Updated: Jun 4
Unlike English, German has a few different words to say 'the'. These are called articles. Here is a breakdown of the purpose of these articles, and why it's important to learn them.
1. Masculine/feminine/neutral/plural (der/die/das/die)
German is a gendered language, meaning that the terms masculine, feminine and neutral are used to differentiate between nouns. Each noun has a specific article. A noun can either be masculine (der), feminine (die), neutral (das) or plural (die). This is important to grasp and make an effort to learn each word with its specific article, as using the correct article can change the meaning of a word or entire sentence. For example, der Stift is a pen while das Stift is a monastery.
2. They never change
Each noun has a specific article, period. These articles never change. What does change, however, are the cases. Another reason why the articles are important, as the purpose of a noun in a sentence determines its case, and can even change the meaning of a sentence when used incorrectly. Learn more about the 4 German cases here.
3. The case determines their form and meaning
It's important to be able to recognize each article and its forms, to determine the meaning in a sentence. Depending on the case, an article can be expressing possession, to/for whom or the recipient of an action. (Learn more about the 4 cases here.)
4. Don't let them overwhelm you
If you've seen any German grammar charts, the articles in their different forms might seem like a lot. But, I assure you, with time, practice and a positive attitude, it's absolutely do-able. Start with a basic understanding of what they are (in a nut shell: 'the'), then take the time you need to work through the cases. What's important to remember is that you're still learning. Making mistakes and needing time to grasp a concept is okay.
If you're a native English speaker, articles are a very new concept for you, and that may take some getting used to. It's impossible to know the article right away for every noun, so use the tools at your disposal to help you. That's what they're there for! If you're completing an assignment, writing a letter or just want to double check, use a German dictionary to find the correct article for any noun.
6. It's okay to make mistakes
I can't stress this enough! Without a doubt, this is the most important point I can make in this post. While it's nice to be competent with the articles and cases, this is a journey and these are skills that take practice and time. If you mess up an article or case when speaking, you'll still generally be understood. What's important is that you don't get hung up on being perfect, but instead focus on moving forward, practicing more and learning from your mistakes.
A great starting point is simply to remember that the articles generally mean 'the', and each noun has a specific article. Once you feel comfortable with those two ideas, it's a good time to start familiarizing yourself with the 4 German cases, to get to know the articles even better.
PS- Want to advance your German? Book a free consult for German language coaching & lessons with me today!
About the Author
Noelle is an experienced German teacher and coach. After having lived and worked in Germany in 2014, she returned to the US and earned a Second Bachelor of Arts degree in German, from an AATG German Center of Excellence. Currently, she is pursuing her Master of Arts in Translation and Interpretation Studies and learning Spanish, French and Russian in her free time. When she is not teaching or traveling, you can find her exploring Texas or spending time with her partner and their two cats.