German Lessons | German Grammar

Lesson 1: Wie heißt du?

This lesson will deal with simple conversation topics such as greeting people, saying goodbye, and asking people how they are feeling, the alphabet, and nominative case pronouns and articles. This lesson also has soundbites so that you can learn how to pronounce everything, including the alphabet and some introductory verbs.

Dialogue

German Dialogue • Wie heißt du?
What’s your name? Wie heißt du?
FranzHallo, ich bin Franz. Wie heißt du?
GretaHallo, Franz. Ich heiße Greta. Wie geht’s?
FranzEs geht mir gut. Kennst du den Lehrer?
GretaJa, er heißt Herr Weiß.
FranzOh, danke, Greta. Bis dann!
GretaAuf Wiedersehen!
Next Dialogue
FranzGuten Morgen. Sind Sie Herr Weiß?
Herr SchwarzNein, ich bin Herr Schwarz. Wie heißt du?
FranzIch heiße Franz. Danke Herr Schwarz. Ich bin spät dran.
Herr SchwarzBitte, Franz. Ich bin auch spät dran. Bis später!
FranzAuf Wiedersehen!

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Hellos and Goodbyes in German

German Vocabulary • Wie heißt du?
Greetings Grüße
Hello!Hallo!*
Moin Moin! (used in northern Germany)
Moin! (used in northern Germany, shorter)
Grüß Gott! (used in southern Germany, Austria and South Tyrol)
Glück auf! (used from miners)
Servus! (used in eastern austria, informal)
Hi! (pronounced as in English, although colloquial and only used by the younger generation)
Good morning!Guten Morgen!*
Morgen! (shorter)
Good day!Guten Tag!*
Tag! (used in Germany, shorter)
Tagchen! (used in Germany, shorter)
Good evening!Guten Abend!*
Goodbye!Auf Wiedersehen!*
Bye!Tschüss!*
Ciao! (pronounced as in Italian)
Servus! (used in eastern austria, informal)
Tschöö! (used around Cologne)
Ade! (used in Swabia)
Auf Wiedersehen!
Leb wohl! (normally used if meeting again is not expected!)
See you later!Bis später!*, Bis dann!*
Good night!Gute Nacht!*

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You will need to know each expression with an asterisk (*) after it. The others, of course, would be useful to know if you are traveling to regions where they are used. (As you can see, the different German-speaking regions often have their own ways of saying hello and goodbye. However, you will not be required to know any of these less common phrases for any problems or tests.)

Formal and Informal Greetings in German

Germans respect higher authority with their choice of certain phrases. The more formal phrases above are Guten Morgen, Guten Tag, and Auf Wiedersehen (as well as Grüß Gott). The least formal one is Tschüss. The others are neutral on the formal – informal scale.

Note: In Germany nowadays, “Tschüss” is also used with people who are not on first name terms.

Here are some examples:

  • Claudia: Guten Morgen, Herr Wagner!
  • Herr Wagner: Hallo, Claudia!
  • Birgit: Tschüss, Susi!
  • Susi: Bis später, Birgit!
German Vocabulary • Wie heißt du?
Mr. & Ms. Herr und Frau
Mr.Herr
Ms.Frau

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The German Alphabet

German Grammar • Wie heißt du?
The Alphabet Das Alphabet
CharactersAaÄäBbCcDdEeFfGgHhIi
Pronunciationahähbehtsehdehehefgehhahee
CharactersJjKkLlMmNnOoÖöPpQqRr
Pronunciationyotkahelemenohöhpehcooär
CharactersSsßTtUuÜüVvWwXxYyZz
Pronunciationesseszetttayooühfowvehiksypsilontset

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The 26 letters in both German and English are shown above. One the ligature ß (eszett, ess-tset) is used for (voiceless) ‘s’. It is used in case two s’s (ss) or when a single s can’t be used: between vowels or in the end of words when the preceding vowel is long. Example: “der Fluss” (short u, English river), but “der Fuß” (long u, English foot). Note that the eszett is not used in Switzerland. You always write double s instead, even after long vowels. Therefore you write “Fluss” and “Fuss”.

Another difference between German and English is the Umlaut. The vowels a, o, and u can take an Umlaut (double dots above), becoming ä, ö, and ü. The Umlaut changes the sound of the vowel. For pronunciations of all the letters, go to the Pronunciation Guide.

Notes:

  • Umlaute are even used when spelling. Common words used to clarify a given letter are Ärger (anger), Ökonom (economist) and Übermut (high spirits). To say “Umlaut” after the letter is an English custom used when spelling German words in English.
  • In writing, the Umlaute are sometimes substituted with the vowel plus e, i.e ae, oe and ue. You find this in names as Goethe or in crosswords, but you don’t use it in normal texts (Goethe is an exception to the rules governing Umlaute, always written with “oe”). However, if you have no way to type Umlaute you must use vowel-plus-e.
  • In most search engines and online dictionaries, a vowel with Umlaut can be entered as either the simple vowel or in vowel-plus-e form. For example, if you wish to find “Ärger” you may enter any of the following three search strings: “Ärger”, “Aerger”, “Arger” (the last is actually incorrect, because “Arger” means “grimmer”). Unless you have a German keyboard, to get the special German letters you will have to do one of two things. On a Macintosh, hold down the “option” key and type “u” (this will create an Umlaut), then let go of “option” and type the vowel you want to put the Umlaut on. In Windows, you will need to use the Alt key and numbers from the right side of your keyboard.
German Ect. • Wie heißt du?
Alt keys for German characters
ßalt + 0223
üalt + 0252
Üalt + 0220
öalt + 0246
Öalt + 0214
äalt + 0228
Äalt + 0196

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If you use Mac OS X these will work only if you choose “Unicode” keyboard layout, but you can add umlauts with option-u and the ß with option-S.

Bitte buchstabieren Sie

Look at this short phone conversation. Try to read it aloud. The translation of words and phrases is given below the text.

German Dialogue • Wie heißt du?
Directory Assistance Fernsprechauskunft
Man AAuskunft, Guten Tag.
Man BGuten Tag. Ich hätte gern die Telefonnummer von Frau Claudia Bolliger aus Bern.
Man AWie schreibt man das? Bitte buchstabieren Sie.
Man BNatürlich. Claudia: C wie Cäsar, L wie Ludwig, A wie Anton, U wie Ursula, D wie Dora, I wie Ida, A
wie Anton. Bolliger: B wie Berta, O wie Otto, zweimal L wie Ludwig, I wie Ida, G wie Gustav, E wie
Emil und R wie Richard.
Man ADanke. Die Nummer lautet …

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Vocabulary and Phrases (from above)

German Vocabulary • Wie heißt du?
Vocabulary Wortschatz
EnglishGerman
Information Deskdie Auskunft (no plural)
I would like to haveIch hätte gern(e)
Phone Numberdie Telefonnummer
from Berneaus Bern
How do you spell this?Wie buchstabiert man das?
Pleasebitte
Spellbuchstabieren
Of coursenatürlich
“A” as in AntonA wie Anton
Twicezweimal
The number isdie Nummer lautet

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Nominative Case

Cases describe what a noun or pronoun does in a sentence. When a noun or pronoun is the subject of a sentence, it is considered to be in the nominative case. For example, in the sentence “I ate an apple”, I is the subject and the apple is the direct object. You will learn more about cases as the course continues.

German Grammar • Wie heißt du?
Subject Pronouns Subjekt-Pronomina
1st personsingularichI
pluralwirwe
2nd personsingulardu, *Sieyou
pluralihr, *Sieyou
3rd personsingularer, sie, eshe, she, it
pluralsiethey

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* – Sie is the formal (polite) version of du and ihr. In all conjugations, it acts exactly like sie (plural)

Names

German Grammar • Wie heißt du?
Names Namen
EnglishGerman
My name is…Ich heiße…
His/Her/Its name is…Er/Sie/Es heißt…
Their names are…Sie heißen…
Our names are…Wir heißen…
Your name is…Du heißt…
Your names are…Ihr heißt…
What is your name?Wie heißt du?
What are your names?Wie heißt ihr?

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  • Remember, the formal way to ask someone’s name is to ask “Wie heißen Sie?”
  • For more than one person, “Wie heißen…”

Note: There are possessive pronouns in German, they just don’t apply here. For instance, “Mein Name ist…” would not be considered correct.

Verbs

You have already learned one verb: heißen, to be called.

German Verb • Wie heißt du?
heißen to be called
SingularPlural
first personich heißemy name iswir heißenour names are
second persondu heißtyour name isihr heißtyour names are
third personer heißthis name issie heißentheir names are
sie heißther name is
es heißtits name is

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Two more extremely common verbs are the German translations for ‘to be’ and ‘to have’: sein and haben. They are conjugated like this:

German Verb • Wie heißt du?
sein to be
SingularPlural
first personich binI amwir sindwe are
second persondu bistyou areihr seidyou are
third personer isthe issie sindthey are
sie istshe is
es istit is

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German Verb • Wie heißt du?
haben to have
SingularPlural
first personich habeI havewir habenwe have
second persondu hastyou haveihr habtyou have
third personer hathe hassie habenthey have
sie hatshe has
es hatit has

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Wie geht’s?

German Vocabulary • Wie heißt du?
How are you? Wie geht’s?
EnglishGerman
How are you?Wie geht’s?
How are you?(formal)Wie geht es Ihnen?
Responses forGood
GreatPrima
GoodGut
Very goodSehr gut
Responses forBad
MiserableMiserabel
BadSchlecht
Not goodNicht gut
Responses forOkay
OkayGanz gut
Okay (comes from English “Okay”)
All rightEs geht (so) / Geht so
So-soSo lala

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In Ordnung is also sometimes used for OK or Fine

Articles

German, like many other languages, gives each noun a gender: Masculine, Feminine or Neuter. Plural is easy; the definite nominative Article is always die. And as in English there is no indefinite article in plural. Nouns in plural form require different verb forms than nouns in singular.

In English, there are two different types of articles: definite (the) and indefinite (a and an). German is the same, except that there are five different articles of each type. The nominitive case articles are as follows:

Definite Articles

German Grammar • Wie heißt du?
The Definite Article in the Nominative Case Der definitive Artikel des Nominativ
singularmasculinederder Jungethe boy
femininediedie Frauthe woman
neuterdasdas Mädchenthe girl
pluraldiedie Jungenthe boys
die Frauenthe women
die Mädchenthe girls

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  • Note that girl is neuter.

Indefinite Articles

German Grammar • Wie heißt du?
The Indefinite Article in the Nominative Case Der unbestimmte Artikel des Nominativ
singularmasculineeinein Manna man
feminineeineeine Fraua woman
neutereinein Mädchena girl

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Forming Questions

The basic word order in a German sentence is the same as in English: Subject verb Objects. (SvO)

  • Der Junge spielt Fußball.
The boy plays football.

This sentence is in the indicative mood, the mood that states a fact. The interrogative mood asks a question. To change the English sentence “The boy throws the ball” to the interrogative mood, we insert the helper verb “does” before “boy,” ending with,”?”. “Does the boy throw the ball?”

The process is very similar in German. However, since German verbs express both the simple and progressive aspects, we switch the whole verb with the subject, ending up with,

  • Spielt der Junge Fußball?
Does the boy play football?

You have learned two questions so far: “Wie heißt…?” and “Wie geht’s?”. In German, there are two basic ways of forming a question. The first is the method described above. In addition to this, you can use an interrogative adverb

German Vocabulary • Wie heißt du?
Questions Fragen
EnglishGerman
Who?Wer?
What?Was?
Where?Wo?
When?Wann?
Why?Warum?
How?Wie?
WhichWelches?

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The question “Wie heißt…?”, literally translated, means “How is … called?”, though the latter is a sentence no native-English speaker would ever say (the correct English equivalent of the German being “What is … called?”). That is why it does not contain Was (“Was heißt…?” means something like “What do you mean…?!”) . These words come first in the sentence; the word order is: Interr. Adverb Verb Subject Object. For example:

  • Warum spielt der Junge Fußball?
Why does the boy play football?

You should note at this point that in German, the verb always comes second in the sentence, except in the case of a question as described above. The subject is always next to the verb, if not in front of it then following it. For example:

  • Der Junge spielte am Montag Fußball.
The boy played football on Monday.
  • Am Montag spielte der Junge Fußball.
On Monday, the boy played football.

At this point, you should know the words for “yes”, ja and “no”, nein respectively. There is also an emphatic “Yes!” called Jawohl!, although Jawohl! has military connotations and is often used as an answer to an order.


10 Comments

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  • #10 by Paul on October 18 - 6:30 pm

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    Very good grammatical information! I think this website is very informative and extremely useful for people who want to learn German. This basic information conjured up memories of my first week studying German as a complete beginner in Berlin! We spent quite a bit of time conjugating German verbs and role-
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