German For Dummies - Paulina Christensen - E-Book

German For Dummies E-Book

Paulina Christensen

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The fun and easy way to learn the fascinating language of Germanwith integrated audio clips! German For Dummies, Enhanced Edition uses therenowned Berlitz approach to get you up and running with thelanguage-and having fun too! Designed for the total beginner, thisguide introduces you to basic grammar and then speedily has youmaking conversation. Integrated audio clips let you listen andlearn as you hear pronunciations and real-life conversations. Funand games sections ease your way into German fluency, phoneticspellings following expressions and vocabulary improve yourpronunciation, and helpful boxes and sidebars cover cultural quirksand factoids. * Master the nuts and bolts of German grammar * Learn phrases that make you sound German-and know whatnever to say in German Whether you're just looking for a greeting besides "Guten tag"or you want to become a foreign exchange student, this enhancededition of German For Dummies gives you what you need tolearn the language-as much as you like, as fast as you like!

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German For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

by Paulina Christensen, Anne Fox, and Wendy Foster

German For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

Published byWiley Publishing, Inc.111 River St.Hoboken, NJ

Copyright © 2011 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana

Published simultaneously in Canada

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About the Authors

Paulina Christensen has been working as a writer, editor, and translator for almost ten years. She holds a degree in English and German literature and has developed, written, and edited numerous German-language textbooks and teachers’ handbooks for Berlitz International. Her work as a translator ranges from new media art to science fiction (Starlog magazine). She occasionally works as a court interpreter and does consulting and interpreting at educational conferences, as well as voice-overs for educational videos and CD-ROMs. Dr. Christensen received her M.A. and Ph.D. from Düsseldorf University, Germany, and has taught at Berlitz Language Schools, New York University, and Fordham University.

Anne Fox has been working as a translator, editor, and writer for the past twelve years. She studied at Interpreters’ School, Zurich, Switzerland, and holds a degree in translation. Her various assignments have taken her to outer space, hyperspace, and around the world. She has also taught at Berlitz Language Schools and worked as a legal and technical proofreader in the editorial departments of several law firms. Most recently she has been developing, writing, and editing student textbooks and teacher handbooks for Berlitz.

Wendy Foster has been working as a teacher, writer, editor, and translator for longer than she can remember. She holds a degree in German from the Language and Interpreting Institute, Munich, Germany, an M.A. in French from Middlebury College, and a public school teaching certificate for German and French. She studied in France for two years, and then settled in Munich, Germany, where she worked in various teaching and writing capacities at various institutions, including Siemens, Hypovereinsbank, Munich Chamber of Commerce, and a number of publishers. She recently returned to her New England roots, where she works from her home overlooking a spectacular salt marsh that constantly beckons her to go kayaking, swimming, walking, and bird watching.

Berlitz has meant excellence in language services for more than 120 years. At more than 400 locations and in 50 countries worldwide, Berlitz offers a full range of language and language-related services, including instruction, cross-cultural training, document translation, software localization, and interpretation services. Berlitz also offers a wide array of publishing products, such as self-study language courses, phrase books, travel guides, and dictionaries.

The world-famous Berlitz Method® is the core of all Berlitz language instruction. From the time of its introduction in 1878, millions have used this method to learn new languages. For more information about Berlitz classes and products, please consult your local telephone directory for the Language Center nearest you or visit the Berlitz Web site at, where you can enroll in classes or shop directly for products online.

Author’s Acknowledgments

Wendy: I must thank Paulina Christensen and Anne Fox, who put so much time, effort, and knowledge into the first edition of this book. Thanks also to the editorial staff at Wiley for their unwavering support and to the technical reviewers, Tom Beyer and Chris Bellmann, who provided invaluable assistance. Finally, I would like to thank my friends at Fisherman’s Cove for their friendship, patience, and humor, especially Phil, Crista, and Kitty.

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German For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

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Table of Contents

About This Book
Conventions Used in This Book
Foolish Assumptions
How This Book Is Organized
Part I: Getting Started
Part II: German in Action
Part III: German on the Go
Part IV: The Part of Tens
Part V: Appendixes
Icons Used in This Book
Where to Go from Here
Part I: Getting Started
Chapter 1: You Already Know a Little German
The German You Know
Friendly allies (perfect cognates)
Kissing cousins (near cognates)
False friends
Lenders and borrowers
Using Popular Expressions
Chapter 2: The Nitty-Gritty: Basic German Grammar
Getting a Handle on Parts of Speech
Constructing Simple Sentences
Arranging words in the right order
Putting the verb in second place
Pushing the verb to the end
Forming questions
The Tenses: Past, Present, and Future
Looking at the present
Talking about the past: The perfect tense
Writing about the past: Using the simple past tense of verbs
Talking about the future
Putting the Language in the Proper Case
A quick trip through the different cases
Why all these cases matter
Chapter 3: Hallo! Pronunciation and Basic Expressions
Mouthing Off: Basic Pronunciation
Dealing with stress in German
Building the alphabet blocks
Pronouncing vowels
Pronouncing ä, ö, and ü
Pronouncing diphthongs
Pronouncing consonants
Pronouncing combinations of consonants
Getting Formal or Informal
Saying “Hello,” “Goodbye,” and “How Are You?”
Asking “How are you?”
Replying to “How are you?”
Introducing Yourself and Your Friends
Introducing your friends
Introductions for special occasions
Introducing yourself
Chapter 4: Getting Numbers, Time, andMeasurements Straight
Juggling Numbers
Telling Time
Asking for the time
Telling time with the 12-hour clock
Using the 24-hour system
Times of the day
Days of the week
Naming the Months
Measurements, Quantities, and Weights
Chapter 5: Talking about Home and Family
Living in an Apartment or House
Describing life within four walls
Asking the right questions
Talking about Your Family
Part II: German in Action
Chapter 6: Getting to Know You: Making Small Talk
Talking about Yourself
Describing your work
Providing your name and number(s)
Looking at possessive pronouns
Conversing about Cities, Countries, and Nationalities
Revealing where you come from
Using the all-important verb “sein”
Asking people where they come from
Discovering nationalities
Chatting about languages you speak
Making Small Talk about the Weather
Noting what it’s like out there
Discussing the temperature
Describing the day’s weather
Chapter 7: Asking for Directions
“Wo?” — Asking Where Something Is
“Wie weit?” How Far Is It?
Going Here and There
Asking “How Do I Get There?”
Using “in” to get into a location
Using “nach” to get to a city or country
Using “zu” to get to institutions
Describing a Position or Location in Relation to Some Other Place
Getting Your Bearings Straight with Left, Right, North, and South
Left, right, straight ahead
The cardinal points
Taking This or That Street
Using Ordinal Numbers: First, Second, Third, and More
Traveling by Car or Other Vehicle
Chapter 8: Guten Appetit! Dining Out and Going to the Market
Hast du Hunger? Hast du Durst?
All about Meals
Setting the Table for a Meal
Dining Out: Visiting a Restaurant
Deciding where to eat
Making reservations
Arriving and being seated
Deciphering the menu
Placing your order
Applying the subjunctive to express your wishes
Using modals to modify what you say
Ordering something special
Replying to “How did you like the food?”
Asking for the check
Shopping for Food
Knowing where to shop
Finding what you need
Chapter 9: Shopping Made Easy
Places to Shop around Town
Finding Out about Opening Hours
Navigating Your Way around a Store
Just Browsing: Taking a Look at Merchandise
Getting Assistance as You Shop
Shopping for Clothes
Familiarizing yourself with the colors available
Knowing your size
Trying on the items you find
Paying for Your Shopping Items
Comparatively Speaking: Making Comparisons Among Objects
Chapter 10: Going Out on the Town
What Would You Like to Do?
Going to the Movies
Getting to the show
Buying tickets
What Was That? The Simple Past Tense of “Sein”
Going to the Museum
Talking about Action in the Past
Forming the past participle
Using “haben” in the perfect tense
Using “sein” in the perfect tense
Going Out for Entertainment
How Was It? Talking about Entertainment
Asking for an opinion
Telling people what you think
Going to a Party
Getting an invitation
Talking about a party
Chapter 11: Taking Care of Business and Telecommunications
Phoning Made Simple
Asking for your party
Making the connection
Making Appointments
Leaving Messages
A Few Words about Dative Pronouns
Sending Written Correspondence
Sending a letter or postcard
Sending a fax
Getting to Know the Office
Mastering your desk and supplies
Doing business in German
Chapter 12: Recreation and the Great Outdoors
Playing Sports
Playing around with the verb “spielen”
Verbalizing sports you enjoy
Inviting someone to play
Using Reflexive Verbs to Talk about Plans
Getting reflexive
Accusing and dating your pronouns
Some common reflexive verbs
Reflexive verbs that are flexible
Exploring the Outdoors
Getting out and going
Things to see along the way
Going to the mountains
Going to the country
Going to the sea
Part III: German on the Go
Chapter 13: Planning a Trip
Getting Help from a Travel Agent
Planning Ahead: Using the Future Tense
Describing events in specific months
Naming specific times in the months
Rethinking Dates
Dealing with Passports and Visas
The all-important passport
Inquiring about visas
Chapter 14: Making Sense of Euros and Cents
Changing Currency
Heading to the ATM
Getting Imperative
Understanding the Euro and Other Currencies
Chapter 15: Getting Around: Planes, Trains, Taxis, and Buses
Using German at the Airport
Getting your ticket
Checking in
Going through immigration
Going through customs
Traveling by Car
Renting a car
Making sense of maps
Wrapping your brain around road signs
Taking a Train
Interpreting train schedules
Getting information
Buying tickets
Knowing When to Separate Your Verbs
Navigating Buses, Subways, and Taxis
Catching the bus
Getting a taxi
Chapter 16: Finding a Place to Stay
Finding a Hotel
Reserving Rooms
Saying when and how long you want to stay
Specifying the kind of room you want
Asking about the price
Finalizing the reservation
Checking In
Stating how long you’re staying
Filling out the registration form
Getting keyed in
Asking about amenities and facilities
Checking Out and Paying the Bill
Asking for your bill
Asking small favors
Chapter 17: Handling Emergencies
Requesting Help
Shouting for help
Reporting a problem
Asking for English-speaking help
Getting Medical Attention
Describing what ails you
Telling about any special conditions
Getting an examination
Specifying parts of the body
Getting the diagnosis
Getting treatment
Talking to the Police
Describing what was stolen
Answering questions from the police
Getting legal help
Part IV: The Part of Tens
Chapter 18: Ten Ways to Pick Up German Quickly
Labeling the World Around You
Organizing Useful Expressions
Writing Shopping Lists
Thinking in German
Using Language CDs and Downloads
Watching German TV and Listening to German Radio Online
Trying an Interactive German Program
Watching German Movies
Reading German Publications
Eating German Cuisine
Chapter 19: Ten Things Never to Say in German
Using the Right Form of Address
Addressing Service People Correctly
Hot or Cold?
I’m Not Loaded
Speaking of the Law with Respect
Using “Gymnasium” Correctly
Knowing the Appropriate Form of “Know”
Going to the Right Closet
Using Bekommen Properly
Using the Right Eating Verb
Chapter 20: Ten Favorite German Expressions
Alles klar!
Kein Problem
Wie schön!
Chapter 21: Ten Phrases That Make You Sound German
Schönes Wochenende!
Gehen wir!
Was ist los?
Das klingt gut!
Keine Ahnung
Es zieht!
Nicht zu fassen!
Du hast Recht!/Sie haben Recht!
Lass es!
Nicht schlecht!
Part V: Appendixes
Appendix B: Verb Tables
Appendix C: On the CD
Appendix D: Answer Key
Cheat Sheet
Download CD/DVD Content


We are the players in a fascinating era, one that interconnects us with others all around the world. With globalization and technology as the driving forces, we find ourselves getting in closer and closer contact with more and more people. As a result, knowing how to say at least a few words in a language such as German is becoming an ever-more-vital tool.

Our natural curiosity to find out about other cultures motivates us to hop on a plane and find out firsthand what everyday life is like in the German-speaking regions: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in northern Italy, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein. Conducting international business in an increasingly competitive market necessitates personal contact; hence, more businesspeople are traveling overseas to countries like Germany, which has the largest economy in the European Union. On a more personal level, you may have friends, relatives, and neighbors who speak German, or you may want to get in touch with your heritage by learning a little bit of the language that your ancestors spoke.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to learn some German, German For Dummies, 2nd Edition, is a terrific choice because it gives you the skills you need for basic communication in German. We’re not promising super fluency here, but if you want to know how to greet someone, purchase a train ticket, or order food from a menu in German, you need look no further than this book.

About This Book

German For Dummies, 2nd Edition, is set up so that you can use it any way you want to — as a reference to dip into for specific questions you have about German, as a means of gaining knowledge of German in a systematic way, or just for the fun of getting the feel for another language. Perhaps your goal is to learn some words and phrases to help you get around when you travel to a German-speaking country. Maybe you simply want to be able to say “Hello, how are you?” to your German-speaking neighbor. At any rate, you can go through this book at your own pace, reading as much or as little at a time as you like. You don’t need to plod through the chapters in order, either; you’re welcome to read the sections that interest you most.

Conventions Used in This Book

To make this book easy for you to navigate, we’ve set up a few conventions:

German terms are set in boldface to make them stand out.

Pronunciation is set in parentheses following the German terms, and the stressed syllables are italicized.

English translations are italicized. You’ll find them set in parentheses following the pronunciation of German terms or sentences.

In some cases, German speakers use the same pronunciation as English speakers for words, many of which are borrowed from English or other languages. When such words are pronounced the same way in German as in English, you’ll see the English word in the pronunciation followed by the notation “as in English” rather than the usual phonetic pronunciation. Of course, if the pronunciation differs between the English and German, we include the German pronunciation as usual.

Verb conjugations (lists that show you the forms of a verb) are given in tables in this order:

• The “I” form

• The “you” (singular, informal [or sing. inf.]) form

• The “you” (singular, formal [or sing. form.]) form

• The “he, she, it” form

• The “we” form

• The “you” (plural, informal [or pl. inf.]) form

• The “you” (plural, formal [or pl. form.]) form

• The “they” form

Pronunciations follow in the second column. The example shown uses the verb “to be.” The conjugation starts with the German equivalent of “I am, you are,” and so on.



ich bin

iH bin

du bist

dooh bist

Sie sind

zee zint

er, sie, es ist

êr, zee, ês ist

wir sind

veer zint

ihr seid

eer zayt

Sie sind

zee zint

sie sind

zee zint

To help you make fast progress in German, this book includes a few elements to help you along:

Talkin’ the Talk dialogues: The best way to learn a language is to see and hear how it’s used in conversation, so we include dialogues throughout the book. The dialogues come under the heading “Talkin’ the Talk” and show you the German words, their pronunciations, and the English translations.

Words to Know blackboards: Acquiring key words and phrases is also important in language learning, so we collect these important words in sections that resemble chalkboards, with the heading “Words to Know.” Note: In the pronunciations given in these sections, the stressed syllables are underlined rather than italicized.

Fun & Games activities: If you want to flex your new language muscles, you can use the Fun & Games activities to reinforce what you learn. These activities are fun ways to check your progress.

Also note that, because each language has its own ways of expressing ideas, the English translations that we provide for the German terms may not be exactly literal. We want you to know the essence of what’s being said, not just the meanings of single words. For example, the phrase Es geht (ês geyt) can be translated literally as It goes, but the phrase is actually the equivalent of So, so, or Okay, which is what you see as the translation.

Foolish Assumptions

To write this book, we made some assumptions about who you are and what you hope to gain from this book:

You know no German — or if you took German somewhere in your deep, dark past, you don’t remember much more than Ja, Nein, Kindergarten, Guten Tag, and auf Wiedersehen.

You’re primarily interested in communicating verbally in German,not in reading or writing German.

You’re definitely not looking for a ho-hum textbook that puts you to sleep, nor do you want to plod through monotonous language exercises that drill German into your brain. You just want to know some practical words, phrases, and sentence constructions so that you can communicate basic information in German — with confidence.

You have no interest in memorizing long lists of bookish-sounding vocabulary words or a bunch of boring grammar rules.

You’re excited about German and are looking forward to having some fun as you pick up a bit of the language.

If any or all of these statements apply to you, you’ve found the right book!

How This Book Is Organized

This book is divided by topic: first into parts and then into chapters. The following sections tell you what types of information you can find in each part.

Part I: Getting Started

This part gets you acclimated by providing you with some German basics: how to pronounce words, how to form sentences, and so on. You find a wealth of basic survival-type expressions such as greetings and numbers. We even challenge you to boost your confidence by activating some German words that you probably already know. Finally, we outline the basics of German grammar that you may need to know when you work through later chapters in the book.

Part II: German in Action

In this part, you begin learning and using German. Instead of focusing on grammar points as many dull, dusty language textbooks do, this part focuses on communicating effectively in everyday situations, such as shopping, asking for directions, going to a museum, dining, phoning, and lots more.

Part III: German on the Go

This part gives you the tools you need to take your German on the road, whether you’re looking to change money, find a place to stay, plan a trip, or take public or private transportation. There’s even a chapter on handling emergencies.

Part IV: The Part of Tens

If you’re looking for small, easily digestible pieces of information about German, this part is for you. Here, you can find ten ways to learn German quickly, ten useful German expressions to know, and more.

Part V: Appendixes

This part of the book includes important information that you can use for reference. Appendix A is a handy mini-dictionary in both German-to-English and English-to-German formats. If you encounter a German word that you don’t understand or you need to know a specific word in German, you can look it up here. Appendix B features verb tables that show you how to conjugate both regular verbs and those verbs that stubbornly don’t fit the pattern. Appendix C gives you the answer keys to all of the Fun & Games activities that appear in the book. Finally, Appendix D provides a listing of the tracks that appear on the accompanying audio CD so you can find out where in the book those dialogues are and follow along.

Icons Used in This Book

You may be looking for particular information while reading this book. To make certain types of information easier for you to find, the following icons have been placed in the left-hand margins throughout the book:

This icon highlights tips that can make learning German easier.

This icon points out interesting information that you won’t want to forget.

Languages are full of quirks that may trip you up if you’re not prepared for them. This icon points to discussions of important grammar points.

If you’re looking for information and advice about culture and travel, look for these icons. They draw your attention to interesting tidbits about the countries in which German is spoken.

The audio CD that comes with this book gives you the opportunity to listen to real German speakers so that you can get a better understanding of what German sounds like. This icon marks the Talkin’ the Talk dialogues that you can listen to on the CD.

Where to Go from Here

Learning a language is all about jumping in and giving it a try (no matter how bad your pronunciation is at first). So take the plunge! Start at the beginning, pick a chapter that interests you, or use the CD to listen to a few dialogues. Before long, you’ll be able to respond, “Ja!” (yah) (yes) when someone asks you Sprechen Sie Deutsch? (shprêH-en zee doych?) (Do you speak German?)

Note: If you’ve never been exposed to German before, you may want to read the chapters in Part I before you tackle the later chapters. Part I gives you some of the basics that you need to know about the language, such as how to pronounce the various sounds, some basic expressions and words, and the fundamentals of German sentence structure.

Part I

Getting Started

In this part . . .

You have to start somewhere, but we bet that you know a lot more German than you think. Don’t think so? Then check out Chapter 1. Chapter 2 covers some nuts-and-bolts grammar info that, well, you need to absorb. But don’t worry — we make it fun. The other chapters get you up to speed with some basic expressions and vocabulary you can use right away, such as saying hello and goodbye, expressing numbers, time, and measurements, or talking about your family.Jetzt geht’s los! (yêtst geyts lohs!) (Here we go!)

Chapter 1

You Already Know a Little German

In This Chapter

Recognizing the German you already know

Spotting words that aren’t what they seem

Using German idioms

The best way to learn a new language is to jump right in — no pussyfooting around. In this chapter, you get a head start in German by seeing some of the language you’re already familiar with. You also find out some popular German expressions, and you get the hang of why you need to be careful with what are called “false friends,” that is, words that seem to be the same in both languages but actually have different meanings.

The German You Know

Because both German and English belong to the group of Germanic languages, quite a few words are either identical or similar in both languages. Words that share a common source are called cognates. Another group of words common to German and English stem from Latin-based words that English speakers are familiar with. Many of these have direct equivalents in German, for example, nouns that end in “-tion.”

Friendly allies (perfect cognates)

The following words are spelled the same way and have the same meaning in German and in English. The only differences are the pronunciation, as shown in parentheses, as well as the fact that in German, nouns are always capitalized. In addition, German nouns have one of three genders, as seen on this list by the words der (masculine), die (feminine),and das (neuter) in front of each noun. See Chapter 2 for details on what gender is all about and go to Chapter 3 for information on the pronunciation key for each word presented in this book. In a few instances, the German and English pronunciation for the word is the same, so you’ll see the English word in the pronunciation (followed by the notation “as in English.”)

der Arm (dêr ârm)

der Bandit (dêr bân-deet)

die Bank (dee bânk)

die Basis (dee bah-zis)

blind (blint)

die Butter (dee boot-er)

digital (di-gi-tâl)

elegant (êl-ê-gânt)

die Emotion (dee ê-moh-tsee-ohn)

emotional (ê-moh-tsee-oh-nahl)

der Finger (dêr fing-er)

die Hand (dee hânt)

das Hotel (dâs hotel [as in English])

die Inspiration (dee in-spi-râ-tsee-ohn)

international (in-ter-nâ-tsee-oh-nahl)

irrational (ir-râ-tsee-oh-nahl)

legal (ley-gahl)

liberal (lee-bêr-ahl)

der Mast (dêr mast)

die Mine (dee meen-e)

modern (moh-dêrn)

der Moment (dêr moh-mênt)

die Motivation (dee moh-ti-vâ-tsee-ohn)

das Museum (dâs mooh-zey-oohm)

der Name (dêr nah-me)

die Nation (dee nâ-tsee-ohn)

normal (nor-mahl)

die Olive (dee oh-lee-ve)

parallel (pâr-â-leyl)

das Problem (dâs proh-bleym)

der Professor (dêr professor [as in English])

das Radio (dâs rah-dee-oh)

die Religion (dee rey-li-gee-ohn)

das Restaurant (dâs rês-tuh-ron)

die Rose (dee roh-ze)

der Service (dêr ser-vis)

das Signal (dâs zig-nahl)

der Sport (dêr shport)

die Statue (dee shtah-tooh-e)

der Stress (dêr shtrês)

das System (dâs zers-teym)

das Taxi (dâs tâx-ee)

der Tiger (dêr tee-ger)

tolerant (to-lêr-ânt)

die Tradition (dee trâ-di-tsee-ohn)

der Tunnel (dêr toohn-el)

wild (vilt)

der Wind (dêr vint)

Kissing cousins (near cognates)

Many words, like the ones shown in Table 1-1, are spelled almost the same in German as in English and have the same meaning. Table 1-1 also shows you something about German spelling conventions, which include:

The English c is a k in most German words.

The ou in English words like house or mouse is often equivalent to au in German words.

Many English adjectives ending in -ic or -ical have an -isch ending in German.

Some English adjectives ending in -y are spelled with -ig in German.

Some English nouns ending in -y have an -ie ending in German.

Table 1-1 Words Similar in Meaning, Slightly Different in Spelling



die Adresse (dee ah-drês-e)


der Aspekt (dêr âs-pêkt)


der Bär (dêr bear [as in English])


blond (blont)


die Bluse (dee blooh-ze)


braun (brown [as in English])


die Demokratie (dee dê-moh-krâ-tee)


direkt (di-rêkt)


der Doktor (dêr dok-tohr)


exzellent (êx-tsel-ênt)


fantastisch (fân-tâs-tish)


das Glas (dâs glahs)


das Haus (dâs hous)


hungrig (hoong-riH)


die Industrie (dee in-dooh-stree)


der Kaffee (dêr kâf-ey)


die Komödie (dee koh-mer-dee-e)


die Kondition (dee kon-di-tsee-ohn)


das Konzert (dâs kon-tsêrt)


die Kultur (dee kool-toohr)


logisch (loh-gish)


das Mandat (dâs mân-daht)


der Mann (dêr mân)


die Maschine (dee mâ-sheen-e)


die Maus (dee mouse [as in English])


die Methode (dee mê-toh-de)


die Mobilität (dee moh-bi-li-tait)


die Musik (dee mooh-zeek)


die Nationalität (dee nât-see-oh-nahl-i-tait)


die Natur (dee nâ-toohr)


offiziell (oh-fits-ee-êl)

official (adjective)

der Ozean (dêr oh-tsê-ân)


das Papier (dâs pâ-peer)


das Parlament (dâs pâr-lâ-mênt)


perfekt (pêr-fêkt)


politisch (poh-li-tish)


potenziell (po-tên-tsee-êl)

potential (adjective)

praktisch (prâk-tish)


das Programm (dâs proh-grâm)


das Salz (dâs zâlts)


der Scheck (dêr shêk)


sonnig (zon-iH)


der Supermarkt (dêr zooh-pêr-mârkt)


das Telefon (dâs tê-le-fohn)


die Theorie (dee tey-ohr-ee)


die Tragödie (dee trâ-ger-dee-e)


die Walnuss (dee vahl-noohs)


False friends

As does every language, German contains some false friends — those words that look very similar to English but have a completely different meaning. As you read the following list, you can see why you should treat any new German word with kid gloves, especially if it looks like an English word, until, that is, you find out for sure what it means in English.

After (ahf-ter): If you want to avoid embarrassment, remember the meaning of this word. Its German meaning is anus and not after. The German word for after is nach (nahH) or nachdem (nahH-deym).

aktuell (âk-tooh-êl): This word means up-to-date and current, not actual. The German translation for actual is tatsächlich (tât-sêH-liH).

also(âl-zoh): This one means so, therefore, or thus; not also. The German word for also is auch (ouH).

bald (bâlt): This word means soon and is not a description for someone with little or no hair. The German word for bald is kahl (kahl) or glatzköpfig (glâts-kerpf-iH).

bekommen (be-kom-en): This verb is an important one to remember. It means to get and not to become. The German word for to become is werden (vêr-den).

Boot (boht): This is a boat and not a boot, which is Stiefel (shteef-el) in German. A sailboat is called a Segelboot (zey-gêl-boht).

brav (brahf): This word means well-behaved and not brave. The German word for brave is tapfer (tâp-fer).

Brief(breef): This is a noun and means letter, not brief. The German translation for the English adjective brief is kurz (koorts), and, for the English noun, Auftrag (ouf-trahk) or Unterlagen (oon-ter-lah-gen).

Chef (shêf): This is the German word for a person you take orders from, your boss or supervisor, not someone who’s in charge of the cooking. The German word for chef is Küchenchef (kueH-ên-shêf)or Chefkoch (shêf-koH). Otherwise, a plain cook is called a Koch (koH)in German.

eventuell(ey-vên-tooh-êl): This one means possible or possibly, not eventual or eventually, both of which would be schließlich (shlees-liH) in German.

fast (fâst): This is an adjective that means almost — not the speeds at which Formula One drivers race. The German word for fast is schnell (shnêl) or rasch (râsh).

genial (gê-nee-ahl): This adjective describes an idea or person of genius and has nothing to do with genial. The German word for genial is heiter (hay-ter).

Gift (gift [as in English]): The German meaning is poison, so when you’re giving your German-speaking host a present, you should say you have a Geschenk (gê-shênk),that is, unless you really are giving something like weed killer or a green mamba.

Kind (kint): This is the German word for child. It has nothing to do with the English kind, which is nett(nêt) or liebenswürdig (lee-bens-vuerd-iH) in German.

Komfort (kom-fohr): This word means amenity, for example, the amenities you expect in a five-star hotel, not comfort. The German verb meaning to comfort [someone] is trösten (trers-ten).

kurios (koohr-ee-ohs): This word means strange, not curious. The German word for curious is neugierig (noy-geer-iH).

Mist (mist [as in English]): Be careful not to misuse this word that actually means manure in German! It doesn’t describe heavy moisture resembling a fine rain, which is called Nebel (ney-bel) or Dunst (doonst).

Most(most): This is the German word for unfermented fruit juice, and in southern German-speaking regions, a young fruit wine. The German word for the English most is das meiste (dâs mays-te); for example, die meisten Leute (die mays-ten loy-te)(most people).

ordinär(or-di-nair): This word means vulgar rather than ordinary. The German word for ordinary is normal (nor-mahl)or gewöhnlich (ge-vern-liH).

pathetisch(pâ-tey-tish): This one means overly emotional, not pathetic, which, in German, is jämmerlich (yêm-er-liH) or armselig (ârm-zey-liH).

plump(ploomp): The German meaning is clumsy or tactless, not roundish, which in German is rundlich (roont-liH).

Präservativ(prê-zêr-vah-teef): Another embarrassing moment can be avoided when you know that this word means condom in German. The German equivalent of preservative is Konservierungsmittel (kon-sêr-yeer-oongs-mit-el).

Provision(proh-vi-zee-ohn): The meaning of this word is commission, not provision. The German word for provision is Vorsorge (fohr-zor-ge) or Versorgung (fêr-zohrg-oong).

See (zey): This word means lake or sea. In German, the verb to see is sehen (zey-en).

sensibel (zen-zee-bel): The meaning of this word is sensitive rather than sensible, which translates as vernünftig (fêr-nuenf-tiH).

sympathisch (zerm-pah-tish): This word means likeable or congenial,, not sympathetic. The German word for sympathetic is mitfühlend (mit-fuel-ent).

Lenders and borrowers

A few German words have been adopted by the English language and have retained their meaning, such as Kindergarten (kin-der-gâr-ten), Angst (ânkst), kaputt (kâ-poot), Ersatz (êr-zats), Sauerkraut (zou-er-krout), Zeitgeist (tsayt-gayst), and Wanderlust (vân-der-loost).

However, the number of these German words is minimal compared to the English words that have made their way into the German language. At times, the combination of English and German makes for somewhat curious linguistic oddities. For example, you may hear das ist total in/out (dâs ist toh-tahl in/out [as in English]) (that’s totally in/out) or Sie können den File downloaden (zee kern-en deyn file [as in English] doun-lohd-en) (You can download the file).

The following is a list of German words that have been borrowed from the English language. Note that they all retain their English pronunciations, with a slight exception: The borrowed verbs are “germanified,” which simply means they combine the English verb, such as kill or jog, with -en, the German suffix that creates the infinitive form (to kill and to jog). Go to Chapter 2 for more on German infinitives:

der Boss

das Business

das Catering

die City (German meaning:downtown)

der Computer


das Design

das Event

Fashion (used without article)

das Fast Food

das Feeling

flirten (to flirt)

der Headhunter



der Hit

das Hotel

das Internet

das Interview

der Jetlag

der Job

joggen (to jog)

killen (to kill)

managen (to manage)

der Manager

das Marketing

das Meeting



outsourcen (to outsource)

die Party


das Shopping

die Shorts

die Show/Talkshow

das Steak

surfen (to surf waves or the Internet)

das Team

der Thriller

der Tourist

das T-Shirt

der Workshop


Finally, a few English terms have different meanings in the German language. For example, the word Evergreen refers to a golden oldie, Handy means a cellphone,Mobbing means bullying or harassing,Oldtimer refers to a vintage car, and Wellness-Center means spa.

Talkin’ the Talk

Read the following conversation with a grain of salt — and a smile. It gives you an idea of how many words have slid into German. However, you’re not likely to overhear this many examples of mixed language in a single conversation. In this scenario, two friends, Claudia and Jana, meet on the street. Notice how some terms have a slightly different meaning in German.


Hi Jana, wie geht’s? Wie ist der neue Job?

Hi [as in English] yâ-nâ, vee geyts? vee ist dêr noy-e job [as in English]?

Hi Jana, how are you? How’s the new job?


Super! Heute war meine erste Presentation vor meinem big Boss, und er war total cool.

super [as in English]! hoy-te vahr mayn-e êrs-te pre-zen-tât-see-ohn fohr mayn-êm big boss [as in English], oont êr vahr toh-tahl cool [as in English].

Super! Today was my first presentation in front of my big boss, and he was totally cool.


Wow! In meinem Office gibt es nur Stress. Mein Boss kann nichts managen. Mein Kollege checkt nichts, und denkt, er ist ein Sonnyboy, und alle anderen spinnen.

wow [as in English]! in mayn-êm office [as in English] gipt ês noohr shtrês. mayn boss kân niHts mân-â-gen [g as in English]. mayn kol-ey-ge checkt niHts oont dênkt êr ist ayn sonny boy [as in English], oont âl-e ân-der-en spin-en.

Wow! In my office there’s nothing but stress. My boss can’t manage anything. My colleague isn’t “with it,” and thinks he’s a hot shot, and all the others are crazy.


Ich gehe shoppen. Kommst du mit?

iH gey-e shop-en. Komst dooh mit?

I’m going shopping. Do you want to come along?


Nein, danke. Gestern war ich in einem Outlet und habe ein T-Shirt in pink und eine Jeans im Boyfriend-Look gekauft. Ich gehe jetzt joggen. Bye-bye!

nayn, dân-ke. gês-têrn vahr iH in ayn-em outlet [as in English] oont hah-be ayn T-shirt [as in English] in pink [as in English] oont ayn-e jeans [as in English] im boyfriend-look [as in English] ge-kouft. iH gey-e yêtst jog-en [jog as in English]. bye-bye [as in English]!

No, thanks. Yesterday I went to an outlet and bought a pink T-shirt and a pair of jeans in boyfriend look. I’m going jogging now. Bye!


Schade. Bye-bye!

shah-de. bye-bye!

Too bad. Bye!

Using Popular Expressions

Just like the English language, German has many idioms, which are expressions typical of a language and culture. If you translate these idioms word for word, they may sound obscure, silly, or just plain meaningless, so you definitely need to find out what they really mean in order to use them appropriately.

Some expressions may have an English equivalent that’s recognizable, so it’s easier to get the hang of using them. For example, the German idiom ein Fisch auf dem Trockenen (ayn fish ouf deym trok-ên-en) literally translates into a fish on the dry, which somewhat resembles the English a fish out of water. On the other hand, if you were to take apart the German expression Da liegt der Hund begraben (da leekt dêr hoont be-grah-ben)word for word, you’d probably feel sorry for the poor dog, because in essence, it means something like That’s where the dog is buried. However, the English equivalent is That’s the heart of the matter.

A few other typical German idioms are

DieDaumen drücken. (dee doum-en druek-en.) (Press the thumbs). The English meaning is Keep your fingers crossed.

Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen (voh ziH fooks oont hah-ze gooh-te nâHt zah-gen) (where fox and hare say good night to one another), which means in the middle of nowhere, or in the sticks.

Ich bin fix und fertig. (iH bin fix oont fêr-tiH.) (I’m quick and ready.) This means I’m wiped out, or I’m exhausted.

Du nimmst mich auf den Arm! (dooh nimst miH ouf deyn ârm!) (You’re taking me on your arm!), meaning You’re pulling my leg!

Das ist ein Katzensprung. (dâs ist ayn kâts-en-shproong.) (That’s a cat’s jump.) The English meaning is It’s a stone’s throw away.

Schlafen wie ein Murmeltier (shlâf-en vee ayn moor-mel-teer) (sleeplike a woodchuck[marmot]). In English, you say sleep like a log.

Apart from such idioms, many handy and frequently used German expressions are easy to learn. Here are some of them:

Prima!/Klasse!/Toll! (pree-mah!/klâs-e!/tôl!) (Great!)

Fertig. (fêrt-iH.) (Ready./Finished.) This can be either a question or a statement.

Quatsch! (qvâch!)(Nonsense!/How silly of me!)

Einverstanden. (ayn-fêr-shtând-en.) (Agreed./Okay.)

Vielleicht. (fee-layHt.) (Maybe./Perhaps.)

Mach’s gut. (vîrt ge-mâHt.) (Take it easy.) This is a casual way of saying good-bye.

Wie, bitte? (vee bi-te?) ([I beg your]pardon?/What did you say?)

Macht nichts. (mâHt niHts.) (Never mind./That’s okay.)

Nicht der Rede wert. (niHt dêr rey-de vêrt.) (Don’t mention it.)

Schade! (shah-de!) (Too bad!/What a pity!)

So ein Pech! (zoh ayn pêH!) (Bad luck!)

Viel Glück! (feel gluek!) (Good luck!)

Oder? (oh-der?) (Isn’t that true?/Don’t you think so?)

Bis dann! (bis dân!) (See you then!)

Bis bald! (bis bâlt!) (See you soon!)

Chapter 2

The Nitty-Gritty: Basic German Grammar

In This Chapter

Identifying parts of speech

Combining words to create sentences

Talking in terms of the past, present, and future

Making a case for cases

When you think about grammar, imagine a big dresser with lots of drawers. Instead of being filled with all kinds of clothing, these drawers contain different types of words, called parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and so on. Each part of speech is in a separate drawer.

Now imagine it’s early morning and you’re about to utter your first German sentence of the day. To begin, you reach into the noun drawer and pull out the word Socken (zok-en) (socks). Next, to describe your socks, you reach into the adjective drawer and pull out two words, neu (noy) (new) and schwarz (shvârts) (black). To indicate what you do with your new black socks, you fish through the verb drawer and pull out the verb anziehen (ân-tsee-en) (to put on). And because you’re running late, you dive straight into the adverb drawer and grab the word schnell (shnêl) (quickly). Now, to construct a whole sentence, you need another item, this one from the pronoun drawer: ich (iH) (I). Before you know it, you’ve pulled a complete sentence out of the dresser: Ich ziehe schnell meine neuen schwarzen Socken an (iH tsee-he shnêl mayn-e noy-enshvârts-en zok-en ân)(I quickly put my new black socks on).

To construct a correct sentence, you need to know how to string all these words together, and that’s what grammar is all about. This chapter makes using grammar as easy as getting dressed in the morning. With a few basic rules in your back pocket, you’ll be using grammar with confidence in no time. So arrange your thoughts, grab the words you need, and before you know it, you’ll be out the door and speaking — auf Deutsch (ouf doych) (in German).

Getting a Handle on Parts of Speech

To construct a simple sentence, you need a certain number of building blocks, the parts of speech. The most essential of these are nouns, articles, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. The following sections give you the lowdown on each of these.


A rose is a rose is a rose, right? Well, a rose is also a noun, and nouns aren’t exactly the same in German and English. Although nouns in both languages name things (people, places, objects, concepts, and so on), the difference is that all German nouns are capitalized and have one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. The following sections go into more detail on gender and how to make singular German nouns plural.

Understanding a noun’s gender

As mentioned previously, German nouns have gender. That is, they are one of the following: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Unfortunately, the meaning of a noun isn’t usually much help in predicting its grammatical gender. You need to keep in mind that in German, grammatical gender isan element of German grammar, and it’s not related to the meaning of the noun. Instead, it’s a kind of marker that identifies how the noun fits into a sentence. Sorry, no easy way out. You simply have to memorize the gender that belongs with each noun. However, a few guidelines can get you started:

Nouns for male persons, cars, nationalities, occupations, seasons, days, and months are usually masculine.

Nouns for most female persons, many flowers, and trees are feminine.

Nouns beginning with Ge- are usually neuter.

Nouns ending in -ist, -ich, -ismus, and -ner are usually masculine.

Nouns ending in -heit, -keit, -ik, -schaft, -ei, -tät, and -ung are usually feminine.

Nouns ending in -chen, -lein, -ium, -um, and -tum are usually neuter.

Knowing a noun’s gender becomes even more important when the noun is plopped into a sentence. How’s that? Well, depending on the role the noun plays in the sentence, the three definite articles der (dêr), die (dee),and das (dâs), all of which translate to the English the, can go through all kinds of spelling gyrations, and sometimes even the noun’s spelling is altered. Same with the indefinite articles ein (ayn), eine (ayn-e), and ein (ayn), which correspond to the English a and an. In fact, because you can’t really talk about German nouns without talking about the articles that accompany them, we devote a whole section to the topic. The key to all this morphing is what’s known as case. Read the section “Putting the Language in the Proper Case” later in this chapter to shed more light on how to put German nouns and articles into sentences.

Making singular nouns plural

Throughout this book, you encounter nouns in their singular and/or plural forms. You may notice that in German, there are several ways to change a singular noun to its plural form.

Two groups of words are easy to deal with:

The group of nouns that are the same in both the singular and plural forms, like the English noun “sheep.” Many of the nouns in this group are masculine- and neuter-gender words ending in -er, like das Fenster/die Fenster (dâs fens-ter/dee fens-ter) (window/windows), and der Amerikaner/die Amerikaner (dêr â-mey-ree-kah-ner/dee â-mey-ree-kah-ner) (American/Americans).

The group of nouns that are mostly of foreign origin: The plural form of these nouns has an -s ending, for example das Radio/die Radios (dâs rah-dee-oh/dee rah-dee-ohs) (radio/radios) and das Café/die Cafés (dâs café [as in English] /dee cafes) (café/cafés).

Other plural form patterns include nouns that add -e, -er,or –en; nouns that add an umlaut (represented by two dots over a vowel, as in ä, ö, and ü); or a combination of both. Following are three examples: der Vater/die Väter (dêr fah-ter/dee fai-ter) (father/fathers), die Lampe/die Lampen (dee lâm-pe/dee lâm-pen) (lamp/lamps),and das Buch/die Bücher (das booH/dee bueH-er) (book/books).