German 101

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German is an inflected language.

Noun Inflection

German nouns inflect into:

~ one of four declension classes
~ one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Word endings indicate some grammatical genders; others are arbitrary and must be memorised.
~ two numbers: singular and plural
~ four cases: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative case.

Although German is usually cited as an outstanding example of a highly inflected language, it should be noted that the degree of inflection is considerably less than in Old German, or in Icelandic today. The three genders have collapsed in the plural, which now behaves, grammatically, somewhat as a fourth gender. With four cases and three genders plus plural there are 16 distinct possible combinations of case and gender/number, but presently there are only six forms of the definite article used for the 16 possibilities. Inflection for case on the noun itself is required in the singular for strong masculine and neuter nouns in the genitive and sometimes in the dative. This dative ending is considered somewhat old-fashioned in many contexts and often dropped, but it is still used in sayings and in formal speech or written language. Weak masculine nouns share an common case ending for genitive, dative and accusative in the singular. Feminines are not declined in the singular. The plural does have an inflection for the dative. In total, six inflectional endings (not counting plural markers) exist in German: -s, -es, -n, -en, -ns, -e

In the German orthography, unlike any other orthography, nouns and most words with the syntactical function of nouns are capitalised.

Like most Germanic languages, German forms left-branching noun compounds, where the first noun modifies the category given by the second, for example: Hundehütte (eng. doghouse). Unlike English, where newer compounds or combinations of longer nouns are often written in open form with separating spaces, German (like the other German languages) always uses the closed form without spaces, for example: Baumhaus (eng. tree house). Like English, German allows arbitrarily long compounds, but these are rare. (See also English compounds.) The longest official German word is Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz.

Verb Inflection

Standard German verbs inflect into:

~ one of two conjugation classes, weak and strong (like English). There are about 200 irregular verbs.
~ three persons: 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
~ two numbers: singular and plural
~ three moods: Indicative, Subjunctive, Imperative
~ two genera verbi: active and passive; the passive being composed and dividable into static and dynamic.
~ 2 non-composed tenses (Present, Preterite) and 4 composed tenses (Perfect, Plusquamperfect, Future I, Future II)
~ no distinction between aspects (in English, perfect and progressive)

There are also many ways to expand the meaning of a base verb through several prefixes.

The word order is much more flexible than in English. The word order can be changed for subtle changes of a sentence's meaning.

Most German vocabulary is derived from the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, although there are significant minorities of words derived from Latin, French, and most recently English.

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