1. Nouns and Articles
Let’s look first at what might be considered the basics of any language, but especially in the case of German: nouns and their articles.
Nouns are easy to spot in German sentences. They’re almost always capitalized and attached to an article. The articles der (masculine), die (feminine) and das (neutral) all mean “the,” while the articles ein or eine mean “a.”
Nouns always take the same article, unless they’re plural; plural nouns always use die. (You can’t use ein or eine with plural; “the ducks” is grammatically correct, while “a ducks” is not). One more thing: if the noun’s “the” article is der or das, its “a” article is ein. If it’s die, use eine.
For the words below, we’ll show you which articles go with which nouns. You can get a comprehensive rundown on the logic and grammar of German articles here.
Note: When we say the days of the week and the months of the year in English, we don’t include “the” or “a,” but in German it’s necessary to do so.
This is an example of one of those nouns that’s not capitalized or attached to an article
der/ein Tag (the/a day)
die/eine Woche (the/a week)
das/ein Jahr (the/a year)
der/ein Sonntag (Sunday)
der/ein Montag (Monday)
der/ein Dienstag (Tuesday)
der/ein Mittwoch (Wednesday)
Mittwoch translates directly to “middle of the week”
der/ein Donnerstag (Thursday)
der/ein Freitag (Friday)
der/ein Samstag (Saturday)
der/ein Januar (January)
der/ein Februar (February)
der/ein März (March)
der/ein April (April)
der/ein Mai (May)
der/ein Juni (June)
der/ein Juli (July)
der/ein August (August)
der/ein September (September)
der/ein Oktober (October)
der/ein November (November)
der/ein Dezember (December)
der/ein Vater (the/a father)
die/eine Mutter (the/a mother)
der/ein Bruder (the/a brother)
die/eine Schwester (the/a sister)
das/ein Baby (the/a baby)
der/ein Sohn (the/a son)
die/eine Tochter (the/a daughter)
die/eine Stadt (the/a city)
das/ein Haus (the/a house)
du (you, informal)
sie (she), sie (they), Sie (you, formal)
As you can see, there are three sie formations here. To figure out which pronoun is meant, look at the conjugated verb. If the verb is conjugated to the er/sie/es form, the sie meaning “she” is used. Sie is always capitalized to show it’s formal.
ihr (you all; all of you)
As discussed above, nouns are attached to an article, and the corresponding pronoun can be chosen according to that article.
For example, der Tag becomes er because Tag is masculine, as indicated by the der article. Similarly, die Schwester becomes sie, and das Jahr becomes es. Plural nouns take the plural pronoun sie.
There’s one special pronoun that’s unique to German that might trip up first-time speakers. This pronoun is man and it does not refer to a male person, but rather it means “you” or “one.” It’s a bit hard to translate directly to a common English usage, but here are a few examples to clarify:
Wie sagt man “suitcase” auf Deutsch? (How do you/does one say “suitcase” in German?)
Wo kann man frisches Essen finden? (Where can one find fresh food?)
3. Essential Verbs
A sentence is always better with action!
Verbs are always conjugated depending on the subject and tense of the sentence. You’ll almost always find the verb near the beginning of your phrase.
Here are 10 very common German verbs:
haben (to have)
sein (to be)
müssen (to have to; must)
können (to be able to; can)
wollen (to want)
sagen (to say)
kommen (to come)
gehen (to go)
trinken (to drink)
essen (to eat)
Adjectives are used to describe nouns, and their endings change to indicate the case of the noun. While adjective endings are a whole lesson in themselves, get started by learning these essential German adjectives to create basic descriptive sentences.
super (super; very cool)
5. Numbers One Through 20
Count ’em! Don’t forget to learn your German numbers, so you can do everything from making restaurant reservations to catching your train on the right platform.
Prepositions are great at linking your ideas together and providing more information. You can use prepositions to describe location, purpose, timing, etc.
All prepositions have a case, so check your grammar as you use them!
7. Phrases and Expressions
Words are one thing; being able to complete a thought in German is quite another! Here are some common German phrases you can memorize:
Wie geht es dir? (How is it going for you?)
This phrase can also be said: Wie geht’s? It means the same as the phrase Wie geht es dir? but it’s more colloquial.
Was machst du? (What are you doing?/What are you up to?)
Wo ist das Badezimmer? (Where is the bathroom?)
Ich heiβe [your name]. (I am called/My name is [your name].)
Danke! (Thank you!)
Bitte. (Please/You’re welcome.)
When said after danke, bitte means “you’re welcome.” Otherwise, it means “please.”
Entschuldigung. (Excuse me.)
Guten Morgen/Tag/Abend. (Good morning/day/evening.)
Auf Wiedersehen! (See you later!)
This phrase literally translates to something like “On seeing you again,” but it means the same as “Goodbye.”
8. Common Idioms
Idioms are the best way to pick up on any new language and learn more about the culture. Here are a few commonly used German idioms that might come in handy:
“To press the thumbs.” This is the German version for “cross your fingers.” Sometimes, just like Americans do, the Germans will actually perform the action and press their thumbs.
“Du nimmst mich auf den Arm!”
“You hold me by the arm!” Very similar to “pulling one’s leg,” this German phrase translates to something like “no way” or “you’re kidding me.”
This translates roughly to “whoever isn’t going forward is going backward.” This is a German saying that promotes proactive behavior and movement toward the future, whatever it may be.
“Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.”
Because what is Germany without Wurst? Germans who say this mean everything has an end, and only a sausage has two. Basically, whatever is going on will come to an end sooner or later.
“Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!”
This means “Everything good to you on your birthday.” Rather than say “Happy Birthday,” this is what Germans might call you up and say when you’re another year older.
“Frosch im Hals haben.”
Meaning to have “a frog in one’s throat,” this phrase refers to a coarse voice.
“Noch grün hinter den Ohren sein.”
To still be green behind the ears. Those of us who are still new to something might’ve heard this from our older or more experienced colleagues.