German for Music Lovers

Grammatical Terms


Okay, you weren't lucky enough to have Sister Mary Catherine drill you and make you diagram countless sentences in seventh grade English. So you didn't learn all your grammatical terminology, and now you can't tell a perfect tense from a passive voice.

If you have problems with grammar explanations because you don't understand the terminology, review these basic explanations.

How to use this chart:

The terms are in alphabetical order in English, so you can scroll down to find the term you need. You can also use the "Find in Page" function on your browser. If you are looking up a German word, use the "Find in Page" option.

There are links to other pages in the site which provide more explanations, examples and exercises for the highlighted terms.

If a definition contains grammatical terms with which you are unfamiliar, just look them up on this chart, too.

case for the direct object, the object of accusative prepositions, to express time without a preposition, to express destination with variable preposition
direct object
Ich höre meinen Vater.
accusative preposition
Hier ist ein Geschenk für meinen Vater.
time expression
Nächste Woche kommt Vater zu Besuch.
Vater und ich fahren aufs Land.
modifies (describes) a noun
There are predicate adjectives and attributive adjectives; this distinction is important in German.
das Adjektiv (-e)
a word which modifies (describes) a verb, adverb, or adjective, usually ending in "-ly" in English.
In German, adverbs have the same form as adjectives.
Come quickly, really quickly.
das Adverb
words like "an" or "the" which signal nouns
a, an, the, der, die, das, ein, kein
der Artikel (-)
attributive adjective
an adjective directly in front of the noun it describes, or in a series directly in front of its noun
in German attributive adjectives require suffixes indicating gender, number and case
We bathed in the warm, blue, clear water.
Wir haben uns im warmen, blauen, klaren Wasser gebadet.
das attributive Adjektiv
auxiliary verb






helping verb, a verb used with another verb to form a tense, a mood or a voice

in English most commonly "to have," "to be," "to do"; in German haben, sein and werden

We have seen them.
Wir haben sie gesehen. (Perfekt)
We had been driving too fast.
Wir waren zu schnell gefahren. (Plusquamperfekt)
That was done quickly.
Das wurde schnell gemacht. (Passiv, Präteritum)
Did he go?
Ist er gegangen?
das Hilfsverbum, -verba

Clicking here will take you to "An Explanation of Case"

describes the function of a noun or pronoun in a clause or phrase
doer, subject, nominative

done-unto, direct object, accusative

done-for, indirect object, dative

linking noun to noun (that of that), possession, genitive

der Kasus
a expression containing a subject and predicate
can be independent (able to stand alone)
or dependent (must be paired with an independent clause to convey meaning)
I'm listening to music.
when I'm listening to music . . .
der Satz, der Nebensatz (-sätze)
the degree or form of an adjective or adverb used to express comparisons
warmer, better, more often
der Komparativ (e)
complex sentence
a sentence containing at least two clauses, one independent or main clause, and one dependent or subordinate clause
I'll call you tomorrow when I wake up.
compound sentence
a sentence containing two or more independent clauses
I'll call you tomorrow and we'll make plans.
subjunctive mood form, used to express wishes, predictions, polite requests
in "if . . . , then . . . " (hypothesis/conclusion) statements, the conditional is preferred in the conclusion
formed in English by the auxiliary verb "would" plus the infinitve form of the verb; in German, made of the subjunctive ("würde") forms of the auxiliary verb "werden" plus the infinitive
I wish you would come.
Ich wünschte, dass du kommen würdest.
If you came, we would go to the new restaurant.
Wenn du kämest, würden wir ins neue Restaurant gehen.
Would you please bring me a cup of coffee?
Würden Sie mir bitte eine Tasse Kaffee bringen?
der Konditional
combines clauses, phrases, words
and, but, because, when, whether
die Konjunktion (en)
conversational past
also called the perfect or present perfect, this is the past tense preferred for use in conversation in German
like the narrative past, this tense can be translated as idiomatically appropriate with the simple past, the past progressive, the "used-to" form, the present perfect, or the past emphatic
the modals, sein and haben use the simple past tense in conversation as well as narration
Ich habe das gemacht.
simple past
I did that.
past progressive
I was doing that.
I used to do that.
present perfect
I have done that.
past emphatic
I did do that.
das Perfekt
coordinating conjunction
a conjunction which joins two or more independent clauses in a compound sentence, such as or, and or but
aber, oder, denn, und, sondern
I'm studying German, but Franz is studying English.
Ich studiere Deutsch, aber Franz studiert Englisch.
Are you looking for a job or going to the university?
Suchst du einen Job oder gehst du an die Uni?
Put on your jacket, because it is cold!
Zieh deine Jacke an, denn es ist kalt!
die koordinierende Konjunktion
case of the indirect object, object of dative preposition, or to express location or time with variable prepositions
indirect object
Gib mir deine Hand.
object of prepositionn
Komm her zu mir.
am Strand
in einer Stunde
definite article
der, die, das, den, dem, den, des
der bestimmte Artikel
dependent clause
depends upon a main (independent) clause to make a complete sentence; unlike an independent clause, cannot stand alone as a sentence
introduced by a subordinating conjunction, interrogative, or relative pronoun which joins it to an independent clause
contains a subject and predicate
When the film starts . .
Wenn der Film beginnt, . . .
. . . because I want to
. . . , weil ich will
. . . who were here yesterday
. . . , die gestern hier waren
If you thought so, . . .
Wenn du so dächtest, . . .
der Nebensatz, -sätze
direct object


receives the action done by the subject and described by the predicate
accusative case in German
Max Schmidt is building the house. Rebekah singt das Lied.
das Objekt
used to talk about occurrences or actions in the future
formed in English by the auxiliary verbs "will" or "shall" (often shortened in contractions to "-'ll") plus the infinitive stem of the verb; formed in German by the present tense of the auxiliary verb "werden" plus the infinitive
I'll call you. Will you be at home tomorrow? We shall see.
Ich werde dich anrufen. Wirst du morgen zu Hause sein? Wir werden sehen.
das Futur
German nouns come in three varieties, masculine (der), feminine (die) and neuter (das), which have almost nothing to do with biological gender.
each gender has a different "der"- and "ein"-word pattern in the singular, but all share the same pattern in the plural
der Tisch (table, masculine), die Tür (door, feminine), das Kind (child, neuter)
die Tische, die Türen, die Kinder (the tables, doors, children, plural)
das Genus
case showing possession, associated with the idea "of"
Wo liegt das Haus deiner Eltern? Hier ist das Haus meines Vaters, und dort ist die Wohnung meiner Mutter.
Where's your parents' house? Here's my father's house and there is my mother's apartment.
a verb which has been transformed into a noun by the suffix "-ing."
German forms gerunds by turning the infinitive into a neuter noun.
The singing and dancing were great. Das Singen und Tanzen waren toll.
das Gerundium, Gerundia
combinations of words which "sound right" together
correct idiom in English: to have fun, to take a walk
auf Deutsch: Spaß machen, spazierengehen
das Idiom, die Redewendung, die Redensart
imperative mood
a verb form used to order, command or request someone to do something
Come here! Please sit down.
der Imperativ
German Term
indefinite article
a, an
ein, eine, einen, einem, einer, eines; kein, etc.
der unbestimmte Artikel
independent clause
a clause containing a subject and predicate which can stand alone
I'm listening to music. Max is playing cards. I'm listening to music and Max is playing cards.
der Satz, Sätze
indirect object


the "beneficiary" of the action of the subject on the predicate
dative case in German
Show me your work. I sent them a check. I'm buying myself some new shoes.
das abhängige Objekt
infinitive phrase
a phrase composed of the infinitive form of the verb with objects and modifiers
to go to sleep now, to study with classmates tomorrow
der Infinitivsatz (-sätze)

the verb form found in dictionaries and vocabulary lists; the basic form
an "infinitive " is the verb not limited by person or number
the verb stem is the infinitive minus "to" in English
the stem is the infinitive minus "-n" or "-en" in German
to go
to see
to hike
to do
der Infinitiv (-e)

die Stammform (-en)

interrogative pronoun
who, whom (wer, wen, wem, wessen)
Who visited you?
Whom did you see?
das Fragepronomen
words used for questions seeking information
who, what, where, when, why
das Fragewort, -wörter
modal verb
verbs used with other verbs to express the "mode" of the action or state described
to be able to, can, können; to have to, must, müssen; to want to, wollen; to be permitted to, may, dürfen; to be supposed to, should, sollen; would like to, möchten
das Modalverbum, Modalverba
a word or set of words, such as adverbs, adjectives, definite or indefinite articles, or prepositional phrases, which modify, qualify or describe another word
The tall tree with the broken limbs was severely damaged in the violent storm.
describes the various ways verbs are used: to request or command (imperative), to talk about objective reality (indicative), to make wishes, conjectures or polite requests (subjunctive), or to express the idea of the verb in general (infinitve)
imperative: "come here"; indicative: "when will you come?"; subjunctive: "he would be happy if you came, too." infinitive: "to come"
der Indikativ, der Imperativ, der Konjunktiv, der Infinitiv
a set of letters less than a word, usually just a syllable or two, which conveys a meaning; often used as a prefix or suffix
unusual, anti-gravity, deconstruct, kindness, childish
das Präfix, die Vorsilbe (-n); das Suffix, die Nachsilbe (-n)
narrative past
also called the preterite or the simple past tense, this is the tense preferred in German for use in narration
examples of narration, telling a series of related events occurring in the past: a story, a magazine or newspaper article, a book
this tense is the one most often seen in print, although it does appear in speech when narrating
like the conversational past, this tense can be translated as idiomatically appropriate with thesimple past, the past progressive, the "used-to" form, the present perfect, or the past emphatic
Ich machte das.
simple past
I did that.
past progressive
I was doing that.
I used to do that.
present perfect
I have done that.
past emphatic
I did do that.
das Imperfekt, das Präteritum
case of the subject
appears in dictionaries and vocabulary lists; also used for predicate nominative
Der Tisch, die Lampe und das Sofa sind alle neu. The table, the lamp and the sofa are all new.
She is a good person. Sie ist ein guter Mensch.
names a person, place, thing, quality or action
Mom, Germany, chair, heat, cooking
das Substantiv(-e)
object of a preposition


the noun which is linked to the preposition in a phrase
to the store, in the jar, on the sofa, during the winter, etc.
das Objekt der Präposition
verb forms used as adjectives, adverbs or to form various tenses and voices. See also "past participle" and "present participle."
crying, laughing, sold, painted,weinend, lachend, verkauft, gemalt
das Partizip
past participle
used to form perfect tenses and passive voice, and as adjectives or adverbs
formed by adding "-ed" to the infinitive stem in English
in German usually formed by adding the prefix "ge-" and the suffix "-t" (for weak verbs) or "-en" (for strong verbs) to the infinitve stem
there are many irregular forms in both German and English
baked, turned, taken, bought, gebacken, gedreht, genommen, gekauft
das Partizip der Vergangenheit
past perfect
a tense used to indicate that an event took place in the past, prior to another event in the past
in English, formed of the auxiliary verb "had" and the past participle
in German, formed with the past tense of the appropriate auxiliary verb, "sein" or "haben" and the past participle
Bevor Mutter uns besuchte, hatte ich das ganze Haus geputzt und war mehrmals auf den Markt gegangen. ** Before Mother visited us, I had cleaned the whole house and had gone to the market several times.
das Plusquamperfekt
past subjunctive
used to talk about wishes, conjectures, or hypothetical situations in the past
If I had had more friends, I would have been happier.
Wenn ich mehr Freunde gehabt hätte, wäre ich glücklicher gewesen.
der Konjunktiv der Vergangenheit
present perfect
a verb form containing two parts: an auxiliary verb and a participle, used to indicate events in the past
In English the auxiliary verb is "to have," in German it is either "haben" or "sein."
.the conversational past in German
Have you seen her?
Hast du sie gesehen?
Have you driven to the city?
Bist du in die Stadt gefahren?
das Perfekt
an adjective in its basic form
warm (not warmer, warmest)
der Positiv
a verb which has been modified as necessary (person, number, tense, mood, and voice) for use in a sentence.
to see: I see Max and Max sees me. We saw each other yesterday, too. We have seen each other every day this week. We can be seen at noon in the park. You would see us if you came.
das Prädikat
predicate adjective
an adjective connected to the noun it describes by the predicate, usually sein, werden, heißen, or scheinen
Das Wasser ist warm.
predicate nominative
a noun identified with another noun by the predicate, usually to be, or sein
predicate nominatives are in the nominative case
Mr. Schimmel is my neighbor. Herr Schimmel ist mein Nachbar.
a morpheme added to the front of a word to alter its meaning
preview, review, undisturbed
small words preceding nouns, indicating the noun's relationship to other nouns, verbs, or adjectives
on, in, under, with, by, from, etc., usw.
die Präposition (-en)
prepositional phrase
a set of words usually composed of a preposition, an object of the preposition and any articles or modifiers used with the object
in the big house, on the chair, to the store, under serious consideration
present tense
the forms of a verb used to talk about the present; there are three forms in English, but just one in German
ich gehe (nicht)

I go
present progressive
I am going
present emphatic
I do (not) go

das Präsens
present participle
the form of the verb used to make the progressive forms in English with the auxiliary verb "to be"
also used as adjectives, adverbs or gerunds
in German, formed by adding the suffix "-d" to the infinitive and used as adjectives or adverbs.
The sweating athletes are drinking lots of water. They were biking and before that they had been running. They will be getting tired soon.
Wir gaben den laufenden Athleten Wasser.
another way of saying simple past tense, the verb form used to indicate events in the past
We studied at the university.
das Präteritum
a word used as a substitute for a noun
she, it, they
das Pronomen, Pronomina
relative clause
a clause introduced by a relative pronoun which refers to a noun in another clause of a complex sentence
Who was the man who was here? The teacher to whom you referred was Ms. Schmidt.
der Nebensatz, -sätze
relative pronoun
a pronoun used in a relative clause, referring to a noun in another clause of a complex sentence
who, whom, which, where, der, denen, dessen, etc.
das Relativpronomen, -pronomina
a set of words which can stand alone, containing at least one subject and one predicate
in an imperative sentence, the subject (you) is usually implied, not stated
You're coming, right? Come!
der Satz, Sätze
simple past tense

also called the preterite, this is the form of the verb used to indicate actions or occurrences in the past
it is simple because it is a one-word form
in English usually the infinitve stem with the suffix "-d" or "ed,"
in German usually the verb stem with endings like the past tense of "haben" (weak verbs) or "sein," (strong verbs)
though there are many irregular verbs in both languages
used in German for narration (except for haben, sein and the modals)
We studied together. I went to bed. You knew her. Who visited them? ***Wir studierten zusammen. Ich ging ins Bett. Du kanntest sie. Wer besuchte sie?

das Imperfekt, das Präteritum

simple sentence
a sentence containing just one clause
I'll call you tomorrow.


the noun or pronoun which is the doer of the action (active voice), or described by the predicate (passive voice)
German subjects are nominative case.
Max Schmidt is building the house. The house is being built by Max Schmidt
das Subjekt
a verb mood used to talk about wishes, conjectures, hypotheses, and polite requests
In "if . . , then . . . " sentences (hypothesis/conclusion), the subjunctive is preferred for the hypothesis, and the conditional for the conclusion.
in both English and German, the forms of the subjunctive are based on the simple past (preterite) forms of the verb
If you came, we would go to the new restaurant.
Wenn du kämest, würden wir ins neue Restaurant gehen.
If I knew, I would tell you.
Wenn ich wüsste, würde ich es dir sagen.
Would you like to go?
Möchtest du hingehen?
Would you be happy?
Wärest du glücklich?
der Konjunktiv

subordinate clause
the same thing as a dependent clause
der Nebensatz
subordinating conjunction
a conjunction which links a dependent clause to a sentence
when, because, if, that, etc.
die unterordnende Konjunktion
something added to the end of a word to alter its meaning
playful, sleepy, Schönheit
das Suffix
degree of an adjective expressing its most extreme form
warmest, best, most often
der Superlativ
rhythmically speaking, a "beat" in word
a one-syllable word has one "beat"
a two-syllable word has two beats
a three- syllable word has three beats
a four-syllable word has four beats
etc. usw.
die Silbe, Silben
the various forms of a verb used to indicate the past, present or future
I go, I went, I've gone, I'll go
das Tempus, Tempa
word for an action, existence or happening
I think, I am, I become
das Verbum, Verba

describes the relation of the subject to the predicate

when the subject is the do-er of the action, the voice is active
when the subject is the receiver of the action (done-unto), the voice is passive


Max Schmidt is building the house.
The house is being built by Max Schmidt.
das Aktiv, das Passiv
weak masculine noun
a noun that takes an ending in all cases except the nominative, usually "-n" or "-en"
I'm intoducing Mr. Schmidt, a good person and my neighbor, to the president.
Ich stelle dem Präsidenten Herrn Schmidt, einen guten Menschen und meinen Nachbarn, vor.
schwaches Maskulinum

©A. Campitelli; Greensboro, NC 1999-2000