Four cases, six verb tenses, three genders, four plural endings, and two ways of saying “you” — it’s no wonder that learners make a lot of mistakes when speaking German. And while making mistakes is an inevitable part of learning any language, knowing the most common ones can help you fix them before they become ingrained in your brain and form bad habits. Here are some of the most common mistakes we’ve seen among students of German — make sure you’re mindful of them!
1. Using the wrong gender
Nouns in many languages, like French and Spanish, have two genders: masculine and feminine. German, however, complicates the picture further by introducing a third neuter gender — significantly reducing your chance of randomly guessing the gender of a word. Even worse, some words look exactly the same, but mean different things depending on their gender: der Band is a book, die Band is a music group, and das Band is tape. While there are patterns to knowing which gender a word will take, there are also plenty of exceptions — unfortunately, you’ve just got to do your best at memorizing a word’s gender when you learn its meaning.
2. Confusing plural suffixes
With some exceptions, forming plurals in English is generally no problem: you just add an -s (or sometimes an -es), and you’re done. In German, however, this isn’t the case. To pluralize a word, there are four different options: -n and -en, -r and -er, -e, or s.
In addition, there is another class of words that has no plural ending, and thus the plural is the same as the singular (think of “moose” in English). Though there is a lot to learn, there’s a method behind the madness: plural endings correspond with the form of the base noun, so this common error can be eradicated with a little studying.
3. Not putting the verb at the end of the sentence
In German, the verb often comes between the subject and the object, like in English. There are some situations, however, in which the verb absolutely must come at the end of the sentence. For instance, when you’re using modal verbs like laufen or gehen, or when a verb is located within a relative clause, it always comes last in the sentence. Especially to English speakers, this can seem very unnatural, so it takes a good deal of practice and getting used to.
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4. Incorrectly telling time
If you ask for the time and someone tells you it’s halb drei (“half three”), you would probably assume that it’s 3:30. However, in German, time is measured with respect to the next hour, rather than the previous one. Therefore, halb drei means that there’s half an hour until three o’clock — so it’s 2:30, not 3:30.
5. Trying to be perfect when speaking
One of the most common mistakes among language learners, in general, is focusing on the formation of completely error-free sentences at the expense of conversational fluency. This is especially true for German, as its grammatical complexity gives learners a lot to think about. Don’t let your perfectionism get the best of you: even if you make a mistake here and there, native German speakers will still understand you. Remember: it’s better to get in a good amount of conversation practice than it is to form one grammatically perfect sentence.
Indeed, anyone learning German is bound to make a few mistakes along the way. What’s important is that you learn from your mistakes so you can master German as quickly as possible. Of course, the best way to do so is to take personalized courses from a native-speaking German teacher. Send us a quick inquiry to find out more information about our flexible German course and package options.