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Glossary of grammatical terms


A shortened form of a word or phrase: etc. = usw.

Absolute use

The use of a transitive verb without an expressed object, as in: I didn’t realize


The case of a direct object; some German prepositions take the accusative


In the active form the subject of the verb performs the action: he asked = er fragte


A word describing a noun: a red pencil = ein roter Stift


A word that describes or changes the meaning of a verb, an adjective, or another adverb: she sings beautifully = sie singt schön


The definite article, the = der/die/das, and indefinite article, a/an = ein/eine/ein, used in front of a noun


An adjective or noun is attributive when it is used directly before a noun: the black dog = der schwarze Hund; farewell speech = Abschiedsrede

Auxiliary verb

One of the verbs – as German haben, sein, werden – used to form the perfect or future tenses and passive forms: I will help = ich werde helfen

Cardinal number

A whole number representing a quantity: one/two/three = eins/zwei/drei


The form of a noun, pronoun, adjective, or article that shows the part it plays in a sentence; there are four cases in German – nominative, accusative, genitive, and dative


A self-contained section of a sentence that contains a subject and a verb

Collective noun

A noun that is singular in form but refers to a group of individual persons or things, e.g. royalty, grain


A word that regularly occurs with another; in German, Buch is a typical collocate of the verb lesen


The form of an adjective or adverb that makes it “more”: smaller = kleiner, more clearly = klarer

Compound adjective

An adjective formed from two or more separate words: selbstbewusst (selbst + bewusst) = self-confident

Compound noun

A noun formed from two or more separate words: der Flughafen (Flug + Hafen) = airport

Compound verb

A verb formed by adding a prefix to a simple verb; in German, some compound verbs are separable (an|fangen), and some are inseparable (verlassen)

Conditional tense

A tense of a verb that expresses what might happen if something else occurred: he would go = er würde gehen


Variation of the form of a verb to show tense, person, mood, etc.


A word used to join clauses together: and = und, because = weil


A verb, such as be or become, which links a subject and predicate


The case of an indirect object; many German prepositions take the dative


The form of a noun, pronoun, or adjective that corresponds to a particular case, number, or gender; some German nouns decline like adjectives, e.g. Abgeordnete, Kranke

Definite article:

the = der/die/das

Demonstrative pronoun

A pronoun indicating the person or thing referred to: this is my bicycle = das ist mein Fahrrad

Direct object

The noun or pronoun directly affected by the verb: he caught the ball = er fing den Ball

Direct speech

A speaker’s actual words or the use of these in writing


Having a word or words omitted, especially where the sense can be guessed from the context


Letters added to the stem of verbs, as well as to nouns and adjectives, according to tense, case, etc.


One of the three noun genders in German: die Frau = the woman; die Bank = the bench

Future tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something that will happen in the future: I will go = ich werde gehen


One of the three groups of nouns in German: masculine, feminine, or neuter


The case that shows possession; some prepositions in German take the genitive


A form of a verb that expresses a command: go away! = geh weg!

Imperfect tense

The tense of a verb that refers to an uncompleted or a habitual action in the past: I went there every Friday = ich ging jeden Freitag dorthin

Impersonal verb

A verb in English used only with ‘it’, and in German only with ‘es’: it is raining = es regnet

Indeclinable adjective

An adjective that has no inflected forms, as German klasse, Moskauer

Indefinite article:

a/an = ein/eine/ein

Indefinite pronoun

A pronoun that does not identify a specific person or object: one = man, something = etwas

Indicative form

The form of a verb used when making a statement of fact or asking questions of fact: he is just coming = er kommt gleich

Indirect object

The noun or pronoun indirectly affected by the verb, at which the direct object is aimed: I gave him the book = ich gab ihm das Buch

Indirect speech

A report of what someone has said which does not reproduce the exact words


The basic part of a verb: to play = spielen


To change the ending or form of a word to show its tense or its grammatical relation to other words: gehe and gehst are inflected forms of the verb gehen

Inseparable verb

A verb with a prefix that can never be separated from it: verstehen, ich verstehe


A sound, word, or remark expressing a strong feeling such as anger, fear, or joy: oh! = ach!

Interrogative pronoun

A pronoun that asks a question: who? = wer?

Intransitive verb

A verb that does not have a direct object: he died suddenly = er ist plötzlich gestorben

Irregular verb

A verb that does not follow one of the set patterns and has its own individual forms


One of the three noun genders in German: der Mann = the man, der Stuhl = the chair

Modal verb

A verb that is used with another verb (not a modal) to express permission, obligation, possibility, etc., as German können, sollen, English might, should


The form of a verb which indicates whether the verb expresses a fact (indicative mood), a condition or a wish (subjunctive mood), a question (interrogative mood), or a command (imperative mood)


One of the three noun genders in German: das Buch = the book, das Kind = the child


The case of the subject of a sentence; in sentences with sein and werden the noun after the verb is in the nominative: that is my car = das ist mein Auto


A word that names a person or a thing


The state of being either singular or plural


The word or words naming the person or thing acted upon by a verb, as Buch in er las das Buch or ihm in ich traue ihm

Ordinal number

A number that shows a person’s or thing’s position in a series: the twenty-first century = das einundzwanzigste Jahrhundert, the second door on the left = die zweite Tür links

Part of speech

A grammatical term for the function of a word; noun, verb, adjective, etc., are parts of speech


In the passive form the subject of the verb experiences the action rather than performs it: he was asked = er wurde gefragt

Past participle

The part of a verb used to form past tenses: she had gone, er hat gelogen

Perfect tense

The tense of a verb that refers to a completed action in the past or an action that started in the past and is still going on: I have already eaten = ich habe schon gegessen; I have been reading all day = ich habe den ganzen Tag gelesen


Any of the three groups of personal pronouns and forms taken by verbs; the first person (e.g. I/ich) refers to the person(s) speaking, the second person (e.g. you/du) refers to the person(s) spoken to; the third person (e.g. he/er) refers to the persons spoken about

Personal pronoun

A pronoun that refers to a person or thing: he/she/it = er/sie/es

Phrasal verb

A verb in English combined with a preposition or an adverb to have a particular meaning: run away = weglaufen


A self-contained section of a sentence that does not contain a full verb

Pluperfect tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something that happened before a particular point in the past: als ich ankam, war er schon losgefahren = when I arrived, he had already left


Of nouns etc., referring to more than one: the trees = die Bäume

Possessive adjective

An adjective that shows possession, belonging to someone or something; my = mein/meine/mein

Possessive pronoun

A pronoun that shows possession, belonging to someone or something: mine = meiner/meine/meins


Placed after the word to which it relates, as in stock in the phrase items in stock


The part of a sentence that says something about the subject, e.g. went home in John went home


An adjective is predicative when it comes after a verb such as be or become in English, or after sein or werden in German: she is beautiful = sie ist schön


A letter or group of letters added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning, as Ge - in Geschrei in German. The prefix can move from separable verbs (an|fangen), but stays fixed to inseparable verbs (verlassen)


A word that stands in front of a noun or pronoun, relating it to the rest of the sentence; in German prepositions are always followed by a particular case, usually either the accusative or dative, but occasionally the genitive: with = mit (+ dative), for = für (+ accusative), because of = wegen (+ genitive)

Present participle

The part of a verb that in English ends in –ing, and in German adds –d to the infinitive: asking = fragend

Present tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something happening now: I make = ich mache

Preterite tense

The tense of a verb that refers to something that happened in the past: the car went very fast = der Wagen fuhr sehr schnell


A word that stands instead of a noun: he = er, she = sie, mine = meiner/meine/meins

Proper noun

A name of a person, place, institution, etc., in English written with a capital letter at the start; Germany, the Atlantic, Karl, Europäische Union are all proper nouns

Reflexive pronoun

A pronoun that goes with a reflexive verb: in German mich, dich, sich, uns, euch, sich, mir, dir

Reflexive verb

A verb whose object is the same as its subject; in German, it is used with a reflexive pronoun: du sollst dich waschen = you should wash yourself

Regular verb

A verb that follows a set pattern in its different forms

Relative pronoun

A pronoun that introduces a subordinate clause, relating to a person or thing mentioned in the main clause: the man who visited us = der Mann, der uns besucht hat

Reported Speech

Another name for Indirect speech


A sequence of words, with a subject and a verb, that can stand on their own to make a statement, ask a question, or give a command

Separable verb

A verb with a prefix that can be separated from it in some tenses: anfangen, anzufangen, angefangen, but ich fange an, du fingst an


Of nouns etc., referring to just one: the tree = der Baum


The part of a verb to which endings are added; fahr- is the stem of fahren


In a clause or sentence, the noun or pronoun that causes the action of the verb: he caught the ball = er fing den Ball


A verb form that is used to express doubt or unlikelihood: if I were to tell you that … = wenn ich dir sagen würde, dass …

Subordinate clause

A clause which adds information to the main clause of a sentence but cannot be used as a sentence by itself


A letter or group of letters joined to the end of a word to make another word, as - heit in Schön heit


The form of an adjective or adverb that makes it “most”: the smallest house = das kleinste Haus, most clearly = am klarsten


The form of a verb that tells when the action takes place: present, future, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect

Transitive verb

A verb that is used with a direct object: she read the book = sie las das Buch


A word or group of words that describes an action: the children are playing = die Kinder spielen

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