Learn German - Lesson 8 - Grammar:

Beim einkaufen

(photo by  Maria Eklind used under terms of Creative Commons license.)
berlin shopping mall


A. Specifiers and Adjectives


I. In the last five units we have presented the forms and patterns of specifiers and adjectives in sequences and standing alone. A few additional items we have encountered should also be noted. Here are examples:


Das ist alles.

That's everything.

Die finden Sie in allen Preislagen.

You'll find them in all price ranges.



Können Sie mir ein paar weisse Hemden zeigen?

Can you show me a few white shirts?



Was für ein Stoff ist das?

What kind of material is that?

In der Preislage finden Sie sicher etwas Passendes.

In that price range you'll certainly find something suitable.


1. All- is a der-type specifier. In the singular it usually occurs with the endings -es or -em and usually stands alone or is followed only by an adjective. In the plural it occurs both alone and as part of the regular specifier-adjective-noun sequence.


Haben Sie alles?

Do you have everything?

Ich bin mit allem zufrieden.

I’ m satisfied with everything.

Alles andere kaufe ich morgen.

I’ll buy everything else tomorrow.

Nicht alle deutschen Wagen sind klein.

Not all German cars are small.

In allen grossen Städten finden Sie einige gute Hotels.

In all large cities you’ll find a few good hotels.


2. The fixed phrases ein paar and was für are NOT specifiers. They are indeclinable modifiers like the numbers. They are invariable; that is, they have no endings or variations in form. Ein paar has indefinite plural reference, and adjectives following it have the forms of the adjective-noun sequence noted in Lesson 7. Was für has both plural and singular reference. In the singular it is usually followed by a form of the specifier ein, in the plural by the adjective-noun sequence. Was für may function both to introduce a question: "What kind of ... ?" or to introduce an exclamation: "What … !"


Hier sind ein paar leichte Sommeranzüge.

Here are a couple of light-weight summer suits.

Ich habe nur ein paar grüne Krawatten.

I only have a couple of green neckties.

Das sind Briefe von ein paar alten Freunden in Deutschland.

Those are letters from a couple of old friends in Germany.

Was für Anzüge sind das,Sommeranzüge ?

What kind of suits are those, summer suits?

Was für schöne und preiswerte Anzüge sind das!

What good and inexpensive suits those are!

Was für ein guter Stoff ist das!

What good material that is!

Mit was für einem Füller schreiben Sie?

What kind of a pen are you writing with?

In was für ein Geschäft gehen wir, in ein Herrenkonfektionsgeschäft?

What kind of a store are we going to, a men's ready-made clothing store?



3. The quantity words etwas and nichts likewise are NOT specifiers, and adjectives following them have the forms of the adjective-noun sequence or of the adjective standing alone.


Ich möchte gern etwas Kaltes trinken.

I’d like something cold to drink.

Haben Sie etwas Ähnliches hier?

Do you have something similar here?

Es gibt nichts Neues.

There's nothing new.

Ich habe nichts Bestimmtes vor.



Note that an adjective standing alone after one of these words has indefinite reference, and its forms are those of an adjective referring to a das-noun. The adjective itself functions as a noun, and it is usually capitalized in the writing system.



II. Some confusion arises in phrases with alle, viele, einige, ein paar and was für. Here is a summary presentation of specifier-adjective-noun sequences and adjective-noun sequences involving these words.


1. Specifier-adjective-noun sequences:


Sind das meine deutschen Bücher?

Are those my German books?

Welche deutschen Bücher sind das?

Which German books are those?

Nicht alle deutschen Bücher sind so teuer.

Not all German books are so expensive.

Was für ein deutsches Buch ist denn das?

What kind of a German book is that?


2. Adjective-noun sequences:


Sind das deutsche Bücher?

Are those German books?

Hier sind ein paar deutsche Bücher.

Here are a couple of German books.

Was für deutsche Bücher sind denn das?

What kind of German books are those?

Viele deutsche Bücher sind für uns wichtig.

Many German books are important for us.

Einige deutsche Bücher sind sehr teuer.

Some German books are very expensive.



Remember: Alle is a specifier. Viele and einige are adjectives. Ein paar and was für are indeclinable modifiers and not part of the specifier-adjective-noun or adjective-noun sequences.


B. Adjectives with Dative


I. We have only one or two examples of an adjective which is followed or preceded by a dative form of the noun or pronoun.


Das ist mir recht.

That's all right with me.

Ist Ihnen das recht?

Is that all right with you?


II. A number of adjectives may be accompanied or COMPLEMENTED in this way by a dative form of a noun or pronoun.


Dieser Anzug ist dem anderen sehr ähnlich.

This suit is very similar to the other one.

Der Mann ist mir bekannt.

The man is known to me.

Das ist mir ganz neu.

That's a new one on me.

Das ist seinem Bruder nicht möglich.

That's not possible for his brother (i.e., his brother can't do that.)

Machen Sie mir die Schreibmaschine nicht kaput!

Don't wreck the typewriter on me!


III. A still greater number of adjectives are COMPLEMENTED by a dative form when they are also accompanied by a modifier such as zu.


Das ist unseren Studenten zu einfach.

That's too simple for our students.

Diese Arbeit ist mir zu viel.

This job is too much for me.

Der Brief ist mir zu wichtig dafür.

The letter is too important to me for that.

Der Mantel ist Ihnen garnicht zu gross.

The coat isn't at all too big for you.

Der Anzug ist mir zu klein.

The suit is too small for me.

Herr Keller ist meiner Schwester zu alt.

Mr. Keller is too old for my sister's taste.

Am Sonnabend Nachmittag dann, oder ist Ihnen das zu unbestimmt?

On Saturday afternoon then, or is that too indefinite for you?


Note that the adjective is complemented in English by a phrase with a preposition, usually "to" or "for". The prepositional phrase may occur in German as a complement to some adjectives also.


Diese Jacke ist zu klein für mich.

This suit-coat is too small for me.

Er ist viel zu alt für meine Schwester.

He's much too old for my sister.

Die Arbeit ist zu viel für meine Frau.

The work is too much for my wife.




I. In Lesson 3 we observed that the FINITE VERB FORM is the SECOND ELEMENT of a German statement. Here are some more examples illustrating this basic German word order pattern taken from the basic sentences of Lessons 4 - 8.


Die finden Sie in allen Preislagen.

You'll find them in all price ranges.

Wein trinke ich nicht gern.

I don't care for wine.

Der neue Schreibtisch passt sehr gut zu Ihren Möbeln.

The new desk matches your furniture very well.

Die Angehörigen meiner Frau leben hier.

My wife's family lives here.

Hier im Vorort ist es wirklich viel schöner und ruhiger als in der stadt.

It's really much nicer and quieter here in the suburbs than in the city.

In den anderen Zimmern steht schon alles an Ort und Stelle.

Everything's in place in the other rooms.

Den grauen habe ich leider nicht mehr in Ihrer Grösse.

I'm sorry; I don't have the grey one in your size any more.

Wie ich sehe, haben Sie eine schöne Bibliothek.

(As) I see you have a fine library.


Note that the FIRST ELEMENT of these sentences may be as short as a pronoun or a noun alone, or as long as a complete specifier-adjective-noun sequence. It may have the nominative, accusative or dative form. It may be a prepositional phrase or a phrase consisting of a noun or specifier-adjective-noun sequence plus another noun or sequence in the genitive form. It may also be a separate clause with its own subject and verb. Notice, too, how often German word order differs from the pattern: Subject-verb-Object, which is basic in English.


II. The words ein, einige, viele usually do not begin a sentence which gives a location, answering the question "where?". The following examples from the basic sentences illustrate this point.


Direkt neben der Post ist ein Schreibwarengeschäft.

There's a stationery store right next to the post office.

Da drüben ist ein Spiegel.

There's a mirror over there.

Hier nebenan ist eins.

There's one next door here.

Hier sind noch einige nette Häuser zu vermieten.

There are still some nice houses for rent here.


Notice that English likewise avoids beginning sentences with the indefinite article or the words "some" and "a few". Try re-phrasing the English sentences on the right above so as to begin with "one" or "some" or "a" and notice how awkward and unnatural these sentences sound.


III. THE FINITE VERB FORM is the SECOND ELEMENT also in statements which are preceded by an introductory phrase containing a verb such as finden, fürchten, glauben, sagen. Note the following examples:


Ich fürchte, das ist telephonisch etwas umständlich.

I'm afraid that's a bit complicated on the telephone.

Ich höre, Sie wollen nach Amerika fahren.

I hear you're planning to go to America.

Ich glaube, Fräulein Bruce hat eine.

I think Miss Bruce has one.

Sagen Sie ihm doch bitte, er möchte mich sobald wie möglich anrufen.

Please tell him I’d like him to call me as soon as possible.

Ich finde, jetzt sieht es schon richtig gemütlich aus.

I think it looks really comfortable here now.


These examples actually represent in each case two separate statements. The first statement is thus not an element of the second; in each one separately the basic word order pattern is observed.



I. English has many compound nouns like newspaper, fireman, outpost, etc.,which the writing system treats as single units. We have others like letter-paper, Minute Man, lookout post, after-effect, etc., which, although they are the same sort of compounds, are written as two units, sometimes completely separate and sometimes connected by a hyphen. In German, compound nouns are of very common occurrence and not infrequently contain four or five or even more elements. They are almost all written as single units and hence often look rather formidable. They may turn out to be more difficult than automobileinsurancesalesman, however.


II. Let us examine some typical German compound nouns which we have encountered in the last few units and see what they are composed of:


1. das Papiergeschäft =

das Papier + das Geschäft

2. die Schreibmaschine =

schreib- + die Maschine

3. der Nachmittag =

nach + der Mittag

4. Neubau =

neu + der Bau


Notice that the FINAL ELEMENT of each of these words is a noun. This is just like English, as the examples in the paragraph above show. Notice also that each of these compounds is a der-noun, a das-noun or a die-noun according to whether its FINAL ELEMENT is a der-noun, a das-noun or a die-noun. PRECEDING ELEMENTS may be: another NOUN (1.), a PREPOSITION (2.), or an ADJECTIVE (4.). Let us examine these types of compound nouns in turn.


1. Compounds made up of NOUN + NOUN


der Sommer,-

+ der Anzug, ̈-e

= der Sommeranzug, ̈-e

das Papier,-e

+ das Geschäft,-e

= das papiergeschäft,-e

die Heimat

+ die Stadt, ̈-e

= die Heimatstadt, ̈-e

die Bahn,-en

+ der Hof, ̈-e

= der Bahnhof, ̈-e

der Sport

+ das Hemd,-en

= das Sporthemd,-en

das Blei

+ der Stift, -e

= der Bleistift,-e



Notice that das-nouns may combine with der-nouns and die-nouns as well as with das-nouns, and der-nouns may combine with die-nouns and das-nouns as well as with der-nouns, etc., BUT IT IS ALWAYS THE FINAL ELEMENT that determines whether the compound as a whole is a der-noun, a das-noun or a die-noun. A compound noun also has the same plural as its final element. What are the component parts of the following compound nouns?


der Autobus

das Briefpapier

die Stuhllehne

der Stadtplan

das Telephonbuch

die Briefmarke



2. Compounds made up of VERB STEM + NOUN


park- (parken)

+ der Platz

= der Parkplatz

schau- (schauen)

+ das Fenster

= das Schaufenster

schreib- (schreiben)

+ die Maschine

= die Schreibmaschine


Here are some more compounds of the same type. What are their component parts?


der Rauchtisch

das Wohnzimmer

die Stehlampe

der Fahrstuhl

das Schlafzimmer

die Schreibwaren (pI)



3. Compounds made up of a PREPOSITION + NOUN



+ der Mittag

= der Nachmittag


+ das Spiel

= das Beispiel


+ die Anmeldung

= die Voranmeldung


Here are a few more compounds of this type. Although some of them are new you will have no difficulty, in recognizing their component parts.


der Vorort

das Hinterhaus

die Unterwäsche

der Umweg

die Nebenstrasse

die Zwischenzeit


4. compounds made up of an ADJECTIVE + NOUN



+ der Bau

= der Neubau


+ das Gespräch

= das Ferngespräch


+ die Stadt

= die Grosstadt

The following are a few more examples of this type of compound:


der Kühlschrank

das Fernamt

die Kleinstadt


III. Many nouns and verbs have special forms or plural forms when they occur as non-final elements in compounds. The following compounds contain such special forms:


Staats- (der staat) + der Angehörige

= der Staatsangehörige

Wirtschafts- (die Wirtschaft) + die Abteilung

= die Wirtschaftsabteilung

Etagen- (die Etage) + das Haus

= das Etagenhaus

Frage- (fragen) + der Bogen

= der Fragebogen

Elektro- (elektrisch) + der Herd

= der Elektroherd


In the following compounds identify both the special combining form of the first element and the form the element has when not combined.


der Bücherschrank

das Zigarrengeschäft

die Geschäftsreise

der Küchentisch

das Besuchsvisum

die Bilderkiste

der Kassenzettel

das Konfektionsgeschäft

die Visa-Abteilung


IV. As mentioned in paragraph I, German compound nouns frequently have more than two elements. The following examples have occurred in our basic sentences up to this point. Can you break them down into their component elements?


das Herrenkonfektionsgeschäft

der Sommerschlussverkauf


V. Compounding is an active process in the language, and you will often hear and see compounds which no dictionary lists. Since the meaning of the whole compound is usually the sum of its parts (cf. Geschäftsbrief, Schreibwarengeschäft), you will usually be able to figure out the meaning of a new compound with little or no difficulty. In a few cases, of course, the English equivalent may not be apparent at all (cf. Fahrstuhl, Vorort), but words of this kind are almost always listed in the dictionary.