Boy howdy, German loves abbreviations. Particularly in emails and official municipal writings, the writing is peppered with odd little fragments like bzw and usw and z.B….omg, it’s like fml, seriously wtf. ANYWAY, enough whimsy. Let’s look at some of the most popular ones, and how to use them properly.
Stands for: und so weiter – etcetera
This is probably the easiest one to use – just throw it in there wherever you would use etc in English, for example at the end of a list or extended description. Just remember that with usw you don’t put a full-stop/period after it unless it’s at the end of a sentence.
Wir verkaufen Computer, Lautsprecher, Küchengeräte usw.
In Part 1 we took a look at co-ordinating conjunctions and what I call ‘mixed conjunctions’. As I mentioned, these conjunctions could also be seen as ‘easy’ and ‘medium’ conjunctions, like difficulty levels in Guitar Hero: for ‘easy’ you play with just three fingers, for ‘medium’ you play with four, and for ‘hard’ you have to play chords with your forehead while solving physics equations that flash up on the screen…or something, I haven’t played that game in a while. Anyway – now it’s time for us to dive into the ‘hard’ conjunctions: subordinating conjunctions.
Don’t panic, though. Subordinating conjunctions sound a lot scarier than they actually are; once you’re used to the way they work, it’s dead simple. First of all, let’s get acquainted with all the most common ones which you’re going to need in your Germanical toolbelt: weil – because obwohl – although dass – that (i.e. ‘he said that you’re an ass’) da – because, as bevor – before nachdem – after ob – whether als ob – as if damit – so that wenn – if, when, whenever als – when (used for past events – we’ll come back to these last two later. Click here to spring straight to that section.)
As you can probably tell, these are some super-useful words right here, so you definitely want to learn all of these off by heart, no question. Tattoo them on your love handles if you need to, just as long as you learn them and learn ’em good.
Word order with subordinating conjunctions
Let’s build a complex sentence out of two clauses using a subordinating conjunction.
Ich spiele gern Fußball.
I like playing football.
Ich bin gut darin.
I’m good at it. (n.b. useful to remember that in German you are good ‘in’ something rather than good ‘at’ something)
First things first: when you’re using a subordinating conjunction to join up the clauses, you need to pop in a comma at the end of the first clause:
Slightly exaggerated here, but you get my drift. Then, after the comma, comes the conjunction. Here we’ll use ‘weil’ – ‘I like playing foolball because I’m good at it.’ And this is what happens:
The subordinating conjunction boots the verb in the second clause all the way to the end of the clause. Here are some more examples of this happening:
Sie gießt ihre Pflanzen. Sie verlässt das Haus.
Sie gießt ihre Pflanzen, bevor sie das Haus verlässt.
Ich nehme an der Demo teil. Ich habe nichts gegen Atomenergie.
Ich nehme an der Demo teil, obwohl ich nichts gegen Atomenergie habe.
See? Dead easy. The verb always goes to the end of the clause. If you’re working with a clause which contains more than one verb or a past participle, the rule still applies – the active verb (i.e. the one which is being carried out by the subject and is conjugated) still goes to the end of the clause:
Wir haben uns nicht wohl gefühlt, nachdem wir eine ganze Flasche Gin getrunken haben. (past tense)
Sie liest sein Tagebuch, damit sie seine Gefühle besser verstehen kann. (modal verb)
But the fun doesn’t stop there. We can also begin a sentence with a subordinating conjunction, which is often helpful for emphasis or slight changes in the way you want to express your message:
See how the subordinating conjunction still sends the verb to the end of the clause? And take a look at the second clause: see how the verb comes at the very start, right after the comma? That’s because the whole first clause has now taken first position, and so what absolutely must follow is the verb, which always wants to be in second position. Generally, grammacologists tend to simplify this whole idea down to the much more catchy ‘Verb comma verb rule’: when you start your sentence with a subordinating conjunction, the verbs hang on either side of the comma separating the clauses. The clause containing the subordinating conjunction doesn’t change, in essence; all we’re changing is where it stands in relation to the other clause.
The last example shows how the different structures allow us to change the meaning and expression of what we’re saying – namely that the first option in this instance sounds even more bitchy than the second.
So what’s the deal with wenn and als?
As you may have noticed in the vocab list above, wenn and als can both mean ‘when’, but they have weird and different meanings. Let’s break it down:
Wenn means ‘if’ and also ‘when’, also in the sense of ‘whenever’ (i.e. a recurring or conditional incident); for example, I would use ‘wenn’ in all of the following sentences:
If he comes home before me hopefully he will do the dishes.
She has an emotional breakdown whenever she hears One Direction.
When I get my Master’s degree I’ll have much better job opportunities.
When her dog sees her, he always runs straight to the door to say hello.
(Bonus points: translate these sentences into German and email me your answers!)
Als also means ‘when’, but ONLY in the context of past happenings; if it helps, you can think of it as the ‘once upon a time’ conjunction. Any time you are recounting something that has already happened, whether it was yesterday or three years ago, you need to use als. I would use als in sentences like this:
When I went to the shops on Tuesday I tripped over a chihuahua.
She called the vet immediately when she saw her sick hamster.
When we got to know him last year he had blue hair.
I read a lot of books when I took the train to work.
See how, in that last example, the ‘als’ is actually really useful because it very often carries over the idea of ‘used to’, which has no direct translation in German – in English the sentence feels more comfortable as ‘I read a lot of books when I used to take the train to work’ but in German you don’t need that ‘used to take’ flimflam as long as you’ve got als in there doing the heavy lifting.
(Bonus points for these four sentences too! Email your answers to ampelfrau[at]gutenmorgenberlin[dot]com!)
I’m sure it’s obvious from this lesson how useful and important subordinating conjunctions are, even though they require a bit more elbow grease than the other conjunctions. If you learn all this by heart you’ll be a great step further towards feeling comfortable with German word order, and with the language in general.
Alright guys. Before we do anything else, let’s go over some terminology. Some of you will already know these terms, but I’m not going to start talking about how to make a cake until I’m sure that everyone here knows what a bowl and a whisk are.
There are two main elements in any one sentence or clause besides the verb: the subject and the object. The subject is the thing which carries out the action of the verb – the ‘main character’ of the sentence, you might say – while the object is the thing which has the action done to it – perhaps the ‘best supporting role’? For example, if I catch a bee in my hand, I am the subject and the bee is the object; it is the thing being caught. If the bee then stings me, the bee is the subject and I am the regretful object. If my cat catches a bee in its mouth, though, the cat is the subject and the bee becomes both the object and a delicious crunchy snack.
To show the difference between the subject and the object, they each have their own ‘case’, which is a special way of showing their grammatical role in the sentence by using different words and structures with each thing. The subject is always in the nominative case, and the object is always in the accusative case; we have this to a very small extent in English, for example when the bee stings me and not I – ‘me’ is the accusative form of ‘I’. In German, this case distinction is shown in all the articles (der, die, das, ein, eine, etc), adjectives (see prev article) and much more besides. Click the link to see how all the articles change depending on gender and case.
Let’s watch this guy make a delicious English breakfast (and boy, do the Germans love a good English breakfast. ‘You eat a whole plate of fried crap for breakfast? Geil!!’). The nouns circled in blue are in the accusative, because they are the things which are having all the cooking actions done to them by ‘ich’, the subject. You can see how the accusative changes the definite article for the masculine noun ‘Bacon’ because the masculine nouns are the only ones whose articles, adjective endings etc change in the accusative. It’s pretty simple, and we’ll do more on that in another lesson.
So now let’s talk about what we’re all here to talk about: the dative. The dative is a third case which we use for a second kind of object in a sentence: an object which is in a position of receiving something, being told something or spoken to, and in general any idea which evokes the idea where we would usually use ‘to’ in English. For example, in the sentence:
He said some really mean things to me!
‘He’ is the subject, doing the saying; ‘really mean things’ is the accusative object (also known as the direct object); ‘me’ is the dative object (also known as the indirect object), because it is the target of this ‘to’. The ‘to’, and the dative, is a structure which allows us to describe a verb affecting two different nouns at the same time: one noun is directly affected (i.e. a present is given) while another noun is indirectly affected (i.e. I receive the present; it is given to me).
For example, here the dad ‘He’ is the subject, the ‘dad joke’ is the thing being told, and ‘me’ is the dative object receiving the joke. Somewhat unwillingly.
Here’s another example. Please note that it is an example and I do not accept any responsibility for anyone who decides to eat a dead bee, nor will I pay ten dollars for that action.
Let’s look at how this works in German.
She gave me the wrong book. ‘Me’ is in the dative here, because it’s the object in the receiving position. Click here to revise what the pronouns like ‘ich’ do in different cases.
Here’s another example:
You must tell the pope about your sins…
This is an example of how a sentence can contain a dative object but not an accusative object. ‘Erzählen’ and the other words which use the dative (see below) need a dative object every time, but here the accusative object has been replaced with ‘about your sins’, a prepositional phrase. You could always sub it out with an accusative object though, and say ‘Du musst dem Papst deine Sünden erzählen’ – you have to tell your sins to the Pope.
Here are some of the main verbs which take a dative object in German. The best way to remind yourself what kind of object a verb takes is to add ‘jdn’ or ‘jdm’ to each verb. This is shorthand for ‘jemanden’ (‘someone’ in the accusative) or ‘jemandem’ (‘someone’ in the dative) – and you can also use ‘etw’ as shorthand for ‘something’ in the accusative, for the verbs which take both.
jdm etw erzählen – to tell someone something
jdm etw sagen – to say something to someone
jdm etw geben – to give someone something
jdm etw zeigen – to show someone something
jdm etw erklären – to explain something to someone
jdm etw schenken – to give something to someone (as a present)
jdm etw schicken – to send something to someone
jdm etw mitteilen – to inform someone of something (this is closer to ‘disclose’ in a direct translation but it is used more casually in German in the sense of telling someone an important fact)
A lot of people get confused and think that all verbs which imply a communicative or ‘giving’ sense take a dative, so they mistakenly use the dative with verbs like ‘fragen’, ‘bekommen’, ‘informieren’ and so on. A good trick to figure out whether or not a verb should take the dative in German is to think about how it would sound in old-timey English: ‘I say unto you…’, ‘Disclose unto me…’, ‘Pray explain to me…’ all sound like excellent beginnings to lines in Game of Thrones, whereas ‘I ask unto you’ doesn’t work. Fragen takes the accusative. Boom.
It’s important to learn the verbs which take the dative off by heart, because there are also several which take a dative object where there is no obvious sense of the English ‘to’. Here’s a big list for you to dig into:
jdm helfen – Er hat mir geholfen, meine Grammatikübungen zu lernen.
jdm gratulieren – Wir gratulieren dir zu deinem Geburtstag!
jdm danken – Ich danke dir ganz herzlich!
jdm begegnen – Sie hat ihrem Ex-Freund auf der Straße begegnet…
jdm etw empfehlen – Suri empfiehlt uns das Restaurant am Potsdamer Platz.
Keep these in mind, because we’ll be going into those and other uses of the dative in future lessons.
Here are some examples of German sentences you’ll end up using *all the time* with the dative in – translate and try to learn these sentences. You can swap in different vocab depending on what you want to say to make it really easy to start integrating dative constructions into your spoken German without even having to think too hard about it!
1. Kannst du mir bitte die Butter geben?
2. Ich habe ihm aber nie gesagt, dass ich zustimme.
3. Erzähl deinem Bruder die Geschichte von deiner Geburtstagsparty!
4. Wir helfen den Kindern, ihre Laternen zu basteln.
5. Zeigen Sie mir bitte wie der Toaster funktioniert.
6. Wir schicken unseren Kunden einen monatlichen Newsletter.
7. Ich muss Ihnen leider mitteilen, dass ihr Termin ausfällt.
Guten Morgen Berlin is broadening its horizons, ladies and gents! As well as the usual occasional quaint ramblings about goings on in this fair city, we’ll now also be featuring lessons in German language and grammar on the site for anyone who is looking to improve their German, revise an important topic or simply loves thinking about the intricacies of cases and word order. That third group of people are truly kings among men. My other readers needn’t fear – there will still be plenty of tales of me falling over and showing my knickers in public to keep you happy in between. And as you can see, all these German language posts – under the oh-so-branded title of Guten Morgen Grammar (oh it’s happening, ladies and gentleman) can also be found neatly categorised in a separate page in the top tabs. Check it out!
And now for our main scheduled program:
It’s hard for me to come up with a set order that these lessons should come in, particularly since some will cover whole ideas in German, whereas others will be more about specific nuances or details of the language. So I decided to start with a topic which I love, partly because no-one else does, and partly because I used to be one of those people until one long summer, I decided to sit down and figure the whole thing out until I knew it all off by heart. It’s amazing what the pressure of finals will do for your motivation.
Let’s be clear about our terminology here: an adjective is any word which is singly doing the job of describing a noun. They can float in a sentence without a noun, like this:
I feel really sick today.
Man, your dad is so stingy!
This makes things easy in German, because you just whack the adjective in there just like you would in English, no bells or whistles:
Ich fühle mich total krank.
Man eh, dein Vater ist sooo geizig!
Alternatively, adjectives come plonked right in front of the noun they are describing, just as in English:
The big cow = die große Kuh
A crazy dude = ein verrückter Typ
Delicious coffee = leckerer Kaffee
German adjectives are tricky because they add an extra ending on there when they are coupled with a noun to help show the gender and case of a noun (gender and case will be future lessons too!), and unlike in French, we’ve got three whole genders to play with and FOUR cases! Our cup runneth over!
Take a look at the tables in the image at the beginning of this post. Those are the endings that you jam on the end of the adjectives in different situations. Let’s look at the weak ones first.
‘Weak’ adjective endings are the ones which you use on the end of the adjective when you are using the noun with der, die or das – the definite articles. I like to think that they are weak because they are so pathetically uninteresting. This all sounds complicated and boring, but it’s actually dead simple: if you are using a noun, like ‘crisps’ (Chips) and you are using it with the definite article (die Chips) then you just take whichever ending corresponds to the gender of the noun – in this case neuter – and the case the noun is in – let’s say nominative – and shove the ending on there.
The cheap crisps are actually the best ones!
Die billigen Chips sind eigentlich die Besten!
Did you eat the whole bag?!
Hast du die ganze Tüte gegessen?!
The best thing is how easy it is to remember these endings. You see that table up there? See that shape drawn in yellow? Notice how all the endings inside that shape are just -e, and all the ones outside the shape are -en. Now notice how the shape kind of looks like a saucepan. I’ve drawn it in for you. It’s the magic saucepan. It is my guaranteed trick to remembering your adjective endings. The rule is, if it’s outside of the magic saucepan, it takes -en. Always and forever.
The ‘mixed’ endings get a bit more wild. As Mr Potatohead is demonstrating here nicely.
‘Mixed’ endings are the ones we use when we are using the noun in question, let’s say ‘possum’ (Beutelratte) with ein, eine or ein – the indefinite article (eine Beutelratte). Different article, same process: just find the right gender, and the right case – let’s say accusative – and whack that ending on there.
I saw a dancing possum in my bedroom!!
Ich habe eine tanzende Beutelratte in meinem Schlafzimmer gesehen!!
Did you kill it with a heavy book?
Hast du sie mit einem schweren Buch getötet?
Easy peasy. And look – there’s the magic saucepan again! This time, every adjective ending inside the saucepan is just following the ends of the definite article (der, die, das etc), and as always, everything outside the saucepan is -en. Outside the saucepan, it’s always -en. Inside the saucepan is where the magic happens. Magic Saucepan.
Ok, now we come to the ‘strong’ endings. These are the endings that you use when the noun in question stands alone, not using either the definite article or the indefinite article (neither ‘der’ nor ‘ein’). In the weak and mixed endings, we had an article there which did some of the grammatical heavy lifting – it was there to provide information about the gender and case of the thing we’re talking about. But when we don’t have an article there to help out, the adjective has to do all the grammar work itself, so the strong endings are more varied between cases and genders:
These are the endings we use with expressions like ‘good wine’ (guter Wein), ‘fresh milk’ (frische Milch) or ‘adorable puppies’ (niedliche Hündchen), which stand alone without a ‘the’ or ‘a’. Often these are nouns talking about something that is a substance which doesn’t come in discrete amounts, like ‘chocolate’ or ‘fungus’. So, if we decided to use a masculine noun like ‘coffee’ and use it in the accusative, we just look at the table above and do the usual matchy-matchy:
‘I love good, strong coffee with breakfast.’
‘Ich liebe guten, starken Kaffee zum Frühstück.’
‘But breakfast is better with expensive champagne and fine caviar.’
‘Aber Frühstuck ist viel besser mit teuerem Sekt und feinem Kaviar.’
Now, the Magic Saucepan is unfortunately not mighty enough to have power over the Strong adjective endings, but there are still some tricks to remembering them without having to memorise that whole table. See the nominative and accusative endings? They follow the endings of ‘der’ exactly, because they are giving the same grammatical info as ‘der’, so that’s easy pease. Genitive is easy because there are only two endings, same for masc and neut and same for fem and plural. And dative is the best one, because if you put all the endings together you get ‘M R M EN’: MR MEN. Mr Men. Not gonna forget that now, are ya?
I bet you all enjoyed that and are raring to practise your strongs, weaks and mixeds (and I just realised how much the adjective endings sound like cocktails…). Well generous as I am, here is an activity to help you practise! Download here. And come back to this page soon for the answers!