10 grammar mistakes Germans keep making in their own language

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 11 Oct, 2017 Updated Wed 11 Oct 2017 16:08 CEST
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Take revenge for all the times your German friends laughed at you for mixing up “der, die, das”.

Germany was long known as the land of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers), including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Hannah Arendt - people who had a remarkable command of their own language.

But modern-day Germans are not quite on the same level - in fact they often make very basic errors.

Here are 10 grammar and spelling mistakes Germans make all the time.

1. Einzigste – only-est

Germans might tell you that they were “der/die einzigste” (the only one), who was able to chug three beers in 20 minutes at Oktoberfest.

But, just like there’s no superlative for "only" in English, there is none for the German equivalent einzige.

While you may have good intentions in pointing this out to your friends, they will probably not take it lightly.

Many Germans still suffer trauma from their teachers continually reprimanding them in class for saying einzigste.

2. Meist beliebteste – most popular-est

The most beloved-est goalkeeper of the German football team. Photo: DPA

In general, superlatives are stumbling stones for native German-speakers.

If German kids get really agitated about, say, football, and shout: "Manuel Neuer is der am meisten beliebteste Fußballer!” (Manuel Neuer is the most popular-est football player), you have every reason to set them straight.

There is nothing more superlative than beliebteste - even if it is Manuel Neuer we are talking about. 

3. Wegen dem… - because of the

“Ich war wegen dem Essen bei meinen Eltern zu müde für’s Berghain,” (I was too tired for Berghain because I'd had dinner with my parents) your party-buddy might text you the morning after ditching you for a night of clubbing. Wrong.

First of all: one doesn’t simply choose one’s parents over Germany’s most famous techno club.

And secondly, it’s wegen des Essens, thank you very much. There are some exceptions, but generally wegen is followed by a genitive object - a guideline that many Germans ditch when they speak.

4. Besser wie… – better than

Aldi. Photo: DPA

Your neighbour is nice enough to explain to you that “Aldi ist viel billiger wie Kaisers” (Aldi is much cheaper than Kaisers), so why are you cringing?

Well, you’re right to - as you very well know, one uses "als" to compare unequal things such as differences in pricing at supermarkets.

You should use wie for comparing equal things, like if you were to say “Kaiser's ist genauso billig wie Aldi” (which it’s not).

5. Hatte gemacht gehabt… – had said

You’ve been trying to wrap your head around all these hatte/habe/etc. (has/had) of the Präteritum, Perfekt, and Plusquamperfekt.

But all of a sudden your German friend says “ich hatte gestern schon meinen Abwasch gemacht gehabt” and you wonder what this gehabt is doing at the end.

While some recognize gehabt as part of a tense called "Double Perfect", often it is simply unnecessary - like in this instance, where "ich hatte meinen Abwasch gemacht" would mean the same thing.

6. Die Mutter ihre Schuhe – the mother her shoes

Talking about your mum’s shoes in German is easy.

But because Germans are fans of convoluted phrases, they’ll make it complicated, and then fail.

A pal might say “meine Mutter ihre Schuhe sind schön” (my mother’s shoes are beautiful) - and be quite wrong, at least about the sentence structure.

While some German dialects commonly use this form of the possessive, a German teacher would put a thick red line through it. Just say “die Schuhe meiner Mutter” and you’re good.

7. Daß – that, as a conjunction

"Daß" used to be what is today spelled as "dass" – a conjunction introducing an independent clause.

But the daß-spelling became incorrect after the Rechtschreibreform, a significant change in German spelling and grammar which took effect in 1998 but was still subject to reform for years to come.

If one of your older German friends uses daß in an email, it’s probably best to ignore it - unless you want your inbox to fill up with bitter mutterings about German grammar rules.

8. Dasselbe und das Gleiche – (not) the same thing

The same car? Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Norsk Elbilforening

If you haven’t mastered the distinction between “das selbe…” und “das gleiche…”, don't worry too much - many Germans haven’t either.

Here’s the difference: if you and your friend are both driving BMWs, you’re driving “das gleiche Auto”, meaning the same type of car, not actually the same vehicle.

But if one is sitting on the other's lap in the driver’s seat and you're both grabbing the steering wheel, you’re driving “das selbe Auto”.

9. … weil, ich muss noch… - because I have to…

“Ich hab’ mir einen Döner geholt, weil ich hatte noch Hunger,” (I got myself a Döner, because I was still hungry), your friend might say while spitting little pieces of meat onto his shirt.

But he should be saying “…, weil ich noch Hunger hatte” because the conjugated verb always comes at the end of an independent clause.

And, of course, he shouldn't be talking with his mouth full.

10. Geb! Ess! Werf! – give, eat, throw

Got to have your grammar right. Photo: Pixabay

Perhaps because they have somewhat fallen out of love with their military in recent times, many Germans have forgotten how to give commands properly - or at least ones that are grammatically correct.

You may find a modern-day military official shouting “Ess!” at a soldier and the subordinate just rolling his eyes at the grammatical faux pas.

The correct form would be “Iss!” – because when you’re telling a single person, the first “e” of some verbs, including geben (give), essen (eat), and werfen (throw) turns into an “i”.

For all The Local's guides to learning German CLICK HERE



The Local 2017/10/11 16:08

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