The fact is, language is a tool that has to be used whilst it is still being developed. Hence, language learning starts with simple structures. Structures that are more complex are added later during the process. The learner looks for similarities and patterns to recognize, while constantly being confronted with exceptions.


In general, this learning process is executed in the same way, regardless of if the person is a native speaker or a second language learner. However, one difference that does exist is that those who learn German as a foreign language start learning the language later in life, and thus have much less time to acquire it than native speakers. Furthermore, they have already learnt a different language with a different grammatical rule system. This transfer of structures can be both positive (similarities between two languages) as well as negative (false friends, word order, etc).


Therefore, it is important for learners of a foreign language to focus on speaking the language while still working on developing an understanding of the new language system. Here, I present three useful methods that the typical learner can use to tackle German grammar. This should help you to learn grammar more effectively and, thus, give you more time to actually speak the language and apply the rules.


Learn the general rules and make note of exceptions


Before you start learning, I recommend that you have your language level assessed. This will give you an idea of where you are and provide you with a useful reference point.


There are basic rules and helpful patterns for almost every aspect of German grammar. Here are a few general rules:




  • Neuter: das/ein for nouns ending with -ma, -ment, -um, -lein, -nis, -tum -chen and das Kind.
  • Masculine: der/ein for all months, weekdays, car brands, trains and nouns ending with: -er, -ling, -or, -ismus, -ig.

  • Natural gender (masculine: der, feminine: die): die Mutter, der Vater.
  • Feminine: die/eine for female professions and nouns ending with: -heit, -ur, -keit, -ei, -tät, -schaft, -ie, -ung, -e, -ik, -ion.
  • The plural article is always die, never ein! die Mütter, die Väter, die Kinder.




Always learn articles and nouns together, as this will be a fundamental grammar point for more advanced structures. The second part of the noun defines the gender of compound nouns (das Gartenhaus, das Haus, das Baumhaus, das Haus).


  • Nominative: does not change at all.
  • Dative: the masculine and neuter articles der/das both become dem.
  • Accusative: only the masculine article der changes to den.




Local prepositions are in the dative, accusative or both. The case depends on place (dative) or movement/change (accusative):


  • Ich bin in der Bank. (place)
  • Ich gehe in die Bank. (movement)


  • Ich sitze auf der Bank. (place)
  • Ich lege die Zeitung auf die Bank. (movement)




Learn the tenses for regular verbs in the following order (as soon as you know the perfect):


  • Infinitive / Past / Participle II
  • kauf-en / kauf-te / ge-kauf-t




Adverbs cannot be declined, are (generally) not comparable and are usually placed next to the verb (adverb from the Latin ad verbum).




Adjectives are comparable and can be placed in two different positions:


  • Before a noun: requires declension with a definite, indefinite or zero article (learn nominative, dative and accusative first; genitive is the exception!)
  • After a verb: no declension required. Das Leben ist schön.




For main clause: aber, denn, doch, oder, sondern, und with word order being conjunction + subject + finite verb.


  • Ich fliege heute nicht, denn ich habe meinen Flieger verpasst.


Everything else is either: subjunctive + subject + finite verb OR adverbial conjunction + finite verb + subject.


  • Ich fliege heute nicht, weil ich meinen Flieger verpasst habe.
  • Ich fliege heute nicht, deshalb fliege ich morgen.






  • Always used before prepositions.
  • Used with separable verbs between the two parts (after the full verb).
  • Used before adjectives and adverbs.




  • Used only before a noun that is treated like the indefinite article / Plural kein-e for each gender (keine Männer, keine Kinder, keine Frauen).




Verbs go in the second position in a main clause and in sentences with adverbial conjunction; they are put in the last position with a subordinate clause.


Word order for Satzklammer { … } for main clauses:


  • Separable verbs: abfliegen - Ich fliege morgen ab.
  • Tenses: fliegen - Ich bin gestern geflogen.
  • Modal verbs: möchten - Ich möchte morgen fliegen.


Word order sentences with adverbial conjunction (examples with deshalb):


  • Separable verbs: abfliegen … deshalb fliege ich morgen ab.
  • Tenses: fliegen ... deshalb bin ich gestern geflogen.
  • Modal verbs: fliegen ... deshalb möchte ich morgen fliegen.


Word order for subordinate clauses (examples with weil):


  • Separable verbs: abfliegen … weil ich morgen abfliege.
  • Tenses: fliegen ... weil ich gestern geflogen bin.
  • Modal verbs: fliegen ... weil ich morgen fliegen möchte.


The basic order for facultative sentence components is te ka mo lo:


  • te stands for time aspect: temporal.
  • ka stands for reason: causal.
  • mo stands for the way something is done: modal.
  • lo stands for a place: local.


No matter how many objects there are, lo (local) is always placed at the end.


  • Ich lerne (te) am Montag (ka) für meinen Test (mo) sehr viel (lo) zu Hause.
  • Ich lerne (te) am Montag (ka) für meinen Test (lo) zu Hause.
  • Ich lerne (ka) für meinen Test (mo) sehr viel (lo) zu Hause.
  • Ich lerne (te) am Montag (lo) zu Hause.


Knowing the basics will help you to learn the exceptions. Learn them as you progress. I recommend starting the process right from the beginning: learn and apply the general rules and add exceptions as you go. Naturally, it will take more time to learn the exceptions, but with the basic rules, you will already be able to converse and write in German.


Make grammar visible: discover patterns


Get a nice old-fashioned A4 book and start making the rules visible by rewriting them with your own logic. In other words, make them your own. You should also search for examples for each rule. In my experience, and according to many of my students, this system works very well.


You should also find out what rules your native language(s) and German have in common. The grammatical mistakes that you make will strongly depend on your native language(s). Find the similarities and differences. Below, you will find a short comparison between English, German and Tagalog. This is just one of many possible ways to compare languages.





The email is long.

Die E-Mail ist lang.

Mahaba’ ang email.




No difference: you 2nd Person Plural

No difference: they 3rd Person Plural

Formal: Ihr 2nd Person Plural

Formal: Sie 3rd Person Plural

Formal: kayo 2nd Person Plural

Formal: sila 3rd Person Plural

vacation home




If a grammatical concept does not exist in your language, it is important to learn more about it. The four German cases (explained in another article) are a good example. You should learn what they mean, the function that they have and when and how to use them. If you do not have cases in your language, you will have to learn a new way of thinking.


Practise and apply your knowledge


Now that you know the rules by heart(ish), practice! Start with exercises such as gap fills and multiple-choice tasks. Work your way to more open exercises like speaking, discussion and/or writing essays. You can of course use apps like memrise for repetitive exercises and review. However, for speaking, writing and conversation practice, you will need a professional tutor. If possible, a language partner is also quite helpful.


A very useful method (especially for perfectionists, introverts and shy learners) is to write texts. Topics should be of interest to you and, of course, they should match your language level. Do not be too hard on yourself; it’s okay to leave room for mistakes. Again, a professional review and clear explanations are necessary to minimize grammatical mistakes. A good way to collaborate and work on your mistakes is by using Google Docs. Both tutor and student can share a document in order to review and comment.


Another option is to record yourself and analyse the result with your tutor and/or a German native speaker. A very easy tool to produce simple audio files is vocaroo. You can record your speaking, save, and then send the link to your tutor. No large audio files or extensive back and forth are required.


We all have the need and the ability to speak a language, which is usually our native one. However, we are not conscious of our learning to speak the latter.


Therefore, when you start tackling a new language, you become aware that you need to do something. You may have insight into what you need to do, but no confidence or practical knowledge about how to achieve it. At this stage of the learning process, it is common for the learner to feel overwhelmed with the prospect of how much there is to learn. A good comparison is the first time you get into a car as the driver: you are afraid of ending up wrapped around a tree and are overwhelmed by all the things you need to do in order to get the car safely from point A to point B. However, as soon as you learn the basics of driving, you can start driving in a straight line.


You have now discovered what you need to do and know that it is going to take an investment of time in order to practice the basic grammatical skills that you have acquired. Sometimes this stage can be quite unpleasant due to the fact that you are doing things differently and are outside of your comfort zone. Even though it may make you feel uncomfortable, it can be fun to stretch yourself, grow and develop, because in doing so, your world changes and new horizons open.


At some point, you will not think about all these little steps anymore. Slowly, you will get to a point where it just feels like brushing your teeth. This stage is when you have reached mastery of the new language.


Learning a language is very much an ongoing process and a journey. You just have to keep improving, growing, and developing until your German becomes more and more natural. Until then, enjoy the ride!


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