The indefinite articles

(Using the German indefinite articles)

Table of contents – indefinite articles

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Using indefinite articles
  2. Use without article (zero article)
  3. Declension of the indefinite articles
  4. Further explanations and exercises

How are the indefinite articles used?

The indefinite articles in German (unbestimmte Artikel) are: ‘ein, eine,’ and ‘ein’ (all three correspond to ‘a’ or ‘an’ in English). Similar to English, they always represent the quantity one and, therefore, can only be used in the singular in German. The indefinite articles are declined in accordance with the corresponding noun and are left out if this noun is in the plural.

Compare the following sentence examples:

  • German grammar has these indefinite articles:
    • ein (masculine):
      • „Die Mütze eines Polizisten liegt auf der Bank.“ (A policeman’s cap is lying on the bench.)
        • genitive case
      • „Möchtest du einen Kaffee?“ (Would you like some coffee?)
        • accusative
    • eine (feminine):
      • „An der Kasse hat sich schon eine Schlange gebildet.“ (A queue has already formed at the checkout.)
        • nominative
      • „Ich habe eine Idee.“ (I’ve got an idea.)
        • accusative
    • ein (neuter):
      • „Der Stürmer hat ein Tor geschossen.“ (The striker has scored a goal.)
        • accusative
      • „Das Diebesgut wurde in einem Haus gefunden.“ (The stolen goods were found in a house.)
        • dative
  • Information: If the corresponding noun is in the plural, the indefinite article is omitted, as it cannot express a larger quantity. This behaviour is similar to the rules in English grammar:
    • „Im Garten spielt ein Kind.“ (A child is playing in the garden.)
      • with article
    • „Im Garten spielen Kinder.“ (Children are playing in the garden.)
      • but here without article

In what cases are indefinite articles not used?

Indefinite articles are not always necessary. If none is used, the corresponding phrase is said to have a zero article. Compare the following examples where the indefinite article is omitted:

  1. If generalities are to be expressed:
    • Chef und Sekretärin sollten ein eingespieltes Team sein.“ (Boss and secretary should be a well-oiled team.)
  2. When certain uncountable things are named:
    • „Wir wünschen euch viel Glück und Gesundheit.“ (We wish you good luck and health.)
  3. If verbs or adjectives are nominalised (compare nominalisation), which means they become nouns:
    • Laufen hält einen fit.“ (Running keeps you fit.)
  4. When proper names or titles are utilized (Note: In spoken German, however, it is often customary to include the definite article instead):
    • „Wir können ja mal Peter fragen.“ (We can ask Peter.)
      • Colloquial: „Wir können ja mal den Peter fragen.“ (We can ask Peter.)
    • „Kommt Sandra auch?“ (Is Sandra coming too?)
      • Colloquial: „Kommt die Sandra auch?“ (Is Sandra coming too?)
        • Here, the definite article may well appear in spoken language.

How are the indefinite articles declined?

The German indefinite articles follow this declension pattern. Note that the forms are only possible in the singular:

Grammatical case Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative ein Hirsch (stag) eine Katze (cat) ein Reh (deer)
Genitive eines Hirsches einer Katze eines Rehs
Dative einem Hirsch einer Katze einem Reh
Accusative einen Hirsch eine Katze ein Reh

Further explanations related to ‘Indefinite articles’

The following explanations refer to the topic ‘Indefinite articles (ein, eine, ein) in German grammar’ and may also be helpful: