10 Major Differences Between German vs English

By OptiLingo • 8 minute read

How Different Is German From English?

Some people find German intimidating. But, it’s actually quite an approachable language. Sure, German is different than English. But it’s far from impossible to learn. And while learning a new language can be an intimidating experience for some people, with the right preparation, you’ll quickly reach fluency. So, how different are they? German vs English: here are 10 differences to help get you started.

The Key Differences Between German and English

German is not as foreign as it might seem. German is an Indo-European language, which means that it shares a common (albeit distant) root with English. In terms of linguistic roots, English is closely related to German. In fact, English descended from German many centuries ago.

While there are some things that make German more complex to learn than other languages, it isn’t nearly as difficult as many people make it out to be. Most of the rules and speech patterns that you are accustomed to are exactly the same in German as in English. And it has a much more similar vocabulary than nearly any other language. It also has similar sentence structures, making it easier to start to get the flow of the language a little faster.

Some of the difficulties people face with German are similar to those they face when learning other languages.  Perhaps the most jarring difference is that German is not nearly as flexible as English If there is a rule in the German language, then there are few, if any, exceptions to it.

There are many differences between these two European languages, but these are the 10 that tend to cause English speakers the most trouble when learning German. But the biggest differences between English and German lie in their grammar…

german vs english

1.) German Noun Genders vs English Nouns

When it comes to nouns, English is one of the simplest European languages because all nouns have the same articles. This means that English nouns are gender-neutral, except for nouns that refer specifically to a living creature that has a gender, such as “hen” and “rooster.”

German not only has gendered nouns, but it also has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Sometimes, a noun’s gender directly relates to the gender of the object. However, gender is completely arbitrary more often than not. And that means you’ll need to memorize the words with their genders.

In general, German is like English in that nouns can end with nearly any letter combination, making it harder to guess the gender. Typically, you can guess the gender based on what the noun is. For example, instruments and tools are usually masculine, as are compass directions. Any kind of baby or metal is neuter.

Gender affects sentence construction too. The article must match the gender of the noun: the English word “the” is masculine, feminine, and neuter. Other parts of speech, including relative pronouns and adjectives, must also match the gender of the noun.

For most native English-speakers, gender is one of the most complicated new rules to grasp, and German gives you one more than most other languages. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you’re well on your way to mastering German grammar!

2.) German Articles vs English Articles

Simply learning the gender of a noun is not enough. You also have to know the context of the noun to use the right version of the article. For example, if the noun is the subject of the sentence, you will use a different article than if the noun is the object of an accusative preposition.

If the masculine noun is in the dative case, you use the third article to denote that. This can be incredibly difficult to earn, so learning German usually means starting with very basic, simple sentences so that you can learn the right genders for common vocabulary words before throwing you into the incredibly complex changes of longer sentences.

3.) German Doesn’t Have Silent Letters

While learning how to write English is excruciating. We even have spelling contests to show off that some kids can spell in our language. For example, “vacuum” has a silent “u,” “knee” starts with a silent “k,” and “ankle” ends with a silent “e.”

German does not have this eccentricity. Every “e” at the end of a word makes a sound, including one of their most famous brands, “Porsche.” Every letter that you hear is used in the spelling, and every letter you see on the screen makes a sound. Sometimes, it can be tricky because they combine some letters together that English does not, such as “p” and “f.” In these instances in German, you say both the “p” and “f,” even though they are right next to each other. Regardless of how tricky it is to say the words, they are a breeze to spell.

4.) German Letters Have Limited Sounds

child playing music

You can probably remember how shocked you were in your childhood when you were learning to read and you found out that most letters have multiple sounds. Then there are five vowels, but not really because “sometimes y.” German does not do this. In addition to the same five vowels English has, German has three vowels with umlauts, and that is how their vowels make different sounds. Nor are the consonants much different. There are some letter combinations that make different sounds than the letters on their own (such as “sch”), but those are easy to remember and tend to have something similar in English (“sch” is often used where English would use “sh”).

5.) Differences in Word Length

As an English speaker, you know about compound words, and you know that you use Latin roots in your everyday speech: “She’s in the doghouse,” “It was anticlimactic,” and “He’s just complaining about the establishment.” German does this too, but on a much larger scale. Some German words stack four and five words together to make one long compound word.

It’s like linguistic Legos, but once you have a decent vocabulary, this can make understanding new words far easier.

6.) German Verb for “to have” Differs From English

In English, we talk about feelings using some form of a “being” verb, like “am.” In German, the verb for to have is sometimes used instead. For example, instead of saying “I am hungry,” a German-speaker would say “I have hunger”. This is similar for many other traits such as fear (I have fear).

There’s a long list of words that use this construction. Keep an eye out for “to have” conjugations in your studies!

7.) Similar Looking German Words vs English Ones

It is easy to take similar vocabulary words between English and German for granted. Many German words sound a lot like their English counterparts. These are called “cognates”. Be careful, though, because there are also many words that sound very similar but have different meanings. These are called “false cognates”.

german vs english cognates

8.) German Articles vs English Articles

When you talk about your job or where you live, you identify with it: “I am a teacher” “I’m a New Yorker.” In Germany, they do not require the article, which can be very jarring: (“I am a teacher” and “I am a New Yorker.” When JFK spoke to the people in Berlin and announced “I am a Berliner,” he actually told them that he was a jelly donut. He should have said, “I am Berliner.” They still knew what he meant though, and appreciated the sentiment!

9.) German Capitalization and Punctuation vs English

One of the most noticeable differences in punctuation between English and German is that German capitalizes all nouns, without exception. This means you learn what a noun is much earlier in a German-speaking country because you have to write properly. However, they do not capitalize pronouns unless they are the beginning of a sentence. Where an English speaker would write “Then I went…,” a German speaker would write “Then went …”

10.) Differences in Verb Placement

In English, you can mess around with word order a bit (“Sometimes I want….”) and you keep all verbs together, whenever they fall in the sentence (“I went running today”). Not so in German. The verb you conjugate is always second (“Sometimes think I…”) and the rest of the verbs go to the end of the sentence (“I went today running.). It’ll take some time to get used to this. But once you are, you will have one of the most difficult aspects down.

german castle

How Different Is German From English?

Every language has some degree of difference, but of the many out there German is one of few that’s closest to English. Still, you’ll have quite a bit of ground to cover if you’re going to reach fluency in German. But you’re already taking the right steps by learning more. With the right program, focus, and motivation, you can quickly reach fluency in German.

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