Category Archives: German Language
This is one of those posts that’s only been written, because something very useful has been staring you in the face for years, but no one ever brings it up. I wish someone had explained this stuff to me way back when I first started learning German. But now you guys get the benefit of having this wonderful diatribe on German verbs thrown at you.
So, what exactly is verb valency you ask? Verb valency is basically a linguistic theory that holds that a verb determines the maximum number of nouns that can be in a clause. The nouns are called “arguments” (or “compliments” in some circles) and verbs can take anywhere from 0-3 nouns, depending on the verb. The chart basically goes like this:
- 0 nouns: avalent.
- 1 nouns: intransitive. “Ich1 tanze.” “I1 dance.”
- 2 nouns: transitive. “Ich1 liebe dich2.” “I1 love you2.”
- 3 nouns: ditransitive. “Ich1 gab dir2 eines Gemälde3.” I1 gave you2 a painting3.”
The thing is, though, is that English doesn’t have avalent verbs and neither does German. Not unless you count verbs in the imperative mood, but that’s a separate subject. If it did, then there would be clauses with just a verb and no nouns, such as occurs in other languages like Spanish. For example, “Llueve” means “It’s raining”. In addition, another important concept for the valency theory of verbs, is that valency represents the maximum of nouns a verb can take, but it can take less. So one can say “Ich1 glaube dir2” (“I believe you”) as well as “Ich1 glaube” (“I believe”).
This is cool and all Adlerchen, but how does this relate to German? I’m glad you asked! German is a language with cases, which confuses this even more. As a result, German verbs have a valency for how many nouns they can take and what cases those nouns are. So put another way, there are 5 possible combinations in German:
- intransitive: nominative
- transitive: nominative + nominative
- transitive: nominative + accusative
- transitive: nominative + dative
- ditransitive: nominative + dative + accusative
The above patterns are determined solely by the verb they take. So as an extrapolation, one can say that there are 5 separate kinds of verbs in German based on this. Type 1 verbs have only a subject and no objects. Verb types 2-4 have one subject and one object. The subjects will of course be nominative and the objects’ case is determined by the type of verb at play. The the last verb type has one subject and two objects. The dative object is the indirect object, whereas the accusative object is the direct object. Simple enough, but let’s go a little in depth on each type and give some examples.
Type 1 verbs are relatively rare. In many circumstances standalone subjects are there because a verb actually has a higher valency, but the other arguments are being omitted or are simply not needed anyway. So, don’t always assume that clauses with one noun use verbs of this type, especially since all the other verbs from the other types have the technical potential to take only one noun. (Though in practice many verbs almost always use their maximum valence). “Ich schlafe” (“I sleep”) is an example of the first type.
Type 2 verbs are the rarest of them all. There are only three of them, namely sein, haben, and bleiben. So it’s not going to be any trouble to memorize this group. What’s peculiar about them though, is that the objects take the nominative which in any other case wouldn’t happen, because the nominative is for the subject. An example of this is the phrase “Sie ist der Hammer!” (“She rocks!”). Notice how the article stays der instead of becoming den.
Type 3 verbs are overwhelmingly the most common. If you have to guess what case the object of a clause is, presume it’s accusative unless it’s being modified by a preposition that takes the dative or the genitive. “Ich schreibe ein Buch” (“I’m writing a book”).
Type 4 verbs are another rare breed. There are only a handful of them, so it’s best to just memorize them separately. They include antworten, begegnen, danken, fehlen, folgen, gefühlen, gehören, gelingen, glauben, gratulieren, helfen, nützen, raten, schmecken, vertrauen, widersprechen, zuhören, and zuschauen. An example is the phrase “Ich danke dir” (“I thank you”).
Type 5 verbs are about as rare as type 4 verbs. They include anbieten, beantworten, beweisen, bringen, empfehlen, erklären, erlauben, erzählen, geben, leihen, mitteilen, sagen, schenken, schicken, verbieten, versprechen, vorschlagen, wegnehmen, wünschen, and zeigen. An example in action is “Ich bringe dir das Buch” (“I’m bringing you the book”).
Now that you’re armed with this knowledge, go forth and German! With these handy lists you can start memorizing which cases you need for which verbs. After that, all you have to do is memorize which prepositions each verb takes. ;)
With the enormous spread of mobile phones, and particularly Apple’s iPhones, it’s no surprise that many language learning companies have hopped on the bandwagon and begun designing apps for such devices. The German language has been the recipient of a lot of this effort. There are now many apps devoted to learning it or helping dumbfounded travelers in German speaking countries. Some of them are by highly prestigious institutions such as Duden, who released a mobile version of it’s extensive and authoritative dictionary. Some of them are by less renowned forces in the industry, and some are even by no-name programers, trying to take a bite out of the pie that is the language acquisition market. With many in the prestigious category, you definitely get your money’s worth. That being said, not everyone has $25 to spend on a single app. This post goes out to the lowly, ramen eating, penniless student and the wayward, youth hostel using, backpacking traveler.
Dictionaries are the most extensive apps out there for language learning. Their main use is as a reference tool, for when you don’t know a certain word or if you’ve forgotten some aspect of a word that you do know, such as its gender or its exact spelling. Students will get more use out of these apps than travelers, because they need resources that have information the unusual words that they will encounter while reading and writing in German. Travelers may find some use for these as well, but finding individual words is less valuable than having a reference with entire premade phrases.
Maker: Paul Hemetsberger
Link: iTunes Preview
Pros: authoritative, quick, easy interface
Dict.cc is certainly the leading German dictionary out there on the web today, with 850,000 entries, of which 99.8% of it has been verified by native speakers. Even slang that isn’t recognized as official German by Duden is listed in it. That’s why I was a little disappointed by a few of its shortcomings. In its quest to be trimmed down to be used mobily, it stripped away important lexical information such as word class and what gender nouns have, as well as what their plural counterparts are. This is still a very extensive dictionary just like its web-based big brother, but each entry only has a list of word for word translations. This means that you actually don’t have example sentences or notations to help guide you through the nuances of each word, and without them you may mistake, for example, “schön” (beautiful) for German’s word for “nice” (as in a nice person), which is really “nett”. In that way, it’s inferior to the actual one I link to on my blog, and may cause any number of snafus. Moving on from the lack of lexical and semantic information, this app probably presents the best choice for someone trying to look up the meaning of an obscure word quickly. And when I say quick, I mean quick. One thing that can’t be said of the app is that it isn’t bloatware. It’s lightning quick and I’ve never had it freeze up on me, requiring a restart. All in all, dict.cc has way more good to it than bad, but it went too far in trimming itself down, making it too basic. Despite the simplicity of the entries, I personally have found it invaluable, and I recommend it the most.
Maker: LEO GmbH
Link: iTune’s Preview
Pros: extensive, international, has lexical information
Cons: requires internet, which may force users to pay to use it
The online dictionary LEO has, in my observation, received a reputation better than it’s actual worth, as opposed to less well known and less touted dictionaries like Beolingus, which are better in many ways. This app is proof for that sentiment of mine. It only fails in one way, but it’s a catastrophic fail. It doesn’t work if you don’t have an internet connection, which defeats the purpose of having a dictionary app in the first place, instead of just using bookmarks in your browser. And, economically pressing is the fact that many people don’t have unlimited data transfer for their mobile phone plans, which means that if you don’t have that plan, you will be be paying to use this app, which further defeats the point of it being “freeware”. You might as well not even download LEO for your phone. You’re better off just having a bookmark of the actual site, so you can save space for other more worthy apps and music. For the sake of argument, though, let’s say that you’re pretty sure that you would always have an internet connection, you have an unlimited data plan, and this drawback probably won’t affect you. If you’re still willing to use LEO after knowing how crippled it is, than it does pass the dictionary test in a very raw sense. It has 600,000 entries for English-German, and about 150,000 entries on average for French, Spanish, Italian, Mandarin, and Russian. This makes it fairly extensive and usable in the wider European Union if you ever travel to any of the German speaking countries. In addition, unlike Dict.cc its entries give word class, noun gender, and plural forms. All in all, I couldn’t recommend this app less for its massive eye-soar of a fault, but it does succeed in some areas where other apps fail. If LEO ever releases a mobile dictionary app that doesn’t require the internet to use, I could see it becoming the standard for smartphone-using students, but sadly they haven’t yet, and we’re stuck with this scheiß.
Maker: Michael Tartsch
Pros: gives some lexical information, good for compound words
Cons: less entries, sometimes freezes, has ads
I’ve never been a fan of the whole ‘lite’ app phenomenon of programmers putting out two versions of the same app, with one crippled in some fashion, just to cajole users to get the full version. I can understand offering demos, but I can’t understand purposefully inferior products. M’s Dictionary isn’t really an inferior product, but it has issues and you could do better. Officially, it only has three differences from the full version, namely it has an ad banner, it only displays up to 50 word entries in a search, and its history section is limited to the last ten searches you did, as opposed to the full version which lists the last 50 searches you did. This isn’t a hefty list of compromises for saving two dollars. Moving on to the actual dictionary it has two weaknesses. Firstly, is the fact that it only has 140,000 entries. Larger than most paper dictionaries, but way smaller than most electric ones. Secondly, it’s slower than Dict.cc and will sometimes freeze up, requiring you to close the program down and restart all over again. I’m not sure if this is a stability issue or an indexing issue, but it seems related. Dict.cc has many times as many entries and finds them far faster and without freezing. It gets some things right though, such as being great for looking up compound words. It has partial word searching, which means that searching for “grund” would also yield “Hintergrund”. It also gives plural forms of nouns, though it doesn’t give noun gender. The final verdict on this one is pretty clear: you could do better. It actually has a good reputation, but I don’t see it living up to it. It needs more entries to be competitive and its searching function needs serious attention for stability and/or better indexing. At the moment, this is an app you can probably and rightfully disregard, unless you’re a beginner and its less than all encompassing entries won’t hinder you. Also, just as a note, I’ve heard on forums that the full version is actually available for free on Fridays, though every time I’ve personally checked it was still the regular $1.99. Bearing in mind that getting a free version of the full M’s Dictionary may be an urban myth, the lite version isn’t that much worse.
Maker: Linguee GmbH
Link: iTune’s Preview
Pros: fast, great features, gives lexical information
Cons: lexical information needs more organization
While the web version of Linguee isn’t that well known, this app may well change that. As far as mobile dictionaries go, this is one to keep an eye on. It has a lot of good features, and is the most decked out of all the dictionary apps. To start things off, it keeps a search history like M’s Dictionary does, so you can go back and quickly check past words. It one ups M’s Dictionary though, by exceeding the 10 search memory limit. It even innovates the process, by giving you back and forward buttons to scroll through previous searches, rather than just presenting you with a list of the past terms. Though, it does give you that list too. In another show of innovation, it outdoes LEO. While LEO requires the internet to be used at all, Linguee can run completely offline, and if you happen to have an internet connection, it will even download the latest example sentences for your search terms. To top it all off, you can even turn the internet connection off, if you want to save battery juice or don’t have an unlimited data plan for your phone. LEO should take note here, the internet can be used to compliment an app, but it shouldn’t be obligatory for it to work. It also gives you that all-important lexical information, such as noun gender and word class. The only draw back is that it gives this information in German, which doesn’t help the average traveler, who has never formally studied German grammar. Despite this, the problem can still be solved by quickly looking up the translations to words like “noun” and “masculine” on the app itself, so it’s not a huge handicap. One other complaint is that it does show plural forms, but only if you click on the entry specifically to pull up extra information. I can understand why they organized it this way, but it’s still a slight inconvenience nonetheless. The best thing about it surprised me, though. It’s actually as fast as Dict.cc. Despite all the extra functionalities and even when it’s maintaining a constant connection to the internet, it’s still as quick. However, I do notice that it can freeze up from time to time, though this is only for a split second. After a few blinks of the eye, it restabilizes. The largest complaint I have about it, is that it only has 450,000 entries. This puts it in the middle range when it comes to authoritativeness. While this isn’t a low number at all, it isn’t particularly high either. All in all, this is a very good dictionary, and I give my full seal of approval on this one.
Maker: bab.la GmbH
Link: iTune’s Preview
Pros: fast, has idioms and lexical informantion, good features
Cons: lacks plural noun forms
bab.la is another site that isn’t particularly well known, but may be more so in the future thanks to creating a good dictionary app like this one. It’s really very similar to Linguee, which was first released one year earlier. It has the same search history function, and utilizes the same back and forward buttons. As I kept using it, it seemed more and more that bab.la is a actually rip off of it, frankly. Perhaps this is just due to industry standards, but if that’s the case than Linguee and bab.la share close to all the same standards. As to weather it’s a cheap copy or coincidental convergence of popular innovations, I’ll leave that up you. bab.la is in the upper medium range with about 500,000 entries. One things it seems to do pretty well is idioms. It had jein, which Linguee didn’t, and that surprised me. While slang, it isn’t obscure and dialectal. There is even an incredibly popular hip-hop song by the same name, by the Hamburger group Fettes Brot, as well as a 2010 pop-hop version. It does seem lacking on the verb front, though, and doesn’t recognize inflected forms of verbs, unless they just happen to be in phrases it knows. If you come across a strange word you don’t know, you better hope it isn’t a verb. If you can tell it’s a verb, than you’ll still have to deduce its infinitive form, which for beginners can be problematic. Though, it’s worth mentioning that other medium range dictionaries didn’t have separate entries for finite verbs, either. The authoritative dictionary Dict.cc does though. One thing it lacks, is listing the plural forms of nouns, though it does list noun gender. It also has usage notes too, like whether a word is used in medicine or not, which is good and useful. All in all, I would say it passes on the lexical information front, though, having to look up the plural forms of nouns separately is a huge and needless bother. The last thing of note about it is that it’s another fast dictionary. It’s actually also got a cleaner interface than Linguee, though not as clean as dict.cc. I think you won’t be disappointed by bab.la, and I give it another seal of approval.
Maker: Nikolay Vorobiev
Link: iTune’s Preview
Pros: has noun gender, many unique features
Cons: ads, few entries
English German Dictionary Free is the newest of the free German dictionaries for iOS, and it has some nice bells and whistles. It also seems to have been released in stages to the iTune’s Store, because there seems to be prototype version of the dictionary under the name “English<->German Dictionary” that only has 230,000 entries compared to the seemingly current official one’s 301,000 entries. This inference seems confirmed by looking that the posting history of the maker’s development blog. The difference between attested word counts between February and April is large. Both of these counts are still on the lower end though. Another drawback to this dictionary is that it’s a lite version of the payed app “English German Dictionary Pro“. Which of course means as it very often does that the free version has ads in spades. As I said with M’s Dictionary above, I’m not a fan of the lite version gimmick. But all is not doom and gloom here. The good side to the app is that it has a pleasing design interface. It also has the as you type function, which is of course a huge plus. Also, although it’s small text may be a little hard on the eyes, it allows many more entries to show up as you type your word, which is a great aid to people who have spelling issues. Though admittedly, the adbanner takes up the space of about 3 entries all by itself. It also shows noun gender which is fast becoming the norm in German dictionary apps, but not every app has caught up. It has inconsistent plurals though. Sometimes when you look up an English word the German definition will have the plural of the German equivalent term, but it doesn’t show the plurals when you go the opposite direction, implying that one word does not equal one entry in its tagging system, meaning that the dictionary could very well be half the size it claims to be. It also has a history function, which is again aided by it’s smaller text. And it has a couple of things that are unique just to it. It has a favorites system so you can compile lists of new vocab, and it lets you choose whether to search just its German entries or just its English entries or both at the same time.. This functionality gives it a little bit of a time saving boost when you’re pretty much only translating one way. Something of value to nonnative speakers of English, is that it gives phonetic guides for the English entries, so that’s something to keep in mind for the international students of German. Another feature of note is that it lets one change the color of the app and the font and size of the text. So if the text is too small or your eyes can handle even more splatter on your screen, the option is right there for you. Over all I wouldn’t that the app is too bad, but it still needs a lot of work. Luckily it’s still seems to be under development. It’s biggest draw back is probably is it’s low entry count. According to it, Döner doesn’t even exist! What kind of self respecting dictionary doesn’t have the king of German fast food? I would say that this app is more function than functionality still, so I would suggest getting one of the others listed in this article over it, but it’s definitely not bad for how new it is. It’s actually a little impressive in that regard. Further updates may bring it up to speed.
German utilizes a modified version of the Latin script, which is the same writing system that English uses. However, German also has some additional letters that don’t exist in English. German spelling is very phonetic and regular. There are basically no silent letters, with only a few exemptions to the rule. Before you can start learning vocabulary, it is important for you to learn how to pronounce everything you read, so the following chart will go over every letter in German and its pronunciation(s) as represented by the International Phonetic Alphabet. In addition to the chart, the University of Iowa provides an animated phonetics guide to German, which is located here, and can be followed along with.
a aː, a hat, Wasser
ä eː, ɛ Väter, Männer
e e, ɛ, ə1 gegen, denn, habe
é e Café
i i, ɪ China, bitte
o o, ɔ so, voll
ö œ, ø zwölf, schön
u ʊ, uː und, um
ü y, ʏ über, füllt
y y, ʏ Typ, Rhythmus
aa a Staat
ai aɪ Mai
au aʊ laut
ay aɪ Bayern
äu ɔʏ Häuser
ee eː Beere
ei aɪ mein
eu ɔʏ Euro
ey aɪ Meyer
ie iː dienen
oe ø Goethe
oo oː Boot
ow oː Pankow
b b, p2 bitte, ab
c k Café
d d, t2 du, Wind
f f fest
g g, ʒ3, k2 geben, Etage, Tag
h4 h heiße
j j, ʒ3, dʒ3 jung, Journal, Jeans
k k König
l l laufen
m m Mann
n n Nummer
p p Person
r5 ʀ/ɹ/r, ɐ recht, Sänger
s z, s so, sexy
t t tun
v f, v3 viel, aktiv
w v was
x ks Fax
z z, ts ziehen, Zahl
ß6 s heiße
ch x, ç Buch, mich
ck k Klecks
dt t Stadt
kn kn Knie
pf pf Pfeffer
ph f Photo
qu kʋ3 Qual
st ʃt, st2 starten, Post
sp ʃp später
th t Theme
ti tsɪ̯ Nation
tz ts Platz
zw zʋ zwei
chs ks Sechs
sch ʃ Englisch
dsch dʒ3 Dschungel
schm ʃm schmertz
tsch tʃ Deutsch
1. e as /ə/ has many uses in German orthography:
- It is used in verb inflections, such as habe [habə].
- The past participle prefix ge~ [gə’] makes use of it.
- The comparative suffix ~er [ər] makes use of it.
- The agent suffix ~er [ər] makes use of it.
- Some nouns pluralize with a ~e ending, such as Schuhe [ʃuːə].
- And, some words just end in ~e and ~er, though these endings don’t denote anything, such as Seemöwe [zeːmœvə] or Wasser [va’sər].
2. These sounds occur only at the end of words.
3. These sounds are found only in loanwords.
4. h is sometimes used to mark a long vowel in German orthography, such as Kohl [koːl]. This occurs with the letters a, ä, e, i, o, ö, u, and ü. Thus ah becomes /aː/, äh becomes /eː/, eh becomes /eː/, ih becomes /iː/, oh becomes /oː/, öh becomes /øː/, uh becomes /uː/, and üh becomes /yː/. Compare this to the use of double consonants to mark short vowels, such as Wasser [va’sər].
5. r is also a vowel in German, in addition to being a consonant. Some words that end in ~er (again, this isn’t the specific suffix ~er; only the use of the same sound) are pronounced /ɐ/, such as Ober [ɔːbɐ]. In addition, r as /ʀ/, /r/, and /ɹ/ is a dialectal difference. /ɹ/ is the same hard r sound as in English and is used in Northern Germany. /r/ is trilled and is used in Bavaria and Austria. /ʀ/ is uvular and is used everywhere else. Note however that these pronunciations have overlap and in some case free variation.
6. ß counts as two successive s’s. However, despite technically being a double consonant, it is not used after short vowels. This is due to the 1996 spelling reforms, which limited its use to being after long vowels and diphthongs, thus the spelling of the words Spaß [ʃpaːs] and Neuß [nɔʏs], but not Miss [mɪs], which used to be Miß. Also, please note that it is not used in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and ss is used in favor of it in all circumstances there.