German/Level I/Bitte buchstabieren Sie
Lesson I.3: Bitte buchstabieren Sie
This lesson is about the German alphabet. We also have a closer look at the word order in questions and at articles.
Read and listen to this short phone conversation. Try to read it aloud. The translation of words and phrases is given below the text.
The German Alphabet
|Grammar: The Alphabet — Das Alphabet
|Examples||Ärger (anger)||Ökonom (economist)||Übermut (high spirits)|
The 26 letters in both German and English are shown above. One, the ligature ß (eszett or scharfes s), is written as SS if capitalized; however, it is pronounced just like a normal s. It is only used when the preceding vowel is long, for example: der Fuß (the foot). Note that the ß is not used in Switzerland. There you always write double s instead, even after long vowels. For example: der Fuss (the foot).
Another difference between German and English is the umlaut. The vowels a, o, and u can take an umlaut (the double dots above), becoming ä, ö, and ü. The umlaut changes the sound of the vowel. For pronunciations of all the letters, go to the pronunciation guide.
- In English, the word umlaut refers to the two dots. The German word Umlaut usually refers to one of the vowels ä, ö, or ü.
- In German, the vowels ä, ö, and ü are even used when spelling; i.e., you make the sound of an ö (like the "u" in "turn") instead of saying "o umlaut". Common words used to clarify a given letter are Ärger (anger), Ökonom (economist) and Übermut (high spirits). To say "umlaut" after the letter is an English custom used when spelling German words in English.
- If there is no way to type the umlaut, the vowels ä, ö, and ü must be substituted with ae, oe, and ue. This spelling is also used in some names, e.g. Goethe, or in crosswords.
- In most search engines and online dictionaries, a vowel with umlaut can be entered as either the simple vowel or in vowel-plus-e form. For example, if you wish to find Ärger you may enter any of the following three search strings: Ärger, Aerger, or even the incorrect Arger.
- Unless you have a German keyboard with the special German letters, you will have to use one of the following ways to type the umlaut.
- On a Macintosh, hold down the Option key and type “u” (this will create an umlaut), then let go of the Option key and type the vowel you want to put the umlaut on. The Option key and “s” will produce ß.
- In Windows, you will need to use the Alt key and numbers from the right side of your keyboard. Windows users also have the option of setting their keyboard settings to “English-international”, which allows them to create umlauts by typing a quotation mark before the umlauted vowel.
- Linux users can generally designate a Compose key using their keyboard configuration options in their system settings (or alternatively if such menu is not available may use commandline programs xmodmap, or setxkbmap), from then on allow the user to enter umlaut letters by pressing the Compose key plus the Double Quotation Mark key and then the designated letter. The ß can also be created by pressing the Compose key and then pressing the “s” key twice.
|Misc.: Alt keys for German characters — Alt-Tastenkombinationen für deutsche Buchstaben
|ß||Alt + 0223|
|ü||Alt + 0252|
|Ü||Alt + 0220|
|ö||Alt + 0246|
|Ö||Alt + 0214|
|ä||Alt + 0228|
|Ä||Alt + 0196|
The basic word order in a German sentence is the same as in English: subject — verb — object(s). For example:
- Der Junge spielt Fußball. (Subjekt: der Junge, Verb: spielt, Objekt: Fußball.)
- The boy plays football. (Subject: the boy, verb: plays, object: football.)
To change the English sentence The boy plays football. into a question, we insert the auxiliary verb does before boy, change plays to the infinitive form play and place a question mark at the end: Does the boy play football?
The process is very similar in German. However, we don't need an auxiliary verb in German; thus, we just switch the whole verb with the subject, ending up with:
- Spielt der Junge Fußball?
- Does the boy play football?
In German, there are two basic ways of forming a question. The first is the method described above. In addition to this, you can use a question word (an interrogative adverb); for example, how — wie as in How are you? — Wie geht's? Other question words are summarized in the following table.
|Vocabulary: Questions — Fragen
The question Wie heißt ...? literally translates to How is ... called? meaning What is ... called?. This is why the German question does not contain what — was.
A question word comes first in a sentence; thus, the word order is: question word — verb — subject — object(s). For example:
- Warum spielt der Junge Fußball?
- Why does the boy play football?
Note that in German, the verb almost always comes second in the sentence, except in the case of a question as described above. The subject is almost always next to the verb, if not in front of it then following it. For example:
- Der Junge spielt nicht Fußball.
- The boy is not playing football.
- Heute spielt der Junge Fußball.
- Today, the boy plays football.
In English and German, there are two different types of articles: definite articles (the) and indefinite articles (a and an). In German, however, there are different forms of each type of article. Here we discuss only the articles of subject nouns (the most important nouns in sentences, which are in the so-called nominative case). In this case, the form of the article depends only on the gender and number (singular or plural) of the noun.
The three genders of German nouns are: masculine (examples for masculine nouns are Junge (boy) or Mann (man)), feminine (e.g., Frau (woman) or Blume (flower)) and neuter (e.g., Haus (house) or Mädchen (girl)). The forms of the definite and indefinite articles for nouns of the three genders are given in the following table. For plural nouns the definite article is always die and (as in English) there is no indefinite article for plural nouns.
*Note that Mädchen is neuter. (In fact, almost all words with the ending -chen are neuter.)
|Grammar: The Indefinite Article in the Nominative Case — Der unbestimmte Artikel im Nominativ
|singular||masculine||ein Mann||a man|
|feminine||eine Frau||a woman|
|neuter||ein Mädchen*||a girl|
*Note that Mädchen is neuter.
The test consists of three parts: grammar, vocabulary, and translation. The grammar part is about articles, the vocabulary about question words, and the translation is very similar to the dialogue of this lesson.
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