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Definite and indefinite article


( The definite article in English is 'the' ,
the indefinite article is 'a' or 'an' . )

Gender definite ("the") indefinite ("a")
male, singular der ein
female, singular die eine
neutral, singular das ein
     
plural, all genders die (n.a.)

In English, we use both the definite article ("the") and the indefinite article ("a" or "an") a lot. "A" is more general, "the" is more specific. In German, these articles are equally fundamental as in English.
However, in German all nouns have a gender - male, female or neutral. You may know the gender concept from some other European languages. In French, e.g., things are male or female, and accordingly we use "le" or "la". Similar the situation in Italian or Spanish.

The definite article in singular:

In German we have even three genders. Therefore the equivalent for the English    "the"   as in

   "the man", "the woman" or "the child"

comes in three different forms:

    "der"    (male),
    "die"    (female),
    "das"    (neutral).

This is true as long as we talk about nouns in singular. The examples above will be in German:

   "der Mann", "die Frau" and "das Kind".

We can see that 'man' is male, 'woman' is female and 'child' is neutral.

The indefinite article in singular:

The indefinite article (in English "a") is also reflecting the gender.

    "a man", "a woman" and "a child"

translates as:

    "ein Mann", "eine Frau" und "ein Kind".

We use 'ein' for male nouns, 'eine' for female nouns and again 'ein' for neutral ones.

The definite article in plural:

When we use nouns in the plural, as in:

   "the men", "the women" and "the children"

the nouns, in German, still have a gender, but it is not indicated by the article anymore. Instead, in the plural, German always uses "die":

   "die Männer", "die Frauen" and "die Kinder".

The importance of always learning the noun' gender

It is paramount to know the gender of a noun when using it! The difficulty is - unfortunately - that in many cases there is no possibility to deduct a noun's gender from the word itself. You simply have to learn the gender by heart. Whenever you learn a new noun, you must learn its gender as well! If, e.g., you learn that "table" translates as "Tisch", you must NEVER take a note like this:

    table = Tisch

Instead you jot down and learn:

    the table = der Tisch

Can you deduce the gender of a noun from the word itself?

In most cases a noun will not per se allow you to deduce its gender, which is unfortunate for the learner. Therefore we stressed out above that you always have to learn by heart word and gender. However, the good news is that there are at least some rules about gender. For this basic level of learning we point out two of these rules (later on you will learn more).

Rule one:

If the noun refers to a person ( as man, woman, son, daughter, uncle etc.) , the word's gender is the same as the biological gender of this person. Accordingly, 'woman', 'daughter', 'aunt' and 'grandma' are all female in German (die Frau, die Tochter, die Tante, die Großmutter) while 'man', son', uncle' and 'grandfather' are all male (der Mann, der Sohn, der Onkel, der Großvater). This rule is quite reliable, but please note that 'girl' is an exception:

    the girl = das Mädchen (NOT die Mädchen).

Also 'child' is neutral:    the child = das Kind    (be it a boy or a girl).

Rule two:

The vast majority of word ending in -e are female:

    Die Tasse,
    die Jacke,
    die Blume,........

(cup, jacket, flower). There are exceptions to this rule (e.g. der Kaffee, der Tee, der Pate, der Bote), but not many.

Capitalisation rule:

Since the (in)definte articles is used with nouns, please keep in mind that ALL NOUNS in German have CAPITALS.
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