How to Learn the German Articles

For those of you who prefer a “personal” teacher I have a video for you at the bottom of this post.

The German Articles

The German articles are one of the most feared topics that every German learner is confronted with. I haven’t had a single student not complaining about them. There are good reasons why learners don’t like them but there are also two wonderful techniques that take the edge out of this topic. Let me explain why it proves so difficult to deal with them and then introduce the first article learning technique in the following paragraphs.

While many grammar books and teachers might mention these endings -I’d like to call them signals from here on- they usually don’t give you any method to learn them better with. The following method will help you to memorize 23 article signals that will help you to identify a word’s article even if you don’t know that word yet. The only disadvantage of these signals is that they might not reach to far. I would generously estimate that they might help you with about 25% of the German nouns. But, hey, that’s already something, right?

Understanding why it is so difficult to learn the german articles will help you to lay the foundation of a deeper understanding of learning the German language. Many problems suffer from the same deficiencies and can be coped with help of very similar techniques. Once understood you will never despair again -at least regarding your German learning. Those who don’t care where their problems derive from or simply want to enjoy the power of memory techniques might skip the next paragraph.

Why the German articles are so difficult to learn

While an article makes a lot of sense to linguists -it gives away the number, the gender and the case of a noun- the average German doesn’t realize its function. But when a native hears a wrong article, he is simply disgusted and will turn away from you. Ok, maybe not that harshly but you will sound wrong, less educated, less intelligent. And that’s exactly what you don’t want.

Articles, allen voran der, das and die are nothing but short, senseless and  abstract syllables. They don’t have a meaning that one could understand nor does their attribution to the noun that they accompany follow any logic nor many patterns. And that is exactly why they are so hard to learn. Our mind is a survival, pattern-recognizing, sense-seeking system and it simply can’t get an easy hold on articles. It needs to work hard to get them into our memory.

Learn the German articles efficiently
die Energiesparlampe / Image via Pixabay

The way that this problem can be solved is by making sense of them, so that we can remember them easily. This is what memory techniques were developed for some two thousand years ago. Search for mnemonics and you will find plenty of info on this topic. Now you understand, why learning the articles is so painful or you have simply skipped the last point. Either way: let’s get going. Here comes how it is done:

Word-Endings -finally some patterns

What I called article-signals above are actually nothing but word-endings. Simply learning these endings by heart through repeating them over and over again would surely work but wouldn’t be much of an advantage unless you used some form of memorization technique that you might not yet be aware of. As an ending is as abstract and senseless as an article. So you would have to make sense of these endings or at least reduce the amount of 23 endings to a significant lower number of information.

To easier remember an ending that gives away the appropriate article they were combined in a way that they build three new fantasy words. By doing this you are reducing the amount of information -23 endings- to three words. These words are still meaningless yet easier to remember.

The three article-signal-words are:

der Ig ling or ismus + er
das Tum chen ma ment um lein + nis
die Heit ung keit ei schaft ion ie tät ik + ur + e

When I learned these words only a few years ago, I separated them into several parts and practiced them part by part. For example: I learned die Heit ung keit… before adding ei schaft ion and finally adding ie tät ik ur e.

One last thing

One not to the + signs. The plus indicates that the following signal is not 100% reliable but still way better than a simple guess. Especially the +e knows a few exceptions like e.g. -s Auge, -r Name, -s Knie. So be aware and deal with the exceptions with the second technique.

That’s it. It’s that simple. Invest a few minutes here and then and after two or three days you should be able to recite the three magic words in a single second each. It’s only then when you will benefit from the full power of this technique. As long as you have to think to recite them, you will not have gained much but rather get frustrated. So either go for it 100% or leave it. Do it or do it not, there is no try. Otherwise get to know the other technique that currently is available in my German Grammar video course which, even when you have passed that level, provides any German learner with fundamentally important techniques.

Remember: with these three ‘words’ you will be able to detect 25% of all German articles instantly – even without understanding the word!

When you combine this technique with the even more powerful Superman-Technique that I might give away some day you will never have any more trouble with remembering the German article. You might also want to know that there are certain categories of objects that require a specific article, like e.g. car brands that are always masculine while motorbike brands are exclusively feminine. Find more of these on the excellent overview page of Cristina Mondaza Peral.

Now an die Arbeit. It’s just three words. It doesn’t matter that they don’t make any sense. You can learn them.