The determiners of nouns

(Using determinatives in German grammar)

Table of contents – determiners

On this page you will find the following:

  1. What are determiners?
  2. Hidden determiners
  3. Further explanations and exercises

What are determiners?

In grammar, determiners (in German: Begleiter) are specific parts of speech, often pronouns, which are used in conjunction with nouns. Accordingly, such a short word ‘accompanies’ a noun and defines it more precisely. In contrast to English, a determiner in German is always declined together with its noun; both must, therefore, consistently agree grammatically.

  • Read a few example sentences, which include determiners that may typically occur in the German language. Note that other words – modifiers (when utilised attributively) – may additionally appear between determiner and noun:
    • Articles:
      • Der Kühlschrank ist kaputt.“ (The refrigerator is broken.)
        • Here, the determiner is a definite article.
      • „Mike kauft sich einen neuen Drucker.“ (Mike is buying a new printer.)
        • This statement shows an indefinite article with the modifierneuen’ (new).
    • Numerals:
      • „Ich hätte gern drei Melonen.“ (I’d like to have three melons.)
      • Etliche Einwohner haben sich bereits über die neue Straße beschwert.“ (Several residents have already complained about the new road.)
    • Certain pronouns such as …
      • indefinite pronouns:
        • Manche Autos sind einfach zuverlässiger.“ (Some cars are just more reliable.)
      • possessive pronouns:
        • Meine große Schwester spielt Klavier.“ (My elder sister plays the piano.)
          • together with the modifiergroß’ (elder)
      • demonstrative pronouns:
        • Diese Katze habe ich vorhin schon einmal gesehen.“ (Just recently I have seen this cat before.)
      • interrogative pronouns:
        • Welchen Film schauen wir an?“ (What movie are we going to watch?)
  • Information: Besides, nouns may sporadically occur without a determiner. In German, this is only the case when talking about a matter or person in general. Some examples of such situations are:
    • Holz ist ein nachwachsender Rohstoff.“ (Wood is a renewable resource.)
    • Computer erleichtern komplizierte Rechenaufgaben ungemein.“ (Computers make complicated calculations much easier.)
    • Zitronen sind reich an Vitamin C.“ (Lemons are rich in vitamin C.)

What are hidden determiners?

In some instances, the determiner is not obvious at first sight. But bearing the rule in mind that it must be present (except for nouns expressing generality as explained in the information section above), it occasionally hides in the adjective that accompanies and modifies the noun. Then, this adjective follows the strong declension.

  • Consider the examples of German nouns without a determiner but with a strongly declined adjective:
    • „Die drei Jungs hatten großes Glück und blieben bei dem Unfall unverletzt.“ (The three boys were very lucky and were not injured in the accident.)
      • noun with the neuter gender
    • „Ach, das sind doch nur faule Ausreden.“ (Oh, it’s just lame excuses.)
      • feminine noun
    • Gemahlener Kaffee duftet sehr aromatisch.“ (Ground coffee smells very aromatic.)
      • masculine noun with Partizip Perfekt (past participle) as grammatical modifier

Further explanations related to the ‘Determiners of German nouns’

The following explanations are relating to the topic ‘Using determiners in German grammar’ and might be interesting as well:

  • Declension in grammar
  • The German parts of speech
  • Pronouns in German grammar
  • Numerals in German grammar
  • Definite and indefinite articles