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by Mehedi 

April 26, 2022

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You’d be happy to know the definitive and indefinite articles in German are used similarly to those in English. They are different in that they vary based on person, case, and gender. We will give a lot of examples to make it easier and finish with an exercise section to practice what you’ve learned. Ready? Let’s go?Enter your text here...

What are the Differences between the Definite and Indefinite Article?

Like in English, the definite article is used to refer to a particular place, person, or thing (the definition of a noun) in two cases: 

a) When it has already been mentioned and/or we know what noun the speaker is referring to

Example

Ich habe eine neue Nachbarin. Die Nachbarin ist sehr nett. I have a new neighbor. The neighbor is very nice.

In the example, ‘eine’ translates as ‘a’. This is the indefinite article in the feminine, accusative tense. In the second sentence, ‘die’ means ‘the’, which is the definite article (again feminine, but nominative case, which is the same form as the accusative). We use ‘the’ in the second sentence, because the neighbor has been mentioned once already and we know who the speaker is referring to.

b) When there is only one of this place, person, or thing in the world

Der Papst ist 81.The Pope is 81.

Forms of the definite article

The definite article [der, die, das, die (Pl.)] is translated as ‘the’ in English.

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nominativederdiedasdie
Accusativedendiedasdie
Dativedemderdemden
Genitivedesderdesder

Examples:

Ich kenne einen Mann. Der Mann wohnt in der Nähe.I know a man. The man lives around here.

If we want to connect the sentences so they sound more natural in German and English, we would still use „der” in German. Please note that the meaning of “der” would then change:

Ich kenne einen Mann, der in der Nähe wohnt.I know a man, who lives around here.
Ich habe einen Mann auf einer Party getroffen. Jetzt gehe ich mit dem Mann aus.I met a man at a party. Now, I am going out with the man.

In the first sentence, the indefinite article einen is in the accusative because ‘Mann’ is the direct object in the sentence. We use an indefinite article because this is the first time we are mentioning the man.  

In the second sentence, der becomes dem because the definite article comes after ‚mit‘, which always takes the dative. 

To negate a noun preceded by a definite article, we just add ‘nicht’. 

Example:

Ich gehe mit dem Mann nicht aus.  

Contractions with Definite Articles 

This brings us to our next section: some prepositions bind to definite articles, forming one word.

Examples: 

An + das = ans, auf + das = aufs, an + dem = am, bei + dem = beim, für + das = fürs, durch + das = durchs, in + das = ins, in + dem = im, von + dem = vom, um + das = ums, zu + der = zur, zu + dem = zum

Wir fahren jedes Jahr ans Meer.We travel to the seaside every year.

We would say this if the person listening to us knew what seaside was meant, hence the use of the definite article (an + das). If they didn’t, we might say:

Wir fahren jedes Jahr ans Meer nach Bulgarien (or another country) to specify the location of the seaside.
Ich gehe zur Post. I’m going to the post office.

We assume there is only one post office in the area because the definite article is used (zu + der = zur). Zu always takes the dative. 

On a final note for this section, the genitive masculine and neuter form of the definite article is des. There is one specific thing about its use:

Das ist das Auto des Mannes.That’s the man’s car.

The genitive indicates possession. The noun order is reversed – das Auto des Mannes becomes the man’s car. Notice something else? The genitive noun takes –es at the end. Both articles are definite because we know which car and which man are being referred to.

Sie sind die Eltern des Schülers.They are the student’s parents.

Again, both articles are definitive because we know what parents and what student are being referred to. The genitive noun takes just –s at the end because it is more than a syllable.

Das ist ein Auto der Frau.That’s (one of) the woman’s cars.

Use of the indefinite article ein in this sentence indicates the woman has more than one car. Translated literally, it would be “That’s the woman’s car”, the same as if the sentence were “Das ist das Auto der Frau.” Literal translation, as you can see, can be misleading.    

To mark the genitive of proper names, we add the apostrophe to mark the genitive of proper names ending in "s", "x", "z", or "ß". The name will come before the noun specified by it. It’s similar to English.

Marx' BuchMarx' Book
Chris’ MutterChris’ mother

Forms of the Indefinite Article

The indefinite article is used when the noun has not been mentioned previously and is one of many. The forms of the indefinite article in German are equivalent to "a" or "an" in English. There is no German equivalent for ‘an’. It’s still “ein Auto” even though Auto starts with a vowel.

MasculineFeminineNeuter
NominativeeinEineein
AccusativeeinenEineein
Dativeeinemeinereinem
Genitiveeineseinereines

There is no indefinite article in the plural because the indefinite article can only be placed before a noun in the singular. We can’t say “a cars” in English. “Einige" (a few, some) can be used to refer to an indefinite number of objects.

Examples:

Ich habe einem Kollegen getroffen.I met a coworker. (You have more than one coworker and we don’t know which one you met).
Ich bin mit einer Freudin ins Kino gegangen.I went to the movies with a (girl)friend.

You have more than one friend. ‘Ins’ comes from ‘in + das’, see contraction section above. Do we know which cinema you went to? Not necessarily. ‘Ins Kino’ and ‘ins Theater’ are fixed expression.

Demonstrative and Indefinite Determiners

Definite articles, indefinite articles, possessive articles, possessive determiners, indefinite determiners, and demonstrative determiners and articles are all grouped in the category of determiners. Our last section will touch upon the relevant ones.  

Demonstrative determiners include dieser, diese, dieses (this in the masculine, feminine, and neuter, also diese for the plural) diejenigen, derjenigen (those), dasselbe, demselben (the same), etc.

Examples: 

Das gilt für diejenigen, die kein Auto besitzen.This applies for those, who don’t have a car.

This brings us to negation. The rule is very simple.  Ein becomes kein, eine becomes keine, einem becomes keinem, etc. 

Examples:

Ich habe keine Zeit. I don’t have time.

Zeit is an uncountable noun in German like time is in English. Therefore, we can’t say Ich habe eine Zeit. To say we have time, we’d just say Ich habe Zeit.

But:

Die Zeit ist jetzt.Now is the time.
Es ist an der Zeit.It’s high time, it’s about time (fixed expression with the dative).
Vor einiger Zeit habe ich bei einer Firma gearbeitet.I worked for a company some time ago.

Exercises 

Time to practice! Fill in the blanks with a declined form of the definite article. Sometimes, there is more than one right answer.

1.________________Fenster und ____________Tür stehen offen. (das/die, die)

2.________________Mann spricht mit_________schönen Frau. (der, der)

3. Das sind_________Schuhe__________Besucher. (die, der)

4. Ich gehe in ____________Schule. (die)

5. Das ist __________Haus__________ Hundes. (das, des)

6. ____________ Mutter von Luis ist krank. (die)

Please provide an alternative way to formulate the above sentence:

Answer: Luis‘ Mutter ist krank.

7._____________Hund spielt mit_____________Katze. (der, der)

8._________________Meer ist blau und grün. (das)

9. Ich kaufe ______________ Schwester meiner Frau weiße Blumen. (der)

10. Das ist_______________ Mantel meiner Mutter. (der)

11. Mein Schuh war in___________ Garten.(dem)

What is the contracted form of the above? (answer: im)

12. _______________Freund meiner Schwester geht nicht mehr in_____ Schule. (der, die)

13. Ich mag________________Schwimmbad mehr als______________Meer. (das, das) 

14. Wem gehört ______________Wohnung mit________ großen Fenster? (die, dem)

15. Die Schule ist________________ größte Gebäude ______________Stadt. (das, der)

Fill in the blanks with a declined form of the indefinite article.

1. Vor unserem Haus sitzt__________ Katze, die mit_________ blauen Ball spielt. (eine, einem)

2. In meinem Zimmer steht __________ Tisch mit___________Computer. (ein, einem)

3. Ich gebe ________________Kind ein Spiel. (einem)

4. Auf dem Stuhl sitzt________Mann und daneben sitzt_______Kind. (ein, ein)

5. Meine Freundin liest_____________Buch und schaut_____________Film. (ein, einen) 

6. Spiel mit __________Oma. (einer)

7. Diese Tasse ist _____________Geschenk________________Freundes. (ein, eines)

8. Mein Bruder hat sich mit ________________Frau getroffen. (einer)

9. Im Garten spielen__________ Junge und ____________Mädchen. (ein, ein)

10. Ich pflücke im Garten_______________ Rose. (eine)

Rule Recap

  1. 1
    The definite article is used to refer to a particular place, person, or thing (the definition of a noun) if it has already been mentioned and/or we know what noun the speaker is referring to and when there is only one of this place, person, or thing in the world.
  2. 2
    The indefinite article is used when the noun has not been mentioned previously and is one of many.
  3. 3
    Some prepositions such as an, auf, zu, and von bind to definite articles, forming one word with them.
  4. 4
    To negate a noun preceded by a definite article, we just add ‘nicht’.
  5. 5
    To negate a noun preceded by an indefinite article, simply an a ‘-k’ in front of the article. Ein = kein.
  6. 6
    There is no indefinite article in the plural because the indefinite article can only be placed before a noun in the singular.

Thank you for your interest in the definite and indefinite articles in German. Please share any thoughts with us in the comments section! 

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Mehedi

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