1. It’s Okay to Steal from English Sometimes
Many aspects of English and German grammar are very similar to one another, so this is definitely something that you should use to your advantage.
When you start to learn German, you’ll see that quite a bit of basic word order follows the same patterns as in English. To see this work, take a look at these sentences:
Ich trinke Tee.
I drink tea.
Ich habe Tee getrunken.
I have drunk tea.
The only big difference is in that second German sentence where the past participle is at the end of the clause. Thankfully, that’s the only major change in sentence structure you’ll need to learn until you move on to intermediate sentence structures.
Another way in which German and English are very similar is in their verbs. Quite a few German verbs look just like their English translations, such as the following:
The whole point of this is to show you that you can steal ideas from English if you’re ever stuck with an aspect of German grammar. If you’re midway through a conversation or writing something and you aren’t sure of the German translation for a verb, you could just try and Germanize the English word.
You can do that by adding “-en” as in the above examples. And if it’s sentence order that you’re confused about, you could stick to the English rules and you have a good chance of being right.
2. Get to Know the Accusative Case
By now, you’ll probably be aware that the German language uses cases. Each case refers to a different use of nouns, and depending on the case of nouns in sentences, it can change the definite and indefinite articles. A change in case can also have an effect on adjective endings.
The easiest one to learn is the nominative as it’s the only one we use in English, and it doesn’t affect any articles or adjective endings. The next easiest one to learn is accusative.
It’s important that you get as familiar as possible with the accusative as, after the nominative, it’s the most-used case in German. Learning this case well will help you further your German, especially in the very early stages of studying the language.
Plus, once you’re skilled at using the accusative in German, you’ll find that it helps to reinforce the dative and genitive once you move on to learn them. That’s because you’ll already be used to changing articles and adjective endings according to certain situations.
Changing articles and adjective endings according to the dative and genitive cases—which is often viewed as being much harder than the accusative case—won’t come as such a shock to you.
Taking one of these accusative quizzes will help you bring your knowledge up to speed in no time at all!
3. Make a Verb Book to Master Irregular Verbs
As you’re probably aware, there are tons of irregular verbs in German. Annoyingly, this means that there’s a long list of verbs that you need to individually learn by heart as they don’t fit the usual patterns of conjugation.
One of the easiest ways to work your way through the verbs is to add them to a verb book. You can quickly make one out of a journal or notepad.
Make four columns on each page: One for the English translation, one for the present tense, one for the past tense and one for the future tense. There are of course other tenses that you could add, such as the conditional, but if you’re a beginner these four columns should be enough for now. Research the conjugations with your grammar book or on your favorite conjugation app.
It’s important that you return to this verb book often to review each word and to try and drum the conjugation into your head. Constantly reviewing them can really help them stick, especially if you speak them out loud! Not only that, though, but you’ll also see that there are in fact some patterns to irregular verbs—see if you can spot them when you list your verbs.
4. Use This Shortcut to Learn the “Verb at the End” Rule
One of the hardest grammar rules for German learners is to send a verb to the end of the sentence if it isn’t the main verb. One quick shortcut to help learn this is to remember that a comma splitting up two clauses usually makes the following verb go to the end.
Just take a look at this sentence:
Ich habe eine Pizza gegessen, weil ich Hunger hatte.
I ate a pizza because I was hungry.
In German, you need to split up clauses with a comma but that isn’t always necessary in English. You always need to notice these commas as they’re like signposts—they tell you that the following verb needs to go to the end of the sentence.
5. The Conditional Tense Is Just the Preterite Plus an Umlaut
If you’re ever unsure how to form the conditional tense of a verb, remember you just need to add an umlaut.
You can see that in action in this list:
war — wäre
was — would be
musste — müsste
had to — would have to
hatte — hätte
had — would have
This is a very solid rule of thumb, so if you ever need to guess the conditional form of a verb, it’s a safe guess to simply stick an umlaut on the first vowel.
6. It’s Okay to Cheat… Sometimes
Even native German speakers don’t get their own grammar right 100 percent of the time, and it’s not like anyone bats an eyelash at them. That’s because there are rarely situations or scenarios that call for absolutely perfect grammar. Most people are very relaxed with their use of language, which is shown by everyone’s use of slang.
This is something you should use to your advantage. You don’t have to be too hard on yourself if you forget a grammar rule or word while you’re speaking, and you shouldn’t let this harm your confidence.
In fact, even though you may begin a conversation feeling very nervous, you may surprise yourself when you realize just how much you’re able to remember once you get started.
You’ll also find that you naturally pick up clues from what the other person is saying, and the language they use might even help you remember some key grammar points. So, don’t let your inexperience get in the way of your confidence—just keep talking and see what comes to you!
Just make sure you don’t fake your German too much in any courses or classes that you take—your teacher won’t be impressed and it won’t help you pass any important tests!
Hopefully, all of these tips will make learning German grammar a little bit more bearable!