Help me begin my study of German on a firm footing.
February 16, 2013 8:23 AM   Subscribe

I would like to know, when one is studying German, what do you have to learn with nouns? With verbs? I think with nouns you must learn the gender and the plural form, but that's it. Should you also learn declension? With verbs, what must one memorize in addition to the root word?

I ask because I've had bad experience before: Latin teachers, for example, failing to clarify (until after I've studied thousands of words) that, for verbs, one must learn 4 principal parts instead of just two, etc.

I don't want this to happen to me. I've just started studying German. So somebody please clue me in: unless the nouns and verbs are irregular, what other info do I need to memorize with them?

Thanks to any who can help.
posted by gnossie to Education (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
my german studies were a loooong time ago and most of my german is gone from lack of use, but I remember clearly wishing that I had learned the proper article with each noun.
posted by lemniskate at 9:06 AM on February 16, 2013

Nouns: gender, probably the plural, though I mostly didn't.
There are what are called 'weak masculine' nouns which decline in a predictable, but unusual way and you want to know which are weak masculines. However, they're recognisable once you get the hang of it. (Name is the big one that you encounter early on.) They're like third declension i-stems in Latin, I guess. German doesn't have declensions the way Latin does, so you just memorise the way the articles decline (aside from weak masculines, I guess).

Verbs: Learn the infinitive.

There are weak and strong verbs. Strong verbs form the simple past (and their past participles) on a case-by-case basis. (This is, strictly speaking, not true. There are classes of strong verbs and the vowels shift predictably which is why they're not irregular verbs. For example, sing/sang/sung is one of these classes. It's singen/sang/gesungen in German. See also ring/rang/rung. Unless you take Middle High German or something, it's pretty unlikely anyone will mention this fact to you.) If your progression through German is anything like mine, going back and learning 'principal parts' of the strong verbs later is not a problem. There aren't huge numbers of strong verbs to begin with and you'll hit the past tenses before you know huge numbers of verbs, anyway. backen is caught between being weak and strong, but I can't think of any other weird ones.

tl;dr You can be a lot less systematic about learning German vocabulary than Latin.
posted by hoyland at 9:12 AM on February 16, 2013

Yeah, gender would be the first essential thing you need to remember about nouns. For the plural of nouns, there are some basic "rules" about which nouns endings tend to have which kind of plural, there's a few variations.

Verbs, what hoyland said. It is a bit like in English for the variations of the root of the verb (his example of sing and singen), plus you get different endings for different persons, singular and plural.

Anyway, any good book for learning the language will give you this sort of reference and make all this clearer with examples and sections on grammar. How/where are you studying?

If you can find them you could also get this set of learning cards, they're not for beginners only so you get to use them even later, and they are pretty good in giving you a quick visual reference.
posted by bitteschoen at 9:50 AM on February 16, 2013

You may want to pick up a copy of English Grammar for Students of German, which offers a review of English grammar, and explains in detail the similiarities and differences that you need to be conscious of in learning German.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:27 AM on February 16, 2013

In addition to what has been mentioned, German has several verb prefixes. Some can be separated from the verb stem, others cannot, and still others are used either separably or inseparably depending on meaning (usually, the literal sense of the verb has a separable prefix, while the figurative meanings use the inseparable prefix). A good part of mastering German expression involves knowing how to differentiate between similar but distinct verbs.

Two invaluable resources on this and other semantic distinctions are R. B. Farrell's Dictionary of German Synonyms and Duden's Leicht verwechselbare Wörter.
posted by brianogilvie at 12:00 PM on February 16, 2013

I'm currently learning German, a few years into it. I don't think current teaching methods are really aligned with your notion of learning all "4 forms of the verbs" at once.

From what I've learned watching Dead Poets Society, Latin was/is taught in this odd way of memorizing by rote all the declensions of a particular word.

The method today (for other languages?) seems to be more about learning to put things together in conversation than being able to recite all forms of the verb. But if you must approach it systematically I'd say:

- Gender and possibly plural. and the nouns, declination is relatively simple - there are a few rules for accusative, dative and genitive.

- present tense form obviously
- whether to conjugate in Plusquamperfekt with Sein or Haben - and the ending
- The form in the Präteritum (simple past)
- the idiomatic prepositions to use (z.b Ich denke an dich, ich habe angst vor dem Hund)
- whether the prefix is separable or not - but this is obvious if you know the correct pronunciation.
posted by mary8nne at 12:07 PM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm currently learning German, a few years into it. I don't think current teaching methods are really aligned with your notion of learning all "4 forms of the verbs" at once.

From what I've learned watching Dead Poets Society, Latin was/is taught in this odd way of memorizing by rote all the declensions of a particular word.

What the OP is referring to is that Latin verbs have four so-called 'principal parts', which are (IIRC) everything you need to know to construct any form of the verb. So you learn fero, ferre, tuli, latus instead of, I don't know, fero, as you're totally adrift if you need something coming from the tuli. (It's an irregular verb. Most don't change that much.) The German equivalent would be putting all of sprechen, sprach, gesprochen somewhere on your flashcard, which anyone who endorses flashcards probably endorses. (I'm sure there are people who are so hard core in favour of the communicative approach that they are anti-flashcard.)

I went from Latin to learning German in a university department with a very strongly communicative approach. It's not much of a learning culture shock, aside from the discovery that your fellow students don't have a framework to talk about grammar (I'd save the $10 and skip English Grammar for Students of German--if you did Latin, you almost certainly know it) and have no idea what an accusative is. That and you find you have a higher tolerance for grammar exercises.
posted by hoyland at 12:40 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Definitely try and learn the article with the noun. You don't want to learn Tisch = table but rather der Tisch = the table. There are also some rough rules about genders ie. all nouns ending -schaft, -heit are feminine.

I think the best thing is to just expose yourself to as much correct German as possible so that you start to get a feel for it. I've absorbed more German than I've "learned" and I pretty much always know whether what I've said is correct or not just by instinct. When I notice myself making the same mistakes over and over again I look it up or ask someone what I should be saying.
posted by neilb449 at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2013

« Older The dog ate my video game!   |   Should we give/sell back our site name? Are there... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.