Dem German Endings

You may get PTSD, but learning German is a good way to learn the grammar you forgot — or the grammar you never learned. German is as fulsome as it is fulsome in that respect, something like a built-in sentence diagram.

There are 16 ways to say “the” in German. Just as there are 16 ways to say “the” in English?

No. Each of the 16 ways in German tell you the gender, number and case of the following noun. So just IN CASE…

Having taught the language for decades I’ve found some tricks for avoiding German’s paradigms from hell, that’s what they are — and no mistake. Something they don’t tell you about until it’s too late to drop the class, I am hoping that this post serves as warning. It may be too late for me, but not for thee.

I found this “visual aid” at the following site. It’s a genuine P-O-S in my humblest opinion — ein Stück Scheisse.

Take a look at the über busy “visual aid” to the right. It’s a genuine P-O-S in my humblest opinion — ein Stück Scheisse, ohne Zweifel.

Mark Twain learned German (Fraktur even!) and lived to warn his readers: The Awful German Language. Fraktur inventors even thought of making the letter ‘f’ nearly indistinguishable from the letter ‘s’. So that you have to recognize the damned words containing ‘f’ and ‘s’ before you can understand what you are reading? Yes.

Consider the first line that the crow below is about to peck. “This is the Leipzig Fraktur font”:


I didn’t begin learning German until becoming an adult, when I needed it to study in West Germany in 1971. Sheer good fortune found me rooming with the only German student in the building who did not speak English…

Okay, enough of that, enough of that. What’s this lesson plan you wish to share?

Before the Vikings invaded Britain, English was still inflected the Saxon (Sachsen) way. The German “chs” became the simplified “x”. They had a land to plunder, so they took the gordian option — replace all the sixteen shades of inflection for the so-called “strong endings”” from der, die, das, den, dem and des to “the” and replace all the twelve shades of inflection for the so-called weak endings” to “the” as well. Knot cut.


German inflections do not flourish in non-German soil well. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands — all of them pretty much did away with the meaning-by-inflection technique and applied the Viking way. Similarly, the Romance languages discarded the five declensions of Latin.

The only country that retained German (Nordic Branch) was Iceland. It has maintained all four cases and three genders for a millenium. Icelandic speakers can, with a bit of effort, read the Eddas. By the way, the Icelandic word for Iceland is Island — Iceland is land, is it not?


Now then, how do those inflections work in German language? I’m calling the following lesson plan The Case of the “The” by Erle Stanley Gaertner:

  1. Über den Fluss und durch den Wald,
  2. Zu Großvaters Haus gehen wir;
  3. Die Pferde kennen den Weg, den Schlitten zu tragen
  4. trotz des dreckigen und tiefen Schnees.
  5. gegen den Regen und durch den Wald,
  6. zur Grossmutter und zum Grossvater gehen wir!
  1. Over [object of a preposition of relative position, accusative, masculine] river and through [preposition exclusively accusative, masculine, plural] wood,
  2. To Grandfather’s house we go;
  3. [subject, nominative, neuter, plural] horses know the way [direct object, accusative, masculine, plural] to carry [direct object, accusative, masculine, singular] sleigh
  4. Despite [object of a preposition governed by genitive, masculine, singular]white and drifted snow.
  5. Against [object of a preposition of relative position, accusative, masculine, singular] rain and through[object of a preposition governed by accusative, masculine, singular] wood,
  6. to [preposition and object of a preposition governed by dative, feminine, singular] grandmother and to [preposition and object of a preposition governed by dative, masculine, singular] grandfather we go!

Thanks for reading.

Author: Bill Ziegler

I am a former resident of Delhi Township. These are memories of my life and times in that community during the 1950s and 1960s. A time capsule.

16 thoughts on “Dem German Endings”

  1. Your post here makes me glad to not know any German. LOL My oldest son is in his second year and looking forward to continuing through college. He speaks and reads it quite well!

    PS – I had no idea Twain knew German. Fun post whether one knows the language or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It warms my teacher’s heart to read that your son is doing well in German and that he plans to continue. The hard part is learning those inflections that daunt the beginner, however it actually gets easier after that point so I think he will do well. I’ve been told that Spanish may be easy in the beginning but that it gets more difficult further on. I taught Summer sessions at the University of Cincinnati — an entire year in nine weeks! Monday through Friday, 3 or 4 hours a day. If he has any questions I would be happy to help. Lisa and I met on an ancient local computer bulletin board gathering place in 1993. I led the German forum. She was my sounding board when I was finishing my Masters 🙂


      1. Aw, that is fantastic! Thanks for the offer. As for meeting our better halves, I am rarely surprised at some of the odd circumstances that bring us otherwise unlikely couples into lifetime friendships.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Rosaliene, it’s always good to hear from you and to follow your perspectives. Thanks for your patience in reading mine! Any language is more difficult for adults, and though I’m in my post-adult years I still try 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, Bill! I loved your post. I am a German native speaker and have been learning Icelandic for 2 years. Now I know what foreigners go through learning German! I volunteer teaching refugees German…they are so brave! I love the English language and write a blog about the fairy tale dimension. I write another blog in German and sometimes I translate articles back and forth. I find that some things you can express better in one language than in the other. Inge

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hallo Inge! Very good to make your acquaintance, I am so pleased that you enjoyed my post. You inspire to continue writing about the German language techniques I have assembled over the decades 🙂
    You have some fascinating topics on your blogs, I also like to go back and forth with languages because they really are unique expressions, translation always diminishes one way or another. They are kind of like two-dimensional maps — each is a partial representation of the three-dimensional globe, missing a dimension in the process. I find that Middle English and Middle German are remarkably similar, does that happen between Old German and Icelandic?
    Thank you so much for your volunteer with refugees, it’s very important work and you have my gratitude. They have been through the indescribable and unforgivable. I should do more.
    It is such joy to read fairy tales and to recognize the depth of their dimensions in different languages. I enjoy reading Michael Ende in the original German — Momo is my personal favorite, the story genuinely impacted my thinking. I would often use Märchen and literature from various eras in classes. 🙂
    sanften Dank!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Terry! I always enjoy translating your bon mots into German (das Deutsche Wort for bon mot is Bonmot). Thanks for being a great touchstone for truth and beauty, and for your ever kind words 🙂


  6. My thanks for this link, Bill. I have duly attached the link to the missus on email. I know for certain she will be engrossed for hours and thus ‘off my case’…a double bonus, all told!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A double bonus for me as well — a chance to share heuristics I’ve designed over the decades to counter the paradigms from hell (dem German endings) that GSL students (such as myself) had to memorize.
      Lisa and I are now back from the University of Kentucky, we visited their dental school 🙂
      The portable keyboard I brought along lacked its spring-loaded battery cover. But now, I can catch up on the Latin-German German/Latin pedantic dronings on 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You can trace a good fraction of this planet’s languages to a long-dead tongue: Proto Indo-European (PIE). Its geography, now occupied by Ukrainians and Crimea-occupying Russians. A wiser migrating horde (Italic) started in that very geography and headed for Mediterranean climes to become Greco-Roman speakers, another horde (Germanic) headed for the cold and cloudy Northern European Plain where they could breed, brood and trump, I guess.
    I shall now compare those two migration paths to the Bering-Strait crossers — some went straight ahead and became Inuits, and some took a right turn and ended up in Southern California (a Mediterranean climatic type) — until the Europeans (the ones who changed their name from Colonials to Americans) touted a deity-blessed destiny. The freshly named Americans headed westward and decimated (pacified) everyone and everything in their path to Pacific Living. Those Bering-Strait migrants who took up shop on the peaceful coast then joined millions of other victims of genocide by dint of brutal massacre made easy with an overwhelmingly disproportionate ordinance. Unfortunately, the indigenous sometimes lived in paradise. It’s not uncommon for one group of human society to displace another group.
    Roman fences (big, long and beautiful) were only as strong as the weakest Roman soldier. Germanic (called Barbarians because it seemed they needed to see a barber) temp laborers were admitted at tightly controlled checkpoints (gates). It took a lot of soldiers to prevent “illegals” from entering without proper identification. The Romans didn’t learn the barbarians’ language and vice versa. Rome’s collapse occurred slowly from within, a kind of implosion. Those on the other side of the fence merely had to bide time. In brief, Rome was not razed in a day. Christianization kept Latin alive into the Middle Ages. I was an altar boy when a youngster and had to memorize the entire Catholic Mass in Latin, I also had to take two years of Latin in high school. Latin and Greek originated in PIE to become a base for Western Civilization. Studying both Latin and German allows a student to recognize common roots in PIE. Prepositions governed by particular grammatical cases survive to the present day. For example, “in” ‘in’dicates movement from one location to another by employing the accusative case in both Latin and German. That same preposition “in” indicates a stationary location by choosing the dative case “in” in German and the ablative case “in” in Latin. A way of describing relative location used by anonymous speakers of PIE 🙂
    Serendipity is delightful stuff, is it not?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Wotcha mate, Mike Steeden’s better half here. It seems the German language is so similar to Latin. The prep school Latin stuff I dabbled in many moons ago sensibly had any punctuation at the beginning of a sentence – shame the English wait until the end. Does the German language do anything as logical? I shall also send you two kisses ‘cos you seem a nice old bird. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  9. QUID NOVI, SURELY? And thank you for the Xx, Shirley. Lisa refers to me as the nice old moose Mandrake Mumbletunes. I tell Lisa that she is the nice young owl, Gretel. She is the Italic, I am the Germanic. Lisa is also the better of the halves. 🙂
    Inflected languages take millennia to develop their arcane encrusted character, it takes but a short time to remove those ancient inflectional oddities. I don’t know of any language that has ever decided to adopt inflections. German is as logical as a flowchart. In fact, I have actually constructed such charts, saved in an electronic file somewhere.
    And please extend my wise regards to The Old Fool 🙂
    An intriguing tale of similarities between Latin and German roots:

    …there’s a huge gap of time and space standing between Pre-Italic and Pre-Germanic languages.

    “A probable cladistic tree of the IE family”(a) shows e.g. that the Italo-Celtic subfamily and the “Central IE” subfamily (including Germanic) diverges long before Germanic and Indo-Iranian diverged.

    “The last common ancestor of Germanic and Italo-Celtic was probably spoken at least 5,000 years ago”.(c) “We can […] say […] that PGmc was spoken […] not earlier than about 500 BC”(d)

    By contrast, “There are […] four or five Latin inscriptions datable to before 600 BC” and “A number of [languages other than the Latin one] are known from Italy in the first millenium BC”.(b)

    The differences are consequently innumerable; I will take only one consequence of such a huge gap between Germanic and Latin languages, described in (e). When these last two languages enter in contact, each one borrowed some words from the other one and applied to these words its own linguistical rules. E.g. Latin “Caesar” > Proto-Gmc *kaisaraz.

    Liked by 1 person

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