When you start to learn German or already dominate it at a high level, you still might want to work on some finer nuances, and set yourself the challenging goal of mastering the language completely. But don’t worry: even German speakers cannot write or speak their mother tongue correctly all the time. Some of the errors are so common that they have, in a way, become a new form of speaking German.
In a sense that the way spoken is not grammatically correct, but is used so much that even native speakers seem to ignore the fact that the language is not used correctly. We will look at five common errors that native speakers make very frequently, but that are widely accepted in written and spoken communication.
1. Use of the „Genitiv“ case
Some say that the Genitiv case is already dead, or that it will be dead in a few years. German speakers rarely use it correctly when they write or speak. They use a preposition called „von“ instead to work around it. In a sense, they have completely eliminated the necessity to use the Genitiv. Some linguists already make fun of this style and even refer to it as „Vonitiv“ now, for example:
- Correct form: „Wessen Bruder ist er nochmal?“
- Now used: „Von wem ist das nochmal der Bruder?“
- Correct form: „Das ist der Hund meiner Tante.“
- Now used: „Das ist der Hund von meiner Tante.“
- Correct form: „Die Frau meines besten Freundes ist Polizistin.“
- Now used: „Die Frau von meinem besten Freund ist Polizistin.“
The question is, if you should still invest time to even learn the Genitiv form, when even German speakers do not use it correctly anymore.
2. Use the English possessive apostrophe instead of the German grammatical rules
The German language has a lot of grammatical rules, and one of them is the rule for apostrophes. With the predominance of English, for some reason, we see more and more of the English apostrophe being applied in: emails, written communication, and news articles.
Here some correct forms:
- „Angela Merkels Berater wurde gefeuert“
- „Martin Schulz´ Stellvertreter hat die Partei gewechselt”
- “Gregor Friedrich Händels Musik wird wieder gespielt”
However, there is a tendency to use the apostrophe like in the English world:
- „Angela Merkel´s Berater wurde gefeuert“
- „Martin Schulz´s Stellvertreter hat die Partei gewechselt”
- “Gregor Friedrich Händel´s Musik wird wieder gespielt”
Some call this technique “deppenapostroph” (idiot´s apostrophe), since the English rule is applied to everything, without any respect of the German rules.
Instead, the correct German possessive form is "Merkels" or "Händels" with no apostrophe. The adaption of the easier English rule might be connected to the near-elimination of correct spoken and written Genitiv forms.
3. Use of question word
The German language has a large set of question words, but strangely enough they are often de-composed by German speakers. The correct forms are, for example, „worüber“, „womit“, „wovon“, „wodurch“,... and they are commonly replaced by „über was“, „mit was“, „von was“, „durch was“,... It seems that „was“-ing is the new trend. More examples below:
- Correct form: „Worüber möchtest Du mit mir sprechen?“
- Now used: „Über was möchtest Du mit mir sprechen?“
- Correct form: „Und wovon sollen wir jetzt leben?“
- Now used: „Und von was sollen wir jetzt leben?“
- Correct form: „Womit möchtest Du Dich in der nächsten Stunde beschäftigen?“
- Now used: „Mit was möchtest Du Dich in der nächsten Stunde beschäftigen?“
4. Use of correct German words
German is a language which happily adopts English words, especially when it comes to products and processes in the IT-sector. It is interesting that German speakers use these expressions in their original English, but add a German article.
Keep in mind that German has three genders (masculine, feminine and neutral), and for each noun, there is a gender applied to it.
Some might think that it is difficult to find the equivalent German articles for the English articles such as „the“ or „a“. However, German speakers have found a great way of resolving this dilemma.
Take „the notebook“ as an example. German translates „book“ to „buch“. Buch is neutral in German, and therefore it is „das Buch“. Building a bridge, German speakers also say „das Notebook“. This happens with many other expressions as well, but at times, even the German language can be ambiguous of what to do: What about the word laptop? There is no translation of its word components „lap“ or „top“. So is it „das“ or „der“ laptop? Since German speakers are very pragmatic, they use both versions, and even the Duden says that both are correct: das Laptop und der Laptop.
For other areas in life, the German vocabulary has its own German expressions, but the equivalent English ones are very prominent, therefore the English expression is used instead of the German expression. For example:
- „Wir ruhen uns aus.“
- „Wir relaxen.“
- „Ich lade das Programm gerade herunter.“
- „Ich downloade das Programm gerade.“
- „Ich möchte mich einfach nur entspannen.“
- „Ich möchte einfach nur chillen.“
Linguists have given this mix of German and English the name of „Denglisch“ or „Denglish“.
5. Use of „dass, wenn“ sentences
To use two conjunctions after each other in order to introduce a subordinate sentence sounds strange in German, yet, the so-called g„dass, wenn“ form is more commonly used now. For example:
- Correct form: „Ich meinte, dass Du Taschengeld bekommst, wenn Du gute Noten erhältst.“
- Used now: „Ich meinte, dass, wenn Du gute Noten erhältst, Taschengeld bekommst.“
Languages change over time, and I am not sure if the described language trends are positive or negative for the German language. Generally, I think it is good to be aware of it, so that you won’t struggle when you come across the used forms. As well, by being aware of the differences, you will not be looked at like a martian when you use the correct forms.