It is interesting to note that when you google “grammar exceptions in German” and the like, almost nothing comes up. German is a surprisingly exception-free grammar, which is refreshing for English-speakers for whom most rules are followed by: “except for…” Yet here are 10 exceptions to watch out for when learning German.
Though in German grammar the articles are declined, most nouns are not, except for the genitive “s”. Yet there is an odd group of nouns called “weak masculines” or, in German, the “second declination” (”Zweite Deklination”). These take an “-en” at the end in certain cases.
In German grammar, the masculine is the weaker sex. Also, bowties are cool.
Photo via VisualHunt
This group includes all masculines ending in:
Also a few ending in a consonant, but with no further distinguishing characteristics, such as “Bär”, “Mensch”, “Held” and “Rebell”.
Because it wasn’t complicated enough, there are exceptions to the exceptions.
“Der Käse” und “der See”, though both ending in “e”, are declined normally.
This includes “Name”, “Wille”, “Frieden”, “Samen”, and a few others. Thus, it would be “des Namens” and “des Friedens” instead of “des Namen” and “des Frieden”.
“Nachbar,” (neighbour), “Bauer” (farmer) and Ungar (the Hungarian national):
“Herr” has its own version of everything – it takes only an “-n” in singular, but “-en” in plural:
There is also one neutral noun that uses the second declination but in its own peculiar iteration, namely only in the genitive:
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“Ich mache” / “Ich habe gemacht.” “Ich stehe.” / “Ich habe gestanden.” “Ich dekoriere.” / “Ich – habe gedekoriert?”
Learning the participle of German words is hard enough – some also change the stem of the word, some don’t. Most end in “-en”. But all add “ge-” at the beginning, right?
Wrong. One group of verbs does not form a participle beginning with “ge-”: verbs ending in “-ieren”. And since they already end in “-en”, their past participle ends in “-t”.
So the correct form for the present perfect of “Ich dekoriere” would be “ich habe dekoriert.”
German lessons are a good way to learn all the particularities of the language.
You think you have learned German well enought to state your intention of going places. If you say you are going to the chemist’s, you say: “Ich gehe zur Apotheke.” Once you are there, you say: “Ich gehe in die Apotheke rein.” and “Ich bin in der Apotheke.”
But once you start talking about home sweet home, you say: “Ich gehe nach Hause” and “Ich bin zu Hause.”
Unless, of course, you’re talking about any sort of house, and not your own, in which case you can say: “Ich gehe zu das Haus” and “Ich bin im Haus.”
“Ich gehe nach Hause”, BUT “Ich bin zu Hause.” German uses different locational conjunctions when speaking of home.
If this is too confusing, practice saying : “Ich gehe heim.” and “Ich bin daheim.” instead. That way you can just focus on going “zu” shops and being “in” them, and don’t have to worry about “nach” or “zu” as meaning any else.
Learn how to master the spoken German word and eradicate German mispronunciations here.
And what’s this about “zu Hause” anyway? Shouldn’t it be “zum Haus”, as “zu” definitely takes the dative form, right? After all, that’s what they teach you in German lessons. And what’s that extra “e” at the end?
Welcome to natural language evolution.
The extra “e” comes from an older form of German, where some words got an “-e” ending in the dative singular. This use has passed from the language, but remains in the colloquial form “zu Hause”.
So the dative is still there, but when the article disappeared, the ending didn’t get tacked on to “zu”, but remained attached to the noun.
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Generally, prepositions are followed by either the accusative (durch, für, gegen, ohne, um, and locational prepositions indicating movement) or the dative (aus, bei, mit, nach, seit, von, zu, or locational prepositions without indication of movement).
But, just for fun, some of them use the genitive. This is not, per se, an exception, as a good grammar book will tell you about them. In fact, in terms of numbers they are by far the biggest group. But they are often ignored when learning German because:
1. A lot of these are seldom used in everyday speech, so that you may only encounter them in texts using a more formal or academic language.
2. For those that are commonly used, the dative is replacing the genitive in common usage.
You can do this, too, but just so you can show off, here are a few of the most common ones:
You can find more here.
Adjectives take an “e” in the nominative and an “-en” everywhere else, right? And stays in its pure form in phrases with “sein” or “werden”:
”Er ist schon.” (He is handsome.) “Sie wird berühmt.” (She will become famous.)
Well, sort of.
For one, if you are using the indefinite article “ein”, the adjective will take on the missing “-er” in the masculine nominative and the “-es” of neuter nominative and accusative:
The small dog -> A small dog
This cute little dog illustrates the use of adjective endings with indefinite articles.
Photo credit: practicalowl via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC
The small child – > A small child.
I have bought a nice dress.
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For one, you don’t add an extra “e” if the adjective already ends in one, such as “leise”, quiet:
Adjectives ending in “-el” usually lose the “e” before the last consonant:
Adjectives ending in “-er” lose the “e” IF the preceding vowel sound is a diphtongue:
“Hoch” has its very own rules: the “c” gets dropped when declining.
“Der Berg ist hoch” (the mountain is high)
“Ein hoher Berg” (a high mountain) declines as:
Ein hoher Berg
Einen hohen Berg
Dem hohen Berg
Des hohen Berges
All right, you’ve been learning German for years, took ten online languages course, now you have finally got it. If the verb has a prefix, the prefix likes to take off and go to the end of the sentence.
Verbs with prefixes are usually separated, with verb stem and prefix going their separate ways.
Photo credit: AndGeorgeMakes4 Studios via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA
Obviously, “zerbrechen” is built upon the verb “brechen”, to break, and it means “to break apart”. “Zer” is a prefix, and yet, the correct form is: ”Wir zerbrechen es.”
There is a certain amount of prefix verbs where the prefix cannot be separated.
These are verbs starting with:
If you are using flash cards in some form (digital or analog) to learn German vocabulary, you can mark separable prefix verbs with a little dot or a hyphen. This will help you learn them as you go instead of having to learn an extra list of inseparable prefixes like the one above.
Generally, when dealing with subordinate clauses, the conjugated verb comes at the end; in other words, if you are using a tense that has an auxiliary verb, the auxiliary verb comes after the main verb:
However, if the verb is modal or is used with another verb in the infinitive (verbs such as “lassen”, for example), for the sake of sanity the auxiliary comes before the others:
That’s about it. Wait, weren’t you promised ten? Well, it’s probable I overlooked some obscure exception to an even more obscure rule, but as I said, German is fairly straightforward. Not easy, but mostly rules stick.