Grammatical Terms

Here is all the information about grammatical terms that I commonly use in my lessons. Most of these terms will also be explained in the grammar lessons of course, but if you missed something or simply need to double-check, you can use this overview.

Adjektiv/ adjective

This word describes a noun (person, item, thing). Example: alt, klein, rot (old, small, red)

Adverb/ adverb

This word describes a verb or an adjective. In German, adverbs and adjectives often look the same but they can be treated differently grammatically. An adverb can also describe another adverb. Example: schnell fahren – drive fast, ziemlich gut – pretty good, ziemlich schnell fahren – drive pretty fast; ‘ziemlich’ and ‘schnell’ are adverbs.

Akkusativ/ accusative

This is a type of object. It induces changes to the masculine objects, mainly their articles and adjectives. It is not necessarily the direct (or primary) object.

Aktiv/ active voice

This describes a situation with a subject that carries out an action or is the cause of it.

Artikel/ article

This word comes with a noun to determine the specifics of it, such as if the noun is used in a generic sense or if you speak about a singular or multiples and how specific the noun is. Example: ein – a, das – the, mein – my, dieser – this

Artikel, bestimmt, unbestimmt/ article, definite, indefinite

The difference is that one means something generic (unbestimmt, e.g. ein, eine) and the other one something specific (bestimmt, e.g. der, die, das).

Dativ/ dative

Object case. This case is commonly used for indirect objects but can also be a primary (direct) object. It can also be induced by prepositions. The dative case comes with a change (declension) to all articles and adjectives and also some nouns.

Demonstrativartikel/ demonstrative article

This type of article refers to a very specific person, item etc., typically a visible one that can be pointed at or one that has just been mentioned. Example: diese Person – this person; ‘diese’ is the demonstrative article

Deklination/ declension and base form

A declension means that the ending of a word changes (in German most commonly adjectives, articles and also nouns) based on grammatical factors. The base form is the unaltered version of the word, usually the version you will find in a dictionary. Example: ‘schön’ is the base form for ‘beautiful’. In the following sentence, ‘schön’ is declined: Es ist ein schönes Bild.

direktes, indirektes Objekt/ direct, indirect object

The direct object is the object that is mostly affected by the verb (the action). The indirect object is typically used in combination with a direct object as the recipient of the action. Example: Ich gebe Thomas ein Buch. – I’m giving a book to Thomas. The book is the direct object, Thomas is the indirect object.

direkte, indirekte Rede/ direct, indirect speech

Direct speech is what a person actually says, word by word. Indirect speech is a report of something that has been said. The latter is often introduced by a main clause fragment, e.g. Er sagte, … – He said …

Fall/ case

In German, cases apply to subjects and objects only. The subject has one fixed case. An object can stand in three different cases depending of their role in the sentence or simply induced by the presence of an indicator. Each object case contains its specific declensions.

Futur I & II/ future tense

Grammatical time to express the future. In structure, Futur I is similar to the English will-future. Futur II resembles the English future perfect. Example: Ich werde essen. – I will eat. (Futur I); Ich werde gegessen haben. – I will have eaten. (Futur II)

Genitiv/ genitive

Object case. The genitive mostly expresses ownership, possession and close relationship but can also be induced by a preposition. The genitive is often attached directly to a subject or another object. Example: die Tür des Gebäudes – the building’s door; ‘des Gebäudes’ is in the genitive

Geschlecht/ gender

The grammatical gender is determined by the assigned article of each noun. For biological entities, it often agrees with the biological gender. In German, everything has a gender in its singular form: masculine, feminine, neuter. Gender doesn’t apply to the plural nouns, except for actual people, for whom an exclusively female version can often be formed by using a different ending. Example: das Haus – the house, gender: neuter, der Tag – the day, gender: masculine; plural: die Häuser, die Tage: no gender distinction (as opposed to: die Freunde – friends, die Freundinnen – female friends)

Hilfsverb/ auxiliary verb

This is a verb that doesn’t describe the main action but has to be combined with the actual (main) verb. It can change the mode of the sentence (e.g. can do instead of do) or indicate a tense (e.g. past). Example: Ich habe gegessen. – I have eaten. ‘habe’ is the auxiliary verb.

Imperativ/ imperative

The imperative is used to formulate direct orders and instructions. Example: Komm her! – Come here!

Indikativ/ indicative

The most common grammatical mood. In German, we have three Modi (Modus): Indikativ, Konjunktiv, Imperativ. They are distinguished by what the verb expresses. The Indikativ is for factual statements (real situation).

Infinitiv/ infinitive

The infinitive is the basic form of the verb. German verbs in the infinitive end in -n or -en. In order to use them in a sentence, they have to be conjugated (adjusted to the person they are used with) or combined with another verb (e.g. a modal verb). Example: sein, haben, gehen

Komparativ/ comparative

An adjective or adverb that describes a different degree in relation to the base form. Example: kleiner – smaller, schöner – more beautiful

konditional/ conditional

Sentences (subclauses) that express an occurrence taking place if another occurrence takes place. The occurrences are connected. One is a requirement for the other. In German, these subclauses usually start with wenn or falls (if).

Konjugation/ conjugation

In order for a verb to be connected to a subject, it has to be changed, mostly regarding the ending of it. This process is called conjugation. It leads to a conjugated verb (konjugiertes Verb). Example: haben – to have, Infinitiv; (du) hast – (you) have, konjugiertes Verb

Konjunktion/ conjunction

This word is widely used to describe any word that connects two clauses (e.g. und – and, aber – but, weil – because). In German, this definition is problematic because there are different types of such connecting words, as different types of clauses have different sentence orders. Therefore the connecting words need to be categorized. I use the term Konnektor/connector as an umbrella term for all such connecting words. In this system, the term Konjunktion/conjunction only describes words that connect two main clauses without changing the word order in said clauses. Example: und – and, aber – but, oder – or

Konjunktiv/ subjunctive

One of the grammatical moods. In German, we have three Modi (Modus): Indikativ, Konjunktiv, Imperativ. They are distinguished by what the verb expresses. The Konjunktiv is for unreal statements, such as wishes. There are three versions: Konjunktiv I, Konjunktiv II and a compound Konjunktiv, the ‘würde-Form’.

Konnektoren/ connectors

Any word that connects two clauses. Example: und – and, weil – because

Modalverb/ modal verb

As an auxiliary verb, a modal verb changes the modality (way or manner) of an action. It is used to express e.g. ability, possibility, obligation of an action rather than the action itself. In German, there are six modal verbs: können – can, sollen – shall, wollen – want, dürfen – may, müssen – must/have to, mögen – to like. The only one that is typically used as a main verb is ‘mögen’. Modal verbs follow a specific set of grammatical rules, such as distinctive conjugation.

Nominalisierung/ nominalization

This simply means ‘turned into a noun’. The original word type can for example be an adjective or a verb. In German, nominalization can be done by turning the first letter into a capital one (typically done with verbs), or through different steps that include small changes to the word ending, plus capitalization.

Nominativ/ nominative

The subject case. Changes to article and noun endings (declensions) are viewed as relative to the version in the nominative. The nominative can therefore be seen as the base form for articles and nouns.

Nomen/ noun

The noun is the actual name of a person, item, thing (including abstract) or place. Apart from proper names (like a person’s first and last name or a company name), nouns have articles. They can be modified by adjectives, and often have plural forms. German nouns start with a capital letter. Example: Tisch – table, Frau – woman, Freude – joy, Land – country

Null-/ zero

Describes the absence of use of a grammatical term or structure. Related terms: Nullposition, Nullartikel. E.g. when a noun is used without an article, the absent article is the ‘Nullartikel’, zero article.

Partizip I & II/ participle, present & past

Participles are a verb form that are used in different grammatical contexts. The Partizip II is mostly used in the Perfekt tense, the Partizip I describes an ongoing action (in addition to the actual main verb of the sentence) and has features of an adjective. Example: Er hat schon gegessen. – He has already eaten. ‘gegessen’ is the Partizip II; der schlafende Mann – the sleeping man, ‘schlafende’ is the (declined) Partizip I.

Passiv/ passive voice

In the passive voice, the grammatical subject refers to the person or thing which undergoes or is affected by the action expressed by the verb. The subject of the sentence in the passive is therefore the object of the corresponding sentence in the active voice. Example: Das Haus wurde 1960 gebaut. – The house was built in 1960.

Perfekt/ perfect tense

Grammatical time to express the past. In structure, it is similar to the English present perfect. Example: Ich habe gegessen. – I’ve eaten.

Person/ person

A person in a grammatical sense refers to the subject pronouns as any subject or object can be replaced by one. There is a set of singular persons (first, second and third person singular) and one of plural persons (first, second and third person plural). Those persons can refer to any actual person, item or thing. It is also possible to transfer this term over to other terms when they refer to that specific person. Example: ich – I, first person singular, related terms: mich – me, mir – to me, mein – my; die Frau – the woman, third person singular with the potential replacing pronoun sie – she

Plural/ plural

More than one person, item, thing. German has multiple different ways of forming the plural of a noun. Nouns with a plural forms are things that can theoretically be counted (countable nouns). Example: Tische – tables, Kinder – children

Plusquamperfekt/ pluperfect tense

Grammatical time to express the past. In structure, it is similar to the English past perfect. Example: Ich hatte gegessen. – I had eaten.

Possessive/ possessives

Possessives express to what or whom someone or something belongs. Depending on the grammatical context, different terms apply. Example: mein Buch – my book; ‘mein’ is a ‘Possessivartikel’, possessive article, in German literature also often referred to as ‘Possessivpronomen’, possessive pronoun, whereas in English it is called a possessive adjective.

Präposition/ preposition

A word that connects an object (rarely a subject) with the other parts of the sentence to express a specific grammatical relationship. Example: mit – with, in – in, an – on/at, auf – on, nach – to/after

Präpositionalphrase/ prepositional phrase

A preposition and its addition, typically an object. Example: mit mir – with me, nach Deutschland – to Germany, auf einem Baum – on a tree

Präsens/ present tense

Grammatical time to express the present. In structure, it is similar to the English present simple. German has no other present tenses. Example: Ich esse. – I eat./I’m eating.

Präteritum/ preterite

Grammatical time to express the past. In structure, it is similar to the English past simple. Example: Ich aß. – I ate.

Präfix, Präverb/ prefix

A prefix is the beginning part of a word that is attached to its stem. Prefixes are typically used with verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs. Since in German, there are verbs with a removable prefix (separable verbs), their specific prefixes are classified as preverbs (as opposed to non-removable prefixes). Example: un-, an-, ein-, ent-, ver-

Pronomen/ pronoun

A pronoun replaces a subject or an object. Pronouns can therefore be categorized as subject or object pronouns. Further categories are reflexive pronouns (Reflexivpronomen) or possessive pronouns (Possessivpronomen). Example: ich – I, du – you, mich – me

reflexiv/ reflexive

An action is reflexive, when the person that carries out the action is also the object that is affected by said action. In German, there are also verbs that have to be used in a reflexive way despite there being no actual reflexive action. Related terms: Reflexivpronomen – reflexive pronoun, Reflexivverb – reflexive verb. Example: Ich wasche mich. – I’m washing myself.

relativ/ relative

A relative structure is used to add information about a subject or object by using a subclause. Related terms: Relativsatz – relative clause, Relativpronomen – relative pronoun. Example: Der Mann, der dort steht, … – The man, who is standing there, …

Satz/sentence, clause

A sentence in German must contain a subject and a verb. Some verbs need an addition for a sentence to be considered complete (e.g. haben – to have, which needs an object). Sentences that are complete and stand for themselves are called Hauptsätze (main clauses). Dependent sentences are Nebensätze (subclauses). In German they have a distinctive structure (sentence/word order). If a sentence in German misses a crucial element that is not included for grammatical reasons (e.g. an element from the main clause included in the subclause), the clause in question is called a fragment (Hauptsatzfragment, Nebensatzfragment).

Satzelement/ sentence element

Part of a sentence or sentence fragment that can consist of one independent word or groups of words that compose a unit. A unit can be increased but not divided within the sentence with the exception of the sentence bracket. Some sentence elements don’t exist outside the sentence. Example: subject, verb, object

Singular/ singular

One person, item, thing. In German, genders only apply to the singular noun. Most nouns have a plural form. Nouns that only have a singular form are called uncountable nouns (unzählbar/nicht zählbar). Example: Tisch – table (zählbar); Wasser – water (unzählbar)

Stamm/ stem

A stem is the root, base, or main part of a word. Other parts, e.g. prefixes and suffixes can be added. The word stem is often not or only little affected by changes to the word (e.g. through conjugation). Stems often hint at related words of a different word type. Example: rennen – to run, verb stem: renn-

Subjekt/ subject

The subject is typically the person, item or thing that carries out or causes the state, process or action that is expressed by the verb. The verb relates to the subject. A subject combined with a verb is the minimum requirement for a complete sentence. Example: Das Feuer brennt. – The fire is burning. ‘Das Feuer’ is the subject.

Superlativ/ superlative

Expresses the highest degree of what is expressed with an adjective or adverb. Example: der höchste Turm – the highest tower

Verb/ verb

A verb describes an action, what somebody/something does, but also being, having, wanting, becoming, happening etc. A verb can be a main verb (Hauptverb), describing the actual action, or an auxiliary verb (Hilfsverb), which functions as a grammatical tool (e.g. for tenses) or modifies the verb (e.g. modal verbs). Some verbs can be found in both functions. Example: Ich habe einen Computer. – I have a computer. ‘haben’is the main verb. Ich habe einen Computer gekauft. – I have bought a computer. ‘haben’ is the auxiliary verb.

Wortart/ word type

This describes the function of a singular word. A word can have more than one type. Many sentence elements consist of different word types, e.g. a verb is a word type and a sentence element, whereas a subject is a sentence element that can consist of an article and a noun, both word types. Example: schnell can be an adjective or an adverb.

Zeit/ tense

The grammatical time. In German, the tenses are present (Gegenwart), past (Vergangenheit), future (Zukunft). The past and the future have different grammatical versions (Präteritum, Perfekt, Plusquamperfekt, Futur I, Futur II), the present tense only one (Präsens).

zusammengesetzt/ compound

A structure that contains more than one word. Compound nouns are nouns that are made of of at least two original nouns. A compound tense is one that needs an auxiliary verb. Example: Schokoladenkuchen – chocolate cake; the original two nouns being Schokolade – chocolate and Kuchen – cake