German Grammar

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German is a fusional language with a moderate degree of inflection, with three grammatical genders; as such, there can be a large number of words derived from the same root.

Noun inflection

Declension of the German definite articles (all equivalent to English “the”).
Further information: Grammatical gender in German
German nouns inflect by case, gender and number:

four cases: nominative, accusative, genitive and dative.
three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter. Word endings sometimes reveal grammatical gender: for instance, nouns ending in -ung (-ing), -schaft (-ship), -keit or heit (-hood, -ness) are feminine, and nouns ending in -chen or -lein (diminutive forms) are neuter and nouns ending in -ismus (-ism) are masculine. Others are more variable, sometimes depending on the region in which the language is spoken; and some endings are not restricted to one gender, e.g. -er (-er), e.g. Feier (feminine), celebration, party, Arbeiter (masculine), labourer, and Gewitter (neuter), thunderstorm.
two numbers: singular and plural.

This degree of inflection is considerably less than in Old High German and other old Indo-European languages such as Latin, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit, and it is also somewhat less than, for instance, Old English, modern Icelandic, or Russian. The three genders have collapsed in the plural. With four cases and three genders plus plural, there are 16 permutations of case and gender/number, but there are only six forms of the definite article, which together cover all 16 permutations. In nouns, inflection for case is required in the singular for strong masculine and neuter nouns, in the genitive and sometimes in the dative. Both of these cases are losing ground to substitutes in informal speech. The dative noun ending is considered somewhat old-fashioned in many contexts and is often dropped, but it is still used in proverbs and the like, in formal speech and in written language. Weak masculine nouns share a common case ending for genitive, dative and accusative in the singular. Feminine nouns are not declined in the singular. The plural has an inflection for the dative. In total, seven inflectional endings (not counting plural markers) exist in German: -s, -es, -n, -ns, -en, -ens, -e.

In German orthography, nouns and most words with the syntactical function of nouns are capitalised to make it easier for readers to determine the function of a word within a sentence (Am Freitag ging ich einkaufen. – “On Friday I went shopping.”; Eines Tages kreuzte er endlich auf. – “One day he finally showed up.”) This convention is almost unique to German today (shared perhaps only by the closely related Luxembourgish language and several insular dialects of the North Frisian language), but it was historically common in other languages such as Danish (which abolished the capitalization of nouns in 1948) and English.

Like the other Germanic languages, German forms noun compounds in which the first noun modifies the category given by the second,: Hundehütte (“dog hut”; specifically: “dog kennel”). Unlike English, whose newer compounds or combinations of longer nouns are often written in “open” with separating spaces, German (like some other Germanic languages) nearly always uses the “closed” form without spaces, for example: Baumhaus (“tree house”). Like English, German allows arbitrarily long compounds in theory (see also English compounds). The longest German word verified to be actually in (albeit very limited) use is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz, which, literally translated, is “beef labelling supervision duty assignment law” [from Rind (cattle), Fleisch (meat), Etikettierung(s) (labelling), Überwachung(s) (supervision), Aufgaben (duties), Übertragung(s) (assignment), Gesetz (law)]. However, examples like this are perceived by native speakers as excessively bureaucratic, stylistically awkward or even satirical.


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