old books are also essential for you to build a solid German grammar foundation.
There are four types of books that shouldn’t be missing from your bookshelf:
- A top-notch German grammar book, where you’ll have quick access to all the German grammar theory.
- A good German workbook, where you’ll be able to practice everything you’ve learned.
- A great German verb book, where you’ll master German verb conjugation.
- German literature (especially bilingual editions), so you can practice your German reading skills.
Find good grammar lessons
Not all German grammar lessons are created equal, and in order to find the best ones, one has to look carefully at what each of them has to offer.
You might prefer learning grammar with songs, attend a grammar lesson course or try FluentU’s interactive lessons with videos.
You get to decide which type of German grammar lesson you want to use. Just remember that it should allow you to have fun while you’re learning.
Practice with exercises
Memorizing grammar concepts and rules is necessary, unfortunately.
However, the fun starts when you’re able to put into practice all you’ve learned and you start doing German grammar exercises!
German is one of those languages for which the saying “practice makes perfect” is absolutely true.
Start doing grammar exercises from day one, and you’ll thank yourself a few months later.
Make your own flashcards
Flashcards are a very helpful tool every learner of German can use to learn grammar.
Most of us are used to thinking of flashcards as cards where you have a foreign word on one side and its translation on the other.
However, as FluentU’s out-of-this-world flashcards have proven to you, flashcards are much more than that.
Use flashcards to write full sample sentences with their translations, verb conjugations, words with difficult spellings grouped together, etc. The sky’s the limit!
Use grammar checkers
Using a good German grammar checker, especially when you’re practicing your German writing skills, is a must.
Depending on the checker, you’ll have more or fewer features and will have to invest some money or not. Choose one you feel comfortable working with, and let it help you by using its corrections and feedback and learning from them.
Introduce songs and other media into your learning sessions
I bet you didn’t think about learning German grammar with music and songs, did you?
What about TV programs, movies, series, podcasts and short videos?
Media can be an awesome complement to your learning sessions!
If you like series and movies, pick a few ones and transform them into German grammar lessons.
If you’re in a hurry, use German podcasts and the radio.
And if you like learning with interesting short videos full of grammar bites and vocabulary lessons, just subscribe to FluentU’s German YouTube channel.
FluentU German transforms short videos into entertaining lessons you can watch even if you’re just beginning to learn the language:
Subscribe to FluentU’s German YouTube channel now so you don’t miss any of the cool new videos they upload.
Last but not least, you need to learn to be patient when learning German grammar.
There are going to be moments when you’ll want to just give up. That’s normal and we’ve all been there.
But if you keep on learning and being consistent, it’ll all pay off sooner than later, and you’ll see yourself traveling to the next language stage faster than a native speaker can pronounce the word Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (beef labeling monitoring task transfer law).
The Basics of German Grammar
All these tips are fine, but what do you actually have to learn to have a good German grammar foundation?
The next nine sections will cover just that. Have fun!
Basic German grammar rules
There are a few German grammar rules you should keep in mind from day one.
The most important ones are:
- German nouns are gendered.
- Adjectives agree in gender and case with the nouns they modify.
- Verbs normally come second in the sentence.
- There are three different forms for you in German (singular, plural and formal).
- German plural is as important as it’s challenging.
Parts of speech
Parts of speech are different word categories we use to refer to how a word behaves in a sentence.
The following are the main ones in German:
Verbs are one of the most important parts of speech because, without them, we wouldn’t be able to describe actions. Because of this, my advice is that you get some daily German verb practice until you master verb conjugation.
When it comes to German verbs, there’s a couple of very important ones you have to learn before any others:
- German sein (to be): learning the different forms of sein should be the first step in your journey. German sein, much as “to be” in English, is used to describe people, animals and things, and also as an auxiliary verb used to form the past tense.
- German haben (to have): haben is another verb that needs to be learned from the very beginning. Apart from being used to talk about possession, it’s also an auxiliary verb. Learning haben and sein while being a beginner will come in handy later on when you learn tenses such as the German present perfect (Perfekt), for instance.
- German werden (to become): even though the basic meaning of werden in German is “to become,” this verb actually has many other uses (for example, it’s used in passive constructions, in the future tense and in conditionals, among others).
You’ll also have to learn that German divides its verbs into two big categories: strong verbs and weak verbs. German weak verbs are what we traditionally call regular verbs in English, while German strong verbs are the irregular, rebellious ones.
It’s important for you to remember that, even though the German infinitive form can have different uses, verbs are conjugated in German, and each person has its own endings, so the sooner you learn about German verb conjugation, the better.
The last thing you should know about German verbs is that they can be classified into different categories, and more often than not, the same verb can belong to more than one of them.
The main types of German verbs are:
- German regular verbs.
- German irregular verbs.
- German auxiliary verbs.
- German reflexive verbs.
- German separable verbs.
- German modal verbs.
Nouns are words we use to refer to people, animals, things and places.
German nouns can be proper, common or collective, countable or uncountable, diminutive or augmentative, etc., much like in English except for one fact: all German nouns are capitalized.
There are three types of German nouns you should pay special attention to because they can be quite tricky for beginners:
An article is a word that determines if a noun is specific or unspecific.
German has two types of articles:
- Definite articles (which, for example, are der, die, das in the nominative case).
- Indefinite articles (which, for example, are ein, eine, einen in the accusative case).
Pronouns are words that replace nouns.
German pronouns are said to be tricky. Two good examples of this can be the German pronoun ihr (which has four different meanings) and the German dative pronouns (which can be frustrating for many learners).
However, they’re not as bad as they’re made out to be.
Start by learning the personal pronouns, since they’ll help you create your first simple sentences. Continue with the interrogative and the demonstrative pronouns. Thanks to them, you’ll be able to ask questions and point at people, animals and things.
Then study German possessive pronouns, which will allow you to start talking about ownership, and next study the reflexive and the indefinite pronouns.
Next, master the use of the German relative pronouns. These aren’t difficult per se (in most cases, they’re just the definite article), but they open Pandora’s box, a.k.a. relative clauses, which are something you don’t want to mess with while still being a beginner.
The last group of pronouns you’ll have to learn is the aforementioned German dative pronouns group.
Adjectives are words that are used to describe nouns.
German adjectives can be challenging because they’re not invariable like in English, so I recommend you start working on them as soon as you can.
There are different types of adjectives, but apart from German descriptive adjectives, and German possessive adjectives, you shouldn’t worry about them too much for now.
Just remember to practice German adjective endings often and you’ll be fine.
Adverbs are words that modify an adjective, a verb or another adverb by expressing a relation of time, place, manner, cause, etc.
German adverbs are super easy to learn because they’re invariable, so there’s no number, gender or case to take into account here!
Conjunctions and transition words
Conjunctions and transition words are words we use to connect clauses, sentences and paragraphs.
Try to learn some German coordinating conjunctions (like und — and, aber — but and oder — or) and a few German transition words (like weil — because, noch — still and vorher — before).
German subordinating conjunctions are quite challenging for beginner learners of German, so you can study them once you reach the intermediate level.
Prepositions are words that relate a noun or a pronoun to another word (usually a noun or a pronoun, too) in a sentence. For example, in the noun phrase “the book on the shelf,” on relates the book to the shelf.
German prepositions are as important as they’re tricky because they normally trigger a specific case (and sometimes, two!), so remember to always learn new prepositions with the case(s) they’re followed by.
Some prepositions can mean several different things and appear in many different contexts. One perfect example of this is the German preposition zu, which, apart from meaning “to” and “towards,” can be used in infinitive clauses and to express a condition or a cause.
Particles are words that add specific connotations (like moods or feelings) to a sentence.
German particles (or, rather, German modal particles) can mean many different things depending on the context, and sometimes they can’t even be properly translated into English.
However, they’re a very intrinsic feature of spoken and informal German, and you should get to know the most important ones on your way to fluency.
Comparatives and superlatives
Comparatives are words used to compare how two people, animals or things are different, while superlatives are words used to compare three people, animals or things, or to compare one person, animal or thing against a whole group.
Both adjectives and adverbs can be used to create comparatives and superlatives. Thus, they’re not really a different part of speech but two parts of speech (adjectives and adverbs) with a specific function.
German comparatives and superlatives are quite easy except for the fact that comparative and superlative adjectives change depending on their gender and case, but other than that, they tend to behave like English comparatives and superlatives.
Singular and plural
Another grammar topic you need to master in order to have a strong German skeleton is German number.
German singular nouns normally have to be learned by heart (I recommend you learn them with their corresponding definite article).
German plural can be a bit of a headache at the beginning because there are five main ways of forming it, but once you get the gist of it, it’ll all be smooth sailing.
German genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) can be a little bit nightmarish for native English speakers because English isn’t the most gendered language in the world.
Remember to learn new nouns with their corresponding gender and you’ll have close to zero problems with this.
Sentence structure and word order
German sentence structure and German word order are two of the main grammar tools you’re going to need to produce correct German. I know they might look like boring topics, but without them, you won’t know how and where to start building even the simplest of sentences.
Be especially careful when using German negation and asking questions in German. These two concepts may seem easy at the beginning, but mastering them completely takes time and a lot of practice.
German cases are probably going to be your first big grammar challenge.
Even if you had German cases explained to you by the best teacher in the world, if your native language doesn’t have visible cases, you’re going to have to put extra effort into this topic.
Start slowly by learning the nominative and accusative cases of the personal pronouns and the articles.
Pay special attention to these two cases, because they’re the most commonly used. Do some exercises on the German accusative (the nominative is a walk in the park) before moving to the other cases.
Continue with the German genitive. This case is used less often than the rest, but it’s quite easy to master.
Leave the German dative case for last. It isn’t especially difficult, but it probably is the one that’ll take you the most time to learn.
German tenses are a crucial step on your way to fluency.
The good news is that German doesn’t have a lot of them. The bad news? German conjugation is quite challenging, because almost every person in each tense has a different ending.
The German tenses you’ll need to learn are:
- The German present tense (a.k.a. the Präsens).
- The German simple past (a.k.a. the Präteritum). The German past tense can also be expressed with the Perfekt (see below).
- The German present perfect (a.k.a. the Perfekt). You’ll also need to learn the German past participle for all the perfect tenses and the passive voice, among other uses.
- The German past perfect (a.k.a. the Plusquamperfekt).
- The German future tense, which includes the future simple (a.k.a. the Futur I) and the future perfect (a.k.a. the Futur II).
Mood and voice
Somewhere along your language learning journey, you’ll have to learn German moods and voices.
The German subjunctive mood will come in handy for topics such as the reported speech, hypotheses, doubts and wishes.
You’ll mainly use the German imperative for commands and instructions, and the conditional mood (which is commonly referred to as the German conditional tense) for conditions and conditional sentences.
The German passive voice is actually quite easy to master if you know your tenses and past participles well, so make sure you study those topics before trying to learn it.
Telling the time
I’m closing this post with a topic that’ll allow you to have a break from all the grammar traps you’ve seen here.
Learning how to tell the time in German is simple, quick and necessary.
You don’t have to wait until you’re an intermediate learner to tackle this, so feel free to use it as a filler topic whenever you get tired of parts of speech, cases and tenses.
So there you have it, German grammar made easy so you can master it all in a jiffy.
I know German grammar can be daunting at the beginning, but it really isn’t that difficult.
Follow the tips included in this post and learn the main topics I have mentioned and you’ll build a solid grammar foundation. That’ll create a strong skeleton upon which you’ll be able to build the rest of the German language body.
Stay curious, my friends, and as always, happy learning!
Francisco J. Vare loves teaching and writing about grammar. He’s a proud language nerd, and you’ll normally find him learning languages, teaching students or reading. He’s been writing for FluentU for many years and is one of their staff writers.
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