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History Of The German Language

The Germanic languages departed from the other Indo-European languages by a shift in sounds called the First Germanic Sound Shift, and by other distinguishing features as well. More detail can be found here.

The language we now call German departed from the other Germanic languages (mainly English, Dutch, Scandinavian and the now extinct Gothic) by a shift in sounds called the Second Germanic Sound Shift. Its effect can still be seen by comparing modern German words with their English cognates: pound->Pfund, pipe->Pfeife, hope->hoffen, apple->Apfel, plant->Pflanze, tide->Zeit, cat->Katze, heart->Herz, hate->hassen, make->machen, weak->weich.

The rules for this sound shift are:
p->f, pp->pf, t->ss, tt->ts (written [t]z), k->ch, kk->kch, where initial p, t and k are treated like their doubled counterparts. The p->(p)f shift is quite regular, and so is the t->(t)s shift, which is somewhat blurred by the later differentiation between tz and ss. The k->(k)ch shift, however, is fully in effect only in Swiss German; in standard German and in most of its dialects we find kk (written [c]k) instead of kch. (The characters in square brackets are not written initially in a syllable.)

The Second Sound Shift divides Germany into a smaller Northern part (without the sound shift) and a larger central and Southern part (with the sound shift). The border between the two regions approximates a line passing through Cologne (Köln) and Berlin, but there is a more or less fuzzy region of more than a hundred kilometres width south of that line where the language underwent the Seconds Sound Shift only partially. In Western Germany, for instance, the non-initial t (e.g. dat and wat instead of das and was) reaches much farther south than most of the other non-shifted sounds. There are several central German dialects that have neither initial p nor pf, but f instead. The other countries where German is spoken are all south of this line. More

Language borrowing

Young children attend a Kindergarten (children's garden). Gesundheit doesn't really mean "bless you," it means "health" -- the good variety being implied. Psychiatrists speak of Angst (fear) and Gestalt (form) psychology, and when something is broken, it's kaputt. Although not every English-speaker knows that Fahrvergnügen is "driving pleasure," most do know that Volkswagen means "people's car." Musical works can have a Leitmotiv. Our cultural view of the world is called a Weltanschauung by historians or philosophers. Such terms are commonly understood by most well-read English-speakers.

More English words borrowed from German:
(Notice how many have to do with food!) - blitz, blitzkrieg, cobalt, dachshund, delicatessen, ersatz, frankfurter, glockenspiel, hinterland, infobahn (for "information highway"), kaffeeklatsch, Munster and Limburger (cheeses named for German cities), pilsner (glass, beer), pretzel, quartz, rucksack, sauerkraut, schnaps, (apple) strudel, waltz, wiener. From Low German: brake, dote, tackle.

Germanic cognate terms:
(Shared in common; mostly family-related words, parts of the body, and old basic words) - der Arm, der Ball, der Bruder, die Hand, das Haus, das Ende, das Gold, gut (good), der Finger, lang, der Mann, die Maus, Montag (Monday), die Mutter, der Vater, die Schwester (sister), der Sohn, die Tochter (daughter), das Wasser, das Wort (word).

English in German:
The following German words have been borrowed from English. Usually the only difference is the use of the German article (the - der, die, or das - masc., fem., neu.) and the capitalization used for all German nouns. The pronunciation is usually similar to English, but sometimes with a unique German twist. They are usually German's more recent borrowings. English terms: das Baby, der Babysitter, babysitten (to babysit), das Bodybuilding, das Callgirl, der Clown, der Cocktail, der Computer, fit (in good shape), die Garage, das Golf (der Golf is "the gulf" or a VW model), das Hobby, der Job, joggen (to jog), der Killer, killen (to kill), der Lift (elevator), der Manager, managen (to manage), das Musical, der Playboy, der Pullover, der Rum, der Smog, der Snob, der Streik, das Team, der Teenager, das Ticket, der Tunnel, der Trainer (coach), der Waggon (train car).

Loan Words from French (Französisch)
The following German words look like English words, but they are actually words from French that both English and German have adopted. They are more recent than the Latin borrowings below. French borrowings include: das Abenteuer (adventure), die Armee, das Ballett, die Chance, fein (fine), galoppieren, der General, die Infanterie, die Kanone, die Lanze (lance), der Offizier, die Parade, die Parole (saying, motto),der Platz (place, square), der Preis (prize, price), der Prinz, die Prinzessin, der Tanz (dance), die Uniform.

Loan Words from Latin (Latein)
Both English and German have borrowed heavily from Latin. Latin was the language of the universities in Germany and the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages. Because such words are very old and have undergone changes over the centuries, some are not very obvious equivalents. For example, the German word Birne comes from Latin pirum which gave us the English word pear. Some other Latin loan words: aktiv, der Altar, der Atlas, die Disziplin, der Esel (ass, donkey), das Examen, die Feige (fig), das Fieber (fever), der Kaiser (Caesar, emperor), die Kammer (chamber), die Kamera, der Kanzler (chancellor), der Keller (cellar), das Klima, das Kloster (cloister), das Kreuz (cross), die Lilie (lily), der Markt (market), die Meile (mile), das Münster (minster, church), die Münze (money, coin), opfern (to offer, sacrifice), die Pforte (portal), das Pfund (pound), die Rose, der Student/die Studentin, die Tafel (tablet), der Wein (wine).

The German Umlaut ("diaeresis" in English)
The two dots sometimes placed over the German vowels a, o, and u are known as an Umlaut. The umlauted vowels ä, ö and ü (and their capitalized equivalents Ä, Ö, Ü) are actually a shortened form for ae, oe and ue respectively. At one time the e was placed above the vowel, but as time went by the e transformed into just two dots. In telegrams and in plain (ASCII) computer text the umlauted forms still appear as ae, oe and ue. A German typewriter or computer keyboard includes separate keys for the three umlauted characters (plus the ß, the so-called "sharp s" character). The umlauted letters are distinct from plain a, o, or u, and they are pronounced differently.

The Swiss-Germans have managed to get along just fine without the ß for many years, and with the new spelling reforms being introduced in all three German-speaking countries, Switzerland may not be alone much longer. For more about Rechtschreibreform see the New German Spelling Rules from a German Web site.

Free Online German Course

It's a doozy!
The English expression "doozy" (also "doozie") -- as in "Man, that one was a real doozy!" -- comes from the name of German-American car maker Frederick S. Duesenberg (1877-1932, born in Lippe, Germany) and his luxurious high-powered Duesenberg roadster. The American-built Duesenberg SJ could reach speeds of 130 mph (210 km/h). The Duesenberg Motor Company produced its streamlined, elegant motor cars from 1917 to 1937 to compete with similar expensive roadsters such as the Italian Bugatti.

On a related but different note, "Dear Doosie" by Werner Lansburgh (Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag) is a humorous love story that plays off of the German Du / Sie problem -- hence the title. Written in an interesting mix of English and German, the book can be read by anyone with at least an intermediate command of German and a good German-English dictionary. Written in the form of a series of letters, "Dear Doosie" has fun with the hazards of learning another language, in this case, a German learning English. But the book is also helpful for English-speaking learners of German -- and an amusing read besides.

 NOTE: This book may be available from


The Germans have a word for it

English may have more vocabulary than any other language, but that doesn't mean it has a word for everything. Every language has words and expressions that are unique and very difficult or impossible to translate into another language. The Eskimos, contrary to popular legend, do NOT really have fifty words for snow, but German gemütlich takes several words to explain in English: cozy, comfortable, warm, inviting, and hospitable. Sometimes these words or expressions are adopted wholesale into another language -- Kindergarten and Gesundheit (health), for example, from German into English. But more often the word is just unknown in other languages. German is a rich language that has words and turns of phrases that have no equal in English. (The reverse is just as true, of course.)

German makes certain distinctions that English does not. For English "to know" German has two words, each reflecting the difference between knowing something through understanding (wissen) and knowing something through recognition (kennen). A German can also understand immediately from the use of one of two distinct verbs whether an object has been "put" on a surface in a standing (stellen) or a lying (legen) position. When it comes to eating, animals and humans in German have two different words: fressen is used for non-humans, while people essen.

Some German expressions, such as Schadenfreude (a malicious pleasure or gloating over another's misfortune), don't really have an English equivalent. ("Crocodile tears" -- Krokodiltränen -- aren't really the same thing.) The adjective überfragt (lit., "over-asked," as in "Da bin ich überfragt." "You've got me there. I don't have the answer.") has no one-word English equivalent either.

German slang and colorful expressions

One common mistake made by beginning language learners is to assume that expressions can be translated word-for-word from one language into another. (See "A Dictionary Can Be a Dangerous Thing" above.) They'll take an expression such as "to bite the dust" and render it into something like "zu beissen den Staub." Besides its word order problems (the phrase would go "den Staub beissen" in German), this literal translation makes absolutely no sense to a German-speaker. In the German language, when one "bites the dust," one actually "bites into the grass" (ins Gras beissen), perhaps because Germany is much greener than the wild West associated with this expression in English, although the German expression goes all the way back to the 16th century. More

Colorful Expressions

Cognates These are words which mean the same in German as in English. There is probably a slight difference in pronunciation. But the words are the same in both languages. By working on lists like this, vocabulary in a foreign language increases dramatically.

Additional resources with things which may be familiar to you:

more cognates

Dilberts Comic der Woche

noch mehr Comics other comics

check out advertising bloopers in various foreign countries

Juma Magazine a German for youth online magazine

For vocabulary expansion, try these:

German vocabulary

Deutsche Vokabeln

Einwortdeutsch words of one syllable with some explanation (in English)

List of idioms

German slang translated

The BBC offers online German Language training. MORE.

Simple Expressions

Pronunciation Guide

Übungen: Worksheets


These worksheets are drill instruments: use them to repeat new forms to yourself as an aid to memorization. Repeat the drill until it "feels" natural to supply the right answer.

They are best used with a study partner as an oral exercise: read the examples to each other and practice the variations. Be sure you are practicing the correct answers: check the answer key often.

To use the worksheets as written exercises or practice tests, you can print them out. Many exercises are also available in "self-correcting" form to be scored on-line.

Save paper by selecting, copying and pasting the exercise into a new document in your favorite word-processing program before printing.

Verben (Verbs)

  1. Introductory Level Worksheet: Nominative Pronouns, Present Tense of Regular Verbs, Question Words 

  2. Verben mit Stammvokabeländerung: Übung 1,Übung 2, Übung 3 (3 exercises on verbs with stem-vowel changes)

  3. Verben: haben, sein, wissen & geben, Übung 1, Übung 2

  4. Verben im Präsens und im Perfekt (Present and Present Perfect Tenses of Regular and Irregular Verbs)

  5. Imperativ Grundstufe 1, Grundstufe 2, Grundstufe 3 (3 basic exercises with the imperative)
  6. Das Präteritum von haben, sein und Modalverben (simple past tense of "haben," "sein" and modal-verbs)

  7. Das Präteritum regelmäßiger Verben (simple past tense of regular verbs)

  8. Infinitiv und Präteritumformen (matching infinitives with past-tense stems of strong verbs)

  9. Präteritum: Vorbereitung für Prüfung (exercise with simple past and past perfect)

  10. Das Präteritum verschiedener Verben aus 'Schlüsselkind'

  11. Das Präteritum und das Perfekt in "Viel zu Spät"

  12. Simple Past and Relative Pronouns: Hiddensee

  13. Verbs with Fixed Prepositions

Substantive und Pronomina

  1. "der"-Wörter im Nominativ & Akkusativ

  2. Schwaches Maskulinum

  3. Negation with "kein"

  4. Accusative Pronouns

  5. Kennen, Akkusativ, Pronomina 

  6. Dative Pronouns

  7. Dativ: Gespräch I

  8. Dativ: Gespräch II

  9. Special Expressions with Dative Case

  10. Special Expressions with Dative II


  1. auf
  2. in

Reflexive Verben

  1. Reflexive Verben mit Akkusativ und Dativ

  2. Reflexive Verben: Matching Exercise

  3. Reflexive Verbenliste mit Übungen


  1. Schwache Adjektivendungen

  2. Starke Adjektivendungen

  3. Starke Adjektivendungen II

  4. Vergleiche: Ferientage

  5. Vergleiche: Länder


  1. Subordinate Clauses

  2. Subordinating and Coordinating Conjunctions: Konjunktionen

  3. Time, Manner and Place in the Inner Field

Subjunctive I

Subjunctive II



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