Top 10 Differences Between German and English

By optilingo

Learning German doesn’t have to be hard. Check out these tips on the top differences between German and English.

Learning a new language can be an intimidating experience to some people. This need not be the case. There is no such thing as a person who is unable to learn a new language. The first step is to believe you can learn German, because you really can. The second step is to relax and enjoy the process.

You should also bear in mind that German is not as foreign as it might seem. English is actually very closely related to German; both belong to the Germanic family of languages, and branched off from each other just a few hundred years ago.

As such, German and English share quite a bit of common vocabulary [core german vocabulary] with one another. Where the two languages diverge the most is when it comes to grammar.

With a little practice, these difference won’t seem so big. That said, before you jump into your first lesson, let’s cover a few of the major differences between English and German.

The 10 Primary Differences Between English and German

There are many differences between these two European languages, but these are the top 10 you should be aware of.

1) German nouns have genders

English is one of the simplest European languages because English nouns are gender neutral, except for nouns that refer specifically to a living creature that has a gender, such as “rooster” or a “hen”.

In German, all nouns have one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. As a new learner, at times, it may feel like there is little or no logical reason why a given word takes a particular gender.

Although there are some rough patterns that relate noun endings to gender, there are more exceptions to these rules than not, and it’s best to simply learn each noun’s gender-specific definite article, and commit them to memory.

Within the scope of this course, all you need to know is that, depending on their noun’s gender, definite and indefinite articles like “the” and “a” will take a few different variations in German, which gets us to our next point.

2) Articles and nouns change based on case

As just mentioned, definite and indefinite articles in German take three genders. But there are further variations based on the grammatical case of the noun, for example based on whether a noun is a direct or indirect object. There are four different grammatical cases in German.

Again, you don’t have to worry about memorizing any “rules”. You only need to be aware of these differences and keep them in the back of your mind.

3) German has fewer silent letters

Learning how to spell in English can be very challenging. The language is full of words with silent letters.

Fortunately, things are far simpler in German. Most of the time, every letter that you hear is used in the spelling, and every letter you read makes a sound. Sometimes, German combines consonants that don’t often appear together in English. The combination of “p” and “f” is one such example, but with a bit of practice, you’ll get the hang of things.

4) Letters have limited sounds

You may remember as a child asking why the letter “C” took multiple sounds. That’s because English letters can take multiple sounds.

This is less often the case in German, as most letters make just one sound.

5) German can have some really long nouns

As an English speaker, you know all about compound words, and you understand that word roots can be combined to create longer words. For example, the verb “imagine” becomes a noun by adding a suffix, leading to the word “imagination”.

German does something similar, but with entire nouns, rather than just roots. This can lead some very long words. Don’t worry, though. We won’t encounter many in this course.

6) In German, the verb “to have” can be used to express feeling

In English, we express feelings by saying things like, “I am sad” or “He was happy.” In German, it’s more common to say things like “I have fear” or “I have hunger”.

7) Some similar-sounding words have different meanings

As noted earlier, German and English share many common words. These are called “cognates”. For example, “to have” is “haben” in German, and the word “yes” is “ja”. At the same time, there are many words that sound similar, but have different meanings. These are called “false friends” or “false cognates”. One of the most common example is the English word “will”, which means “to want” in German.

8.) In German, you don’t use articles when expressing a profession, nationality, or other type of identity

When you talk about your job or where you live, you identify with it: “I am a teacher” or “I’m a New Yorker.” This is not the case in German, and inclusion of articles can sound funny.

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.) Nouns are capitalized

When it comes to spelling, one of the most notable differences between English and Germans is that German capitalizes all nouns, without exception. This actually makes it a lot easier to identify nouns in sentences, since they always begin with capital letters.

10.) In declarative sentences, the verb is always second, and everything else follows

English has a somewhat flexible word order. For example, you can say, “I went to the store, today,” just as easily as you can say, “Today, I went to the story.”

In the second example, the verb is the third word in the sentence.

This would sound very odd in German, where the verb always appears as the second word in declarative sentences.