Foreign Service Institute German Basic Course

Unit 2: Part 2


Notes on Grammar

A. Pronouns - Forms and Functions

I. Forms

1. In the following English sentences the pronouns are in bold. Note their forms.

I know him and he knows me. Do you know her? She knows you.

Most English pronouns have two different forms: I-me, he-him, she-her, etc. Some, like the pronouns you and it, have only one form however.

2. Note the forms of the German pronouns in the following sentences.

Verstehen Sie mich? Do you understand me?
Ja, ich verstehe Sie gut. Yes, I understand you well.
Wie geht es Ihnen? How goes it with regard to you? (How are you?)
Er spricht englisch mit mir. He speaks English with me.

Some German pronouns have two different forms, like Sie and Ihnen above. Many German pronouns however have three different forms like ich, mich, and mir above.

3. The following table gives the forms of the most common German pronouns:

  I we he it she they you who? what?
Nominative ich wir er es sie sie Sie wer was
Accusative mich uns ihn es sie sie Sie wen was
Dative mir uns ihm ihm ihr ihnen Ihnen wem ---
  me us him it her them you whom? what?

The English forms at the top of the table correspond to the set of German forms for the Nominative. Those at the bottom of the table correspond to the German forms for the Accusative and Dative. The pronouns wer and was are used only in questions. The pronouns for familiar address, du and ihr, will be taken up later.

II. Functions

1. The NOMINATIVE form: In German, as in English, the basic sentence structure is an ACTOR-ACTION pattern: somebody doing something. The ACTOR is called the SUBJECT of the sentence, and in German a pronoun designating the ACTOR always has the NOMINATIVE form.

Ich verstehe sehr gut. I understand very well.
Er wohnt ganz in meiner Nähe. He lives quite near me.
Wir wollen gerade essen gehen. We're just planning to go and eat.

2. The ACCUSATIVE form: In many sentences in both English and German there is another element, the GOAL or OBJECT of the action, the person or thing toward which the action is aimed. In German a pronoun designating the OBJECT of an action is usually in the ACCUSATIVE form.

Ich kenne ihn sehr gut. I know him very well.
Verstehen Sie mich? Do you understand me?
Wir treffen sie dort. We're meeting them (or her) there.

3. The DATIVE form: The third form of the German pronoun is used to designate the INTERESTED BYSTANDER, the person to whom or for whom or with regard to whom the action of the sentence is being performed. In some cases this is referred to as the INDIRECT OBJECT.

Können Sie mir seine Adresse geben? Can you give me his address?
Sie müssen ihm Ihren Pass zeigen. You have to show your passport to him.
Wie geht es Ihnen? How are you? (How goes it with-regard-to-you?)
Gefällt es Ihnen in München? Do you like it in Munich? (Is it pleasing to you in Munich?)
Der Koffer gehört mir nicht. The suitcase doesn't belong to me.

4. Another use of the DATIVE form is illustrated by the following sentences you have learned:

Sprechen Sie englisch mit ihr? Do you speak English with her?
Ich fahre oft mit ihm nach Hause. I often ride home with him.

The DATIVE forms ihr and ihm are used here because they follow the word mit, and that's all there is to it. Any pronoun that follows mit has the DATIVE form, always and without fall. This has nothing to do with the INTERESTED BYSTANDER usage; it's something entirely different.

B. The Principle of Substitution

1. Languages, like automoblles, are made up of replaceable parts; but the part you substitute must fit the frame into which it is put. For example, in the frame Er kennt mich 'He knows me', the Accusative form mich may be replaced only by other Accusative forms -- that is, forms from the same horizontal line in the table of pronoun forms as mich, the line labeled 'ACCUSATIVE forms.'

Er kennt mich.
uns
ihn
es
sie
sie
Sie
wen?
He knows me.
us
him
it
her
them
you
who (m)?

2. Similarly, Dative forms must be replaced by other Dative forms, and Nominative forms by other Nominative forms.

Ich gehe oft ins Kino
mit ihr
ihm
ihnen

Kennen Sie Herrn Becker?
wir
sie

I often go to the movies
with her.
him
them

Do you know Mr. Becker ?
we
they

C. Verb Forms & Functions: The Present

I. Forms.

1. In German, and in English, when you substitute one Nominative form for another, that is, change the SUBJECT in a sentence, you sometimes have to change the form of the verb as well. The subject and the verb have to fit together. Note the following English forms:

I, you, we, they sing do (no ending)
he, she, it sings does (ending -s)

2. All but a very few German verbs have the following forms:

ich komme gebe (-e ending)
er, es, sie kommt gibt (-t ending)
wir, sie (they), Sie kommen geben (-en ending)

Note that German verbs have a special form with the pronoun ich. Otherwise the pronouns and verbs are grouped as they are in English; er, es, sie occur with one verb form just as 'he, it and she' and wir, sie, Sie with another verb form just as 'we, they, you.' Notice that the vowel in the STEM of geben appears as i in the er-form: er gibt. This is something like the English says or does [sez, duz versus say or do], except that in German the vowel-change is shown even more clearly in the writing system. There are several verbs in German that have this kind of irregular er-form, but unfortunately there is no simple way of determining which verbs they are. They are not very numerous however, and we'll point them out to you as we encounter them.

3. Two German verbs you have encountered show a very slight modification in the er-form. They are arbeiten and kosten.

er, es, sie arbeitet (connecting vowel -e- and ending -t)

After a -t- (or a -d) a connecting vowel -e- occurs before the ending -t so that the ending is heard distinctly.

4. We have four verbs so far that exhibit the following pattern:

ich
er
es
sie
kann darf muss will (no ending)
wir
sie
Sie
können dürfen müssen wollen (ending -en)

There are three more verbs with the same pattern, making a total of seven in all. Notice that the English equivalents of the verbs listed above have no-s ending in the he form: He can, he may, he must, and he will (in the sense of he insists.)

5. The following forms of haben "to have", sein "to be" and möchte(n) "would like to" complete the inventory:

ich
er, es, sie
wir, sie, Sie
habe
hat
haben
bin
ist
sind
möchte
möchte
möchten

The patterns of the first two of these verbs are unique and are found in no other German verbs. The forms möchte and möchten are special forms which we will deal with somewhat later.

6. Here is a table of verb forms:

  A B (7) (1) (1) special forms
ich komme treffe kann habe bin möchte
er, sie, es kommt trifft hat ist
wir, sie, Sie kommen treffen können haben sind möchten

All verbs in German follow pattern A or pattern B except the nine indicated in the table and one more that is still to come.

II. Functions.

1. English uses a verb form with the ending -ing very freely: he's singing. we're waiting, it's raining. German has no corresponding form and uses the simple form of the verb for such expresssions.

he gives
he's giving
he does give
er gibt is he giving?
does he give?
gibt er?


2. For COMMANDS, German uses the verb form with the ending -en, followed by the pronoun Sie. The German form is like Biblical English: 'Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel...‘

Bitte sprechen Sie langsam. Please speak slowly.
Zeigen Sie mir bitte Ihr Gepäck. Show me your luggage please.

3. Two verb forms can be used together in German or in English as a VERB PHRASE. Although German doesn't have verb phrases like is going or does believe, it has others, as follows:

Ich möchte gern wasser haben. I'd like to have water.
Können Sie mich gut verstehen? Can you understand me well?
Darf ich Ihren Pass sehen? May I see your passport?
Sie müssen zum Zoll gehen. You have to go to the customs office.

The second part of the German verb phrase comes at the end of the sentence, and is called the INFINITIVE. It is the form with the ending -en but it never has a subject and is unaffected by any change of subject: Ich kann gehen. Wir können gehen. There is only one irregular infinitive in German: sein 'to be'; the infinitive of every other verb is the same as the wir-form.

III. List of verbs in units 1 and 2:

1. Pattern A

arbeite
arbeitet
arbeiten

gehöre
gehört
gehören

besuche
besucht
besuchen

glaube
glaubt
glauben

bleibe
bleibt
bleiben

heiße
heißt
heißen

gehe
geht
gehen

kenne
kennt
kennen


komme
kommt
kommen
(koste)
kostet
kosten
sage
sagt
sagen
verstehe
versteht
verstehen
wohne
wohnt
wohnen
zeige
zeigt
zeigen

Pattern B:

esse
isst
essen
gebe
gibt
geben
sehe
sieht
sehen
spreche
spricht
sprechen
treffe
trifft
treffen
fahre
fährt
fahren
gefalle
gefällt
gefallen

D. Hin and her

Wo wohnen Sie? Where do you live?
Wo kommen Sie her? Where do you come from?
Wo gehen Sie hin? Where are you going (to)?

1. Wo by itself means 'where?' in the sense of 'in what place?'. To give it the meaning 'where from?' the little word her is added; to give it the meaning 'where to?' the little word hin is added.

2. The position of hin and her is usually at the end of the sentence or question. They may occur alternately however at the beginning after wo. The writing system joins hin and her to the preceding question word or adverb. Woher? 'Where from?'; Wohin? 'Where to?'; dahin, dorthin 'to there'

Wo fahren Sie heute hin? Where are you going today?
Wohin fahren Sie heute? Where are you going today?
Wir fahren dorthin. We are going (to) there.


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