. 3
( 12)


restriction or the ¬nal“schwa restriction.
57 Derivational suf¬xes are those that create new lexical items (words). The derivational
suf¬x -ung, for example, creates nouns from verbs: Deckung ˜cover™ is derived from
decken ˜to cover™; Meldung ˜report™ is derived from melden ˜to report™.
58 The suf¬x -or is somewhat unusual in that it does bear stress under certain circum-
stances: Pro"fess-or ˜professor™, Pro"fess-or-s ˜professor™s™, Pro"fess-or-chen ˜little
professor™; but Profe"ss-or-en ˜professors™, Profe"ss-or-in ˜female professor™. See
Wiese 1996:293 for one possible explanation of the behavior of -or.
59 We follow the Duden grammar (Dudenredaktion 2005:699) and treat these forms as
unstressed pre¬xes. However, they probably bear some degree of stress, since the
tense vowels that some of them exhibit retain their length even though they do not
bear primary stress: [y¦]ber"¬schen ˜to over¬sh™ and w[i¦]der"sprechen ˜to contradict™
(Mangold 2005:794, 836).
60 Even those pre¬xes that are typically unstressed (those that do not contain schwa,
e.g., ent-, ver-) bear secondary stress when followed by an unstressed sylla-
ble: Æentmagneti"siert ˜demagnetized™, Æverbarrika"diert ˜barricaded™ (Kiparsky 1966:
61 The nominal pre¬x ge-, which has a schwa nucleus, is, of course, never stressed:
Ge-"¨ st ˜branches™. The pre¬xes of nouns derived from verbs with unstressed pre¬xes
are also unstressed: Ent"schuldigung ˜excuse™ (from ent"schuldigen ˜to excuse™);
¨ ¨
Uber"setzung ˜translation™ (from uber"setzen ˜to translate™).
62 Nominal miss- is sometimes unstressed. It is not clear, however, that there is a
pattern to this behavior of miss-. Compare, for example, Miss"handlung ˜maltreat-
ment™, derived from miss"handeln ˜to maltreat™, with "Missdeutung ˜misinterpreta-
tion™, derived from miss"deuten ˜to misinterpret™. We also ¬nd con¬‚icting information
in standard reference works, which further obscures the behavior of miss-. For exam-
ple, Mangold (2005:556) lists "Missachtung ˜disregard™; Wahrig (2000:877), on the
other hand, gives the form Miss"achtung.
63 The adjective pre¬x un- also occurs unstressed, but this change in stress is associated
with a change in meaning. The word "unglaublich, for example, means ˜not believ-
able™, whereas un"glaublich means ˜enormous™; "unmenschlich means ˜not human™,
but un"menschlich means ˜tremendous™.
Phonetics and phonology 53

64 The stress patterns discussed here are for citation forms (forms given in dictionary
65 The citation forms of phrasal verbs are stressed like subordinate compounds. Com-
pare "Rad fahren ˜to pedal™ and "ausgehen ˜to go out™ with "Haust¨ r ˜front door™. I
treat items like ausgehen as phrasal verbs, not as compounds, because they do not
behave syntactically as a single unit: Wir gehen heute Abend aus ˜We™re going out
this evening.™
66 See also Giegerich 1985, St¨ tzer 1989, Kohler 1995, and Wiese 1996, among others,
for further discussion of stress in compounds.
67 The sentence in (134), for example, contains four feet.
68 In German, a tag question is formed by adding words like nicht ˜not™, nicht wahr
˜right™, and oder ˜or™ to the end of a statement to form a question.
69 The intonational phrase is also called the intonation group (Fox 1984) and the tone
group (C. Hall 2003).
70 The discussion here will focus on the nucleus, as this is the most important part of
the intonational phrase. Other parts of the intonational phrase are the head, prehead,
and tail (see, e.g., Fox 1984, C. Hall 2003, for further discussion).
71 Words that bear the main semantic content are lexical words (e.g., nouns, adjectives,
main verbs). These contrast with function words (articles, pronouns, conjunctions,
etc.), which have a grammatical function.
72 See Fox 1984 for discussion and examples of additional patterns. See also F´ ry 1993
for a more recent approach to German intonation.
73 Fox (1984:62“63) claims that it is “normal” for interrogative sentences with a
question word to have a falling intonation pattern: Was `machst du? ˜What are you
doing?™ Wie `sp¨ t ist es? ˜How late is it?™ According to Fox, the falling pattern “gives
a fairly neutral implication, whereas the rise, with its element of ˜appeal™, may add
a note of extra interest, often of friendliness or politeness”: Was ´machst du? Wie
´sp¨ t ist es?

2.1 Introduction
The sub¬eld of linguistics known as morphology deals with the structure of
words. Although it typically is not dif¬cult for literate speakers of a language to
segment utterances into words when writing, for example, it is not an easy task
to provide a precise de¬nition of a word. The term “word” is ambiguous, which
adds to the dif¬culty. To distinguish among the three main senses of “word,”
we will use the more speci¬c terms “word form,” “grammatical word,” and
A word form is a minimal free form. It is the smallest stretch of speech that
can occur in isolation. In the sentence in (1), there are ¬ve word forms: sie,
lacht, uber, seine, and Witze.

(1) Sie lacht uber seine Witze.
˜She laughs at his jokes.™
Witze ˜jokes™, for example, is a word form because it can occur in isolation, as
the example below demonstrates.
(2) Was erz¨ hlt er?
˜What is he telling?™
Although a word like ein ˜a™ cannot occur in isolation in the way that Witze
can, it can still be considered a free form because its position in a sentence is
not entirely ¬xed. It can occur to the immediate left of a noun, but it can be
separated from that noun by adverbs and adjectives.
(3) Ich habe {ein Problem/ein großes Problem/ein sehr großes Problem}.
˜I have {a problem/a big problem/a very big problem}.™
A grammatical word is a word de¬ned by its position in a paradigm. The
word form lacht in (1), for example, represents the grammatical word ˜third
person singular present tense indicative of lachen™. In the sentence in (4),
Morphology 55

the same word form, lacht, represents a different grammatical word, ˜second
person plural present tense indicative of lachen™.
(4) Ihr lacht uber seine Witze.
˜You laugh at his jokes.™
The grammatical word ˜third person singular present tense subjunctive of
gewinnen™, on the other hand, is represented by two different word forms,
gew¨ nne and gew¨ nne: (gew¨ nne is from an earlier stage of the language;
o a o
see the discussion of Subjunctive II forms in section for further
(5) Wenn sie das Spiel {gew¨ nne/gew¨ nne} . . .
o a
˜If she were to win the game . . .™
When two different grammatical words are realized by the same word form,
as in the example involving lachen (both ˜third person singular . . . ™ and
˜second person plural . . . ™ are realized by the word form lacht), we refer to this
as syncretism. German exhibits numerous examples of syncretism, as we will
see when we consider the morphology of nouns, determiners, verbs, and so on.
A lexeme (written using small capital letters) is an abstract unit of vocabulary
that is realized by one or more word forms. The lexeme frau, for example, is
realized by the word forms Frau and Frauen.
Words can be further analyzed as consisting of morphemes, the smallest units
of language that bear meaning. Morphemes are abstract units, pairings of form
and meaning. Morphemes are indicated in this book by enclosing them in curly
brackets, {}. Morphemes are realized by morphs, the constituent parts of word
forms. The word form Frauen ˜women™, for example, is made up of two morphs,
/fra…8/ and /™n/. The morph /fra…8/ is a realization of the morpheme {frau},
which bears the meaning ˜woman™; /™n/ is a realization of the plural morpheme
{plural}, which has the meaning ˜more than one™. The morpheme {plural} can
also be realized as /n/: Nase /na¦z™/ ˜nose™, Nasen /na¦z™+n/ ˜noses™. These two
forms, /™n/ and /n/, are allomorphs of the morpheme {plural}.1 Allomorphs are
the variant realizations of a morpheme.
Some morphs can potentially be used on their own as word forms: Hund
˜dog™, lauf ˜run™, durch ˜through™, nein ˜no™.2 These are called potentially free
morphs. Other morphs, obligatorily bound morphs, cannot occur alone as word
forms, but must always be attached to other morphs. The morphs -t in the word
form komm+t ˜comes™, -ung in Wohn+ung ˜dwelling™, and un- in un+klar
˜unclear™ are all examples of obligatorily bound morphs.
An obligatorily bound morph that cannot realize a lexeme is an af¬x. A root
is that portion of a word form that is left when all af¬xes have been removed; it
cannot be further analyzed into smaller morphs. In the word form Hunde ˜dogs™,
for example, Hund is a root, and -e is an af¬x. In the word form Verschiebung
56 German

˜postponement™, ver- and -ung are af¬xes, and schieb is the root. A base is the
form that an af¬x is attached to, whether a root or a form that is more than just
a root. In the word form Verschiebung, the af¬x -ung is attached to the base
verschieb ˜postpone™, which is made up of the root schieb ˜push™, to which
the af¬x -ver has been added (schieb serves as the base for the af¬x -ver). A
stem is a special kind of base; it is that portion of a word form that serves as a
base for in¬‚ectional af¬xes. In the word form Verschiebungen ˜postponements™,
Verschiebung is the stem, since it serves as the base for the plural af¬x -en,
which is an in¬‚ectional af¬x.3
There are different kinds of af¬xes that are identi¬ed according to where they
are attached to a base. The af¬x types that are relevant for German are pre¬x,
suf¬x, and circum¬x. A pre¬x is attached before a base; a suf¬x is attached
after a base; a circum¬x is a discontinuous af¬x that is attached around a base.
The word Urtext ˜original (text)™ has the pre¬x ur-; schuldig ˜guilty™ has the
suf¬x -ig; and past participles like gekauft ˜bought™ have the circum¬x ge . . . t.4

2.2 In¬‚ection
In¬‚ection is the creation of different word forms of a lexeme, typically, although
not always, through the addition of af¬xes. The different word forms that realize
the lexeme hund ˜dog™, for example, Hund, Hund(e)s, Hunde, and Hunden,
are created by adding the af¬xes -(e)s, -e, and -n to the root Hund. In¬‚ectional
af¬xes do not change the part of speech of the base to which they are added.
All the in¬‚ected word forms that realize the lexeme hund, for example, are
nouns. In¬‚ectional af¬xes have a regular meaning. The -(e)s in Hundes means
˜genitive singular™ and has this same meaning when used to in¬‚ect other nouns.
A distinction can be made between two types of in¬‚ection: inherent and
contextual. Inherent in¬‚ection is determined by the information that a speaker
wishes to convey. The plural ending -e on the noun Hunde ˜dogs™, for example,
is a case of inherent in¬‚ection. A speaker uses this ending to convey the meaning
˜plural™. Tense marking on a verb is another example. Contextual in¬‚ection is
determined (required) by the syntactic context in which a word form occurs.
Case marking on a noun “ the dative ending -n on Hunden ˜dogs™, for example “
is an instance of contextual in¬‚ection. Person marking on a verb (which must
agree with the person marking of the subject) is another example of contextual
in¬‚ection. Inherent in¬‚ection typically precedes contextual in¬‚ection. We see
this in the word form Hund-e-n, where the plural suf¬x -e precedes the dative
case suf¬x -n.5
There are various ways in which in¬‚ection can be represented formally.
The Item and Arrangement (IA) model of description views words as the
“arrangement” (concatenation) of morphemes, each realized by a particular
morph. Under this model, the word Hunde ˜dogs™ is represented as the sequence
Morphology 57

of the morphemes {Hund}, realized by the morph /h…nt/, and {plural}, realized
by the morph /™/. This model is not ideal for German, however, since not all
words in the language are in¬‚ected by af¬xation. The morpheme {plural}, for
example, is not always realized as a suf¬x; it can also be realized by changing
the vowel of the root (umlaut): der Apfel ˜apple™, die Apfel ˜apples™. The past
tense forms of strong verbs are also formed by changing the vowel of the root
(ablaut): trinken ˜to drink™, trank ˜drank™.6 Vowel-changing processes are in
fact quite prevalent in the morphology of German.7
Under the Item and Process (IP) model, an in¬‚ectional rule takes a stem as
input, alters it (through processes such as af¬xation, vowel change, etc.), and
produces a word form as output. The IP model is better suited for dealing with
vowel-changing processes like umlaut and ablaut than the IA model.
A third approach to in¬‚ection, the Word and Paradigm (WP) model, is
similar to the IP model in that it views in¬‚ection as a process, but it differs
from the IP model in various ways.8 The WP approach takes the lexeme and
its paradigm of word forms as its starting point; the different word forms in the
paradigm are derived by processes or operations that apply to the lexeme. The
WP model is particularly well suited for describing the in¬‚ectional morphology
of languages like German. It is useful for treating portmanteau morphs (morphs
that realize more than one morpheme, e.g., the morph /t / in kommt ˜comes™,
which can be viewed as realizing the morphemes {third person}, {singular},
{present}, {indicative}). It is also useful for describing languages in which
rules of af¬xation as well as vowel-changing rules (like umlaut and ablaut)
are used for similar purposes.9 To the extent that we formalize our description
of the in¬‚ectional morphology of German, we will employ the WP model. In
many cases we will exemplify in¬‚ection simply by using the relevant paradigms

2.2.1 The in¬‚ection of nouns
The morphosyntactic categories of gender, number, and case play a role in the
in¬‚ection of nouns in German. Morphosyntactic categories are those categories
that are referred to by rules in both morphology and syntax; these are the
categories that play a role in the paradigm of a lexeme (Matthews 1991:38).
The values for a category are features. For example, the relevant features for
the category of number in German nouns are [singular] and [plural]. Gender Each noun in German has one of three features for
the category of gender: feminine, masculine, or neuter. That is, each noun is
assigned one of three grammatical genders. Grammatical gender is distinct
from natural gender. Although the natural gender of an entity may coincide
with the grammatical gender of the noun used to signify it (the grammatical
58 German

gender of Frau ˜woman™ is feminine and the grammatical gender of Mann
˜man™ is masculine), this is not always the case (M¨ dchen ˜girl™ is neuter).
Inanimate objects can have any of the three genders: Erde ˜earth™ is feminine,
Stein ˜stone™ is masculine, and Eisen ˜iron™ is neuter. The citation form of a
noun, the nominative singular form of the de¬nite article together with the
nominative singular form of the noun, signals its gender, since there are three
different nominative singular forms of the de¬nite article (die, der, das): die
Gabel ˜the fork™ is feminine; der L¨ ffel ˜the spoon™ is masculine; das Messer
˜the knife™ is neuter.
Although the assignment of gender in German may appear to be essentially
arbitrary, the meaning and form of a noun can often be used to determine
its gender. Airplanes are feminine, alcoholic drinks are typically masculine
(an exception is das Bier ˜beer™), and metals are most often neuter (Durrell
(6) a. Airplanes: die Boeing 767, die Cessna, die Tu-154
b. Alcoholic drinks: der Gin, der Schnaps, der Wein
c. Metals: das Aluminium, das Gold, das Silber
The suf¬x a noun ends in typically determines the gender of that noun. For
example, nouns that end in -ei, -heit, and -ung are feminine; nouns that end in
the suf¬xes -ant, -ling, and -er are masculine; nouns that end in -chen, -lein,
and -tum are neuter.10
(7) a. die B¨ ckerei ˜bakery™, die Freiheit ˜freedom™, die Leistung
b. der Fabrikant ˜industrialist™, der Lehrling ˜apprentice™, der Fahrer
c. das Teilchen ˜particle™, das B¨ chlein ˜booklet™, das Heldentum
Although nouns in German are not in¬‚ected for gender, gender does play a
role in the in¬‚ection of a noun, as there is a correlation between the gender of
a noun and the af¬xes that are used to in¬‚ect that noun. Number German nouns, like those in English, are in¬‚ected
for number. In English, nouns typically add the suf¬x -s to signal the plural
(bed, beds; night, nights; house, houses). Plural formation in German, however,
is quite different. There are a number of different af¬xes that are used to signal
the plural; the stem vowel of a noun can simply be umlauted or umlauted
together with the addition of an af¬x; some nouns form their plurals without an
overt af¬x. The complexity of plural formation in German has long fascinated
linguists and resulted in numerous analyses over the years that have attempted
to account for the systematicity that must underlie plural formation.11
Morphology 59

Table 2.1 Noun plurals

Masculine Neuter Feminine

1 -(e) der Fahrer ˜driver™ das Muster ˜pattern™
der Tag ˜day™ das Jahr ˜year™ die M¨ hsal ˜hardship™
2 -(e)n der Stachel ˜thorn™ das Auge ˜eye™ die Gabel ˜fork™
der Staat ˜state™ das Ohr ˜ear™ die Frau ˜woman™
3 -(e) der Apfel ˜apple™ das Kloster ˜cloister™ die Mutter ˜mother™
der Bach ˜stream™ das Floß ˜raft™ die Nacht ˜night™
4 (-)er der Mann ˜man™ das Dach ˜roof™
der Leib ˜body™ das Kind ˜child™
5 -s der Uhu ˜owl™ das Auto ˜car™ die Bar ˜bar™

The ¬ve plural classes in Table 2.1 capture the various possibilities for
forming plurals in German.12 We can account for the plural in¬‚ection of nouns
formally within the WP model by positing rules like those in (8) and (9), where
capital letters like X, Y, and Z are variables representing the phonological stem
(or portions of the stem) of a noun, and C stands for a consonant.13 The rules
in (8) and (9) will account for the plural in¬‚ection of nouns in class 1.14
® 
°+plural »
+class 1
= /Y™(C)/ ’ /X/
® 
°+plural »
+class 1
’ /X™/
The rule in (8) says that a noun stem in class 1 that is marked [+plural] and
ends in schwa followed (optionally) by a consonant will undergo no change.
Rule (9) says that a noun stem in class 1 that is marked [+plural] should have
/™/ added after it. Notice that we need to make sure that the rule in (8) applies
before the rule in (9) and that the rule in (9) applies only to those class 1 nouns
that cannot serve as input to the rule in (8) (so that a schwa is not added to
those nouns in class 1 that end in a schwa syllable). We can do this by means
of the Elsewhere Principle (formulated by Anderson 1992:132):
(10) Elsewhere Principle
Application of a more speci¬c rule blocks that of a later more
general one.
The rule in (8) is more speci¬c than the rule in (9) because it includes an extra
speci¬cation about the phonological shape of the noun stems that it applies to.
60 German

If we order the rule in (9) after the rule in (8), the Elsewhere Principle will
ensure that it does not apply to those noun stems to which (8) has already
Rules that are similar to (8) and (9) will account for the plural forms of nouns
in class 2. Nouns in class 2 that end in a schwa syllable will have the suf¬x -n
in the plural; those that do not will have the suf¬x -en.15
The rule in (11) will account for the plural forms of those nouns in class 3
that end in a schwa syllable.
® 
°+plural »
+class 3
= /YVZ™C/ ’ /YVZ™C/ ¨
This rule says that a noun in class 3 that is [+plural] and ends in a schwa
syllable will umlaut the main vowel of its stem. A class 3 word like Vogel
˜bird™, for example, will form its plural by umlauting /o¦/: V¨ gel ˜birds™. We
can view the umlaut portion of the rule in (11), “V ’ V,”
¨ as a shortcut way of
expressing the vowel changes in (12).
/a/ ’ /µ/
/a¦/ ’ /µ¦/
/o/ ’ /“/
/o¦/ ’ /ø¦/
/…/ ’ //
/u¦/ ’ /y¦/
/a…8/ ’ /”©/
If we order the rule in (13) after the rule in (11), the Elsewhere Principle will
ensure that it applies only to those nouns in class 3 that do not end in a schwa
® 
°+plural »
+class 3
= /YVZ / ’ /YVZ™/ ¨
The rule in (14) accounts for the plural forms of nouns in class 4.
® 
°+plural »
+class 4
= /YVZ / ’ /YVZ™r/
We assume that the umlaut portion of this rule will apply only to those nouns
in class 4 that have vowels that can be umlauted.
Morphology 61

A rule similar to the rule in (9) will account for the plural forms of nouns in
class 5. This rule adds the suf¬x -s to all nouns in this class.
A number of predictions can be made regarding the plural class membership
of nouns, and there are also a number of probabilities for class membership
based on gender assignment and form. That is, not all plural class member-
ship needs to be learned on a lexeme-by-lexeme basis. Suf¬xed words, for
example, can have fully predictable plural endings. Words with the suf¬xes
-e, -heit, -keit, -schaft, and -ung have the plural ending -(e)n (they belong to
class 2):
(15) Singular Plural
die Brems+e ˜brake™ die Bremsen
die Sch¨ n+heit ˜beauty™
o die Sch¨ nheiten
die M¨ glich+keit ˜possibility™
o die M¨ glichkeiten
die Freund+schaft ˜friendship™ die Freundschaften
die St¨ r+ung ˜disturbance™
o die St¨ rungen
Some probabilities based on gender and/or form are the following: Most
masculine and neuter nouns that end in -el, -en, or -er form their plural without
a suf¬x (they belong to class 1):
(16) Singular Plural
der Beutel ˜bag™ die Beutel
der Wagen ˜car™ die Wagen
das Messer ˜knife™ die Messer
There are exceptions to this generalization, however: der Muskel ˜muscle™,
die Muskeln (class 2); der Faden ˜thread™, die F¨ den (class 3); das Kloster
˜cloister™, die Kl¨ ster (class 3).
The great majority (90%) of all feminine nouns have the plural ending -(e)n
(Durrell 2002:18) and thus belong to class 2: die Blume ˜¬‚ower™, die Blumen;
die Zeit ˜time™, die Zeiten. About one quarter of monosyllabic feminine nouns
have the ending -e and umlaut in the plural (Durrell 2002:18) and thus belong
to class 3: die Angst ˜fear™, die Angste; die Maus ˜mouse™, die M¨ use; die Nuss
˜nut™, die N¨ sse.
Most (three quarters of) neuter nouns have the (class 1) plural ending -e.
This includes most polysyllabic neuters (Durrell 2002:19): das Bein ˜leg™, die
Beine; das Verbot ˜ban™, die Verbote; das Zeugnis ˜witness™, die Zeugnisse.16
One of the plural endings, -s, differs from the others in several ways. In
particular, it is not limited to speci¬c genders, like the “zero” ending and -er,
which are used only with masculine and neuter nouns. Although the number
of feminine plurals in -s is not large (Eisenberg 1998:159), this plural end-
ing can occur with nouns of any gender: der Scheck ˜check™, die Schecks; die
Oma ˜grandma™, die Omas; das Auto ˜car™, die Autos. In the recent literature,
62 German

the -s plural is viewed as the unmarked member in the set of marked plural
forms (Bornschein and Butt 1987) or as the regular or “default” plural ending
(Clahsen et al. 1992; Marcus et al. 1995; Wiese 1996; Bartke 1998; Cahill
and Gazdar 1999). Evidence in favor of this view includes overgeneraliza-
tion of the -s plural in experimental studies with impaired and unimpaired
monolingual German-speaking children (e.g., Clahsen et al. 1992; Bartke
Durrell (1999) questions the characterization of the -s plural as being “regu-
lar,” as it is the least frequent plural marker (Janda 1991; Marcus et al. 1995).
He also argues against a “default” ending analysis (“af¬x -s, all other things
being equal”). In Durrell™s view, the -s af¬x is no different from the other plural
endings; like other plural endings, it occurs with a particular in¬‚ectional class
of nouns.17 However, because it is the af¬x that is the least restricted (it can
occur with nouns of almost any phonological shape or nouns with any gender;
Bartke 1998), he argues that it be viewed as a “last resort” ending (“af¬x -s if all
else fails”).18 This “last resort” view would explain why -s is overgeneralized
in ¬rst language acquisition (when a plural ending has not yet been learned) or
when speakers deal with novel forms. Case German nouns are in¬‚ected for case.19 There are four
different cases in German (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive). Cases are
used to signal, among other things, the role of a noun (phrase) in a sentence
(subject, object, etc.). Not every case is realized by an af¬x. The vast majority
of nouns have at most two suf¬xes that signal case. Masculine and neuter nouns
(e.g., der Tisch ˜table™, das Licht ˜light™), but not feminine (die T¨ r ˜door™), add
-(e)s in the singular to signal the genitive case:

(17) Singular Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative der Tisch die T¨ r
u das Licht
Genitive des Tisches der T¨ r
u des Licht(e)s

All nouns add -n in the plural to signal the dative case (unless the plural stem
ends in -n or -s, in which case no suf¬x is added):

(18) Nominative Plural Dative Plural
die Tische den Tischen
die Lichter den Lichtern
die T¨ ren
u den T¨ ren
die Autos den Autos

In an older stage of German, masculine and neuter nouns were in¬‚ected with
the suf¬x -e in the dative singular. This ending is no longer common, although
it can still be found in set phrases:
Morphology 63

(19) auf dem Land(e) ˜in the country™
im Grunde genommen ˜basically™
im Jahr(e) 2006 ˜in (the year) 2006™
im Laufe des Gespr¨ chs ˜in the course of the conversation™
zu Hause ˜at home™

A small group of masculine nouns, commonly referred to as “weak” mascu-
line nouns, which typically denote living beings (der Junge ˜boy™, der Bauer
˜farmer™, der Held ˜hero™), are in¬‚ected differently.21 They have the suf¬x -(e)n
in all cases in the singular except the nominative.22

(20) Masculine weak nouns
Nominative der Junge der Bauer der Held
Accusative den Jungen den Bauern den Helden
Dative dem Jungen dem Bauern dem Helden
Genitive des Jungen des Bauern des Helden

Many of these nouns end in -e in the nominative singular (der Junge, der Affe
˜monkey™, der Franzose ˜Frenchman™). A large number can be identi¬ed by
their suf¬xes. For example, nouns that end in -ant, -ent, -ist, and -om are weak
masculine nouns (der Emigrant ˜emigrant™, der Student ˜student™, der Linguist
˜linguist™, der Gastronom ˜restaurateur™).

2.2.2 The in¬‚ection of determiners and pronouns Determiners Determiners are a closed set of words that co-
occur with nouns and are used to express a variety of semantic contrasts. They
help to make the meaning of a noun more precise. The de¬nite article (e.g.,
der ˜the™) is one type of determiner. In German, a determiner occurs at the
beginning of a noun phrase and is followed by an (optional) adjectival phrase
and then a noun: der sehr große Fisch ˜the very big ¬sh™. De¬nite articles The de¬nite article in German is in¬‚ected
for gender, number, and case; it agrees in gender, number, and case with the
noun with which it occurs. Gender is only relevant in the singular; the plural
forms of the de¬nite article are in¬‚ected for case only. Table 2.2 lists all the
forms for the relevant gender, number, and case combinations of the de¬nite
article in German. Although there are sixteen different combinations, there are
only six different forms of the de¬nite article: der, die, das, den, dem, and
des. Each of these forms occurs at least twice in the paradigm; two occur as
many as four times. One of the most interesting forms is der, which can serve
64 German

Table 2.2 The de¬nite article

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative der das die die
Accusative den das die die
Dative dem dem der den
Genitive des des der der

as the masculine nominative form, the feminine dative form, and the feminine
and plural genitive forms. The de¬nite article in German is a particularly good
example of the syncretism that is prevalent in the language.23
In spoken German, the de¬nite article is relatively unstressed, and reduced
forms are not uncommon:
(21) Halts (= Halt das) Maul! (Dudenredaktion 2005:301)
˜Shut your trap.™
When the forms dem, den, das, and der are only weakly stressed, they can be
contracted with certain prepositions. For example, in place of in dem ˜in the™
one can use im, or instead of zu der ˜to the™ one can say zur. The contracted
forms are most common in set phrases (am Montag ˜on Monday™, zum Essen
˜for lunch/dinner™) or idiomatic expressions (jemanden hinters Licht f¨ hren ˜to
pull the wool over somebody™s eyes™). Demonstratives Demonstratives are used to locate some-
one or something in relationship to the speaker, for example, or the addressee.
Two relevant notions are proximal (close to the speaker) and distal (distant).
The most frequent demonstrative determiner in spoken German, der, which
is always stressed, can have both proximal (˜this™) and distal (˜that™) meaning
(Durrell 2002:83):
(22) Ich m¨ chte ein St¨ ck von der [te¦ɐ8] Wurst.
o u
˜I would like a piece of this/that sausage.™
The forms of the demonstrative determiner der are identical to those of the
de¬nite article (see Table 2.2).
The demonstrative dieser ˜this™ has proximal meaning and is similar to
English this. Like the demonstrative der, dieser is in¬‚ected for gender, number,
and case. The various forms of this demonstrative are made up of the root
dies- ˜this™, to which suf¬xes are added that signal gender, case, and number.
In Table 2.3, which lists all the forms of dieser, these suf¬xes are in bold
Morphology 65

Table 2.3 The demonstrative dieser

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative dieser dieses diese diese
Accusative diesen dieses diese diese
Dative diesem diesem dieser diesen
Genitive dieses dieses dieser dieser

Table 2.4 The inde¬nite article ein and negative kein

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative (k)ein (k)ein (k)eine keine
Accusative (k)einen (k)ein (k)eine keine
Dative (k)einem (k)einem (k)einer keinen
Genitive (k)eines (k)eines (k)einer keiner

The distal counterpart to dieser is jener ˜that™.
(23) Jenes Auto ist gr¨ n. Dieses Auto ist rot.
˜That car is green. This car is red.™
The demonstrative jener is in¬‚ected like dieser; it takes the same endings as
dieser (see Table 2.3).24 Inde¬nite articles The inde¬nite article ein ˜a™ has no plural
forms; inde¬nite plural nouns are simply used without an article:
(24) Teure Schuhe machen Jogging nicht sicherer.
˜Expensive shoes don™t make jogging safer.™
The negative inde¬nite article, kein, does have plural (as well as singular) forms:
keine Schuhe ˜no shoes™. Table 2.4 lists the forms of ein together with the forms
of kein. The various forms of ein (and kein) are made up of the root ein ˜a™
(kein ˜no™), to which endings that signal gender, number, and case are added.
Notice that some forms have no endings: the masculine nominative form and
the neuter nominative and accusative forms.
(25) a. Ein Lehrer (masc. nom.) kann kein Vaterersatz (masc. nom.) sein.
˜A teacher can™t be a father substitute.™
b. Ein Kind (neut. nom.) hat kein Recht (neut. acc.) darauf.
˜A child has no right to that.™
66 German

Table 2.5 Possessive determiners (unin¬‚ected)

Personal pronoun Possessive determiner

Singular ich ˜I™ mein ˜my™
du ˜you™ dein ˜your™
Sie ˜you™ (polite) Ihr ˜your™ (polite)
er ˜he™ sein ˜his, its™
sie ˜she™ ihr ˜her, its™
es ˜it™ sein ˜its™
Plural wir ˜we™ unser ˜our™
ihr ˜you™ euer ˜your™
Sie ˜you™ (polite) Ihr ˜your™ (polite)
sie ˜they™ ihr ˜their™ Possessives The possessive determiners express notions
like ˜my™, ˜her™, ˜your™, etc. Each personal pronoun in German has a corre-
sponding possessive determiner, as shown in Table 2.5 (this table contains only
the stems of the possessive determiners). Like other determiners, possessive
determiners are in¬‚ected for gender, number, and case. They take the same
endings as the inde¬nite article (see Table 2.4). Like the inde¬nite article, pos-
sessive determiners do not have endings in the masculine nominative and the
neuter nominative and accusative.25 Pronouns Pronouns are those words that can be used to sub-
stitute for a noun phrase. The pronoun sie ˜she™, for example, can be substituted
for the noun phrase die Frau ˜the woman™ in (26a), yielding the sentence in

(26) a. Die Frau l¨ chelte.
˜The woman smiled.™
b. Sie l¨ chelte.
˜She smiled.™

There are various kinds of pronouns: personal pronouns, relative pronouns,
demonstrative pronouns, interrogative pronouns, possessive pronouns, and
inde¬nite pronouns. Personal pronouns Personal pronouns are words like I, you,
he, and she; they stand for a person or thing. In German, personal pronouns
are in¬‚ected for person (¬rst, second, third), number, gender (these are only
relevant for the third person singular pronouns), and case.26 Table 2.6 lists all
the forms of the personal pronouns in German.27
Morphology 67

Table 2.6 Personal pronouns in German

Person Nominative Accusative Dative Genitive

1st ich ˜I™ mich mir meiner
2nd familiar du ˜you™ dich dir deiner
polite Sie ˜you™ Sie Ihnen Ihrer
3rd masculine er ˜he™ ihn ihm seiner
feminine sie ˜she™ sie ihr ihrer
neuter es ˜it™ es ihm seiner
1st wir ˜we™ uns uns unser
2nd familiar ihr ˜you™ euch euch euer
polite Sie ˜you™ Sie Ihnen Ihrer
3rd sie ˜they™ sie ihnen ihrer

German, unlike English, makes a distinction between the familiar and the
polite in second person pronominal forms. The familiar forms for ˜you™ are du
(singular) and ihr (plural). There is one polite form, Sie, which can be singular
or plural in meaning:28
(27) a. Was meinen Sie damit, Frau Schneider?
˜What do you mean by that, Mrs. Schneider?™
b. Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, gestatten Sie mir bitte . . .
˜Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me . . .™
The third person singular personal pronouns are in¬‚ected for gender and are
used to refer to objects as well as people. In English, the “neuter” pronoun it
can be used to refer to any object. In German, neuter es can only be used to
refer to objects identi¬ed by neuter nouns. If a noun phrase with a masculine
singular noun is replaced by a pronoun, the pronoun must be masculine. This
holds for noun phrases with feminine singular nouns as well:
(28) a. Ich habe den Film schon mehrmals gesehen. Er ist einer meiner
˜I™ve already seen the ¬lm several times. It™s one of my favorite
b. Er nahm die Zeitung und brachte sie die Treppe runter.
˜He took the newspaper and brought it down the stairs.™
Re¬‚exive pronouns are personal pronouns that are used to refer back to the
subject of a sentence or clause. In English, re¬‚exive pronouns end in -self or
-selves: myself, yourself, themselves, etc. In German, re¬‚exive pronouns are
identical in form to personal pronouns, with the exception of sich, which serves
as the third person (and polite second person) re¬‚exive in the accusative and
68 German

Table 2.7 Re¬‚exive pronouns in German

Person Accusative Dative Genitive

1st mich ˜myself™ mir meiner
2nd familiar dich ˜yourself™ dir deiner
Singular polite sich ˜yourself™ sich Ihrer
3rd masc., neut. sich ˜himself/itself™ sich seiner
feminine sich ˜herself™ sich ihrer

1st uns ˜ourselves™ uns unser
2nd familiar euch ˜yourselves™ euch euer
Plural polite sich ˜yourselves™ sich Ihrer
3rd sich ˜themselves™ sich ihrer

dative case. Compare the ¬rst person pronouns (personal and re¬‚exive) in (29)
with the third person pronouns in (30):
(29) a. Er hat mich verteidigt.
˜He defended me.™
b. Ich habe mich verteidigt.
˜I defended myself.™
(30) a. Er hat ihn verteidigt.
˜He defended him.™
b. Er hat sich verteidigt.
˜He defended himself.™
Table 2.7 lists the re¬‚exive pronouns in German and highlights the forms that are
distinct from their personal pronoun counterparts.29 Because the third person
genitive forms are potentially ambiguous, they are accompanied by selbst when
a re¬‚exive interpretation is intended:
(31) Er spottet seiner selbst.
˜He is mocking himself.™
The form selbst (or selber) is also used without a re¬‚exive and has the same
function as the emphatic re¬‚exive in English:30
(32) a. Sie hat es selbst/selber gesagt.
˜She said it herself.™
b. Sie selbst/selber hat es gesagt.
˜She herself said it.™ Relative pronouns A relative pronoun is a pronoun that is
used at the beginning of a subordinate clause (relative clause) that describes a
Morphology 69

Table 2.8 The relative pronoun der

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative der das die die
Accusative den das die die
Dative dem dem der denen
Genitive dessen dessen deren deren

preceding noun. The pronoun der ˜who, which™ is the most common relative
pronoun in German.31
(33) Kennst du den Mann (masc. acc.), der (masc. nom.) dort sitzt?
˜Do you know the man who is sitting there?™
The relative pronoun der is in¬‚ected for gender, number, and case. It agrees
with its antecedent in gender and number; its case is determined by its function
in the relative clause. In (33), the relative pronoun is masculine because its
antecedent, Mann ˜man™, is masculine. It is nominative because it functions
as the subject of the relative clause. Table 2.8 lists the forms of the relative
pronoun der. These forms are identical to the forms of the de¬nite article, der,
except in the genitive and dative plural. The forms of the relative pronoun der
that differ from those of the de¬nite article are highlighted in Table 2.8. Pronominal use of determiners As noted above, the forms
of the relative pronoun der are very similar to those of the de¬nite article der (see
Table 2.2), a kind of determiner. It turns out that essentially all the determiners in
German can also be used pronominally. Compare the demonstrative determiner
in (34a) with the demonstrative pronoun in (34b):
(34) a. Den Ratschlag m¨ chte er nicht annehmen.
˜That bit of advice he doesn™t want to take.™
b. Den m¨ chte er nicht annehmen.
˜That he doesn™t want to take.™
The demonstrative pronoun der is identical to the relative pronoun der, with
the exception that the form derer can be used instead of deren in the genitive
plural to refer forwards:
(35) In Israel und Pal¨ stina steigt die Zahl deren/derer, die nach einem
Kompromiss suchen wollen.
˜In Israel and Palestine, the number of those who want to search for
a compromise is rising.™
The forms of the demonstrative pronoun der are listed in Table 2.9.
70 German

Table 2.9 The demonstrative pronoun der

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative der das die die
Accusative den das die die
Dative dem dem der denen
Genitive dessen dessen deren deren/derer

Table 2.10 The inde¬nite pronoun einer and the
negative pronoun keiner

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative (k)einer (k)eines (k)eine keine
Accusative (k)einen (k)eines (k)eine keine
Dative (k)einem (k)einem (k)einer keinen
Genitive (k)eines (k)eines (k)einer keiner

The demonstrative pronoun dieser has the same set of endings as the demon-
strative determiner dieser (see Table 2.3). That is, the in¬‚ection of dieser is
the same whether it used as a determiner or a pronoun. This also holds for the
demonstrative jener as well as other demonstratives and determiners that are
in¬‚ected like dieser.
The inde¬nite article, ein, and all the other determiners that are in¬‚ected like
it (kein, the possessives, irgendein), can also be used as pronouns. Recall that
the masculine nominative and neuter nominative and accusative forms of these
words have no endings when used as determiners (see Table 2.4). When used as
pronouns, all the forms have endings. The pronominal ending of the masculine
nominative form is -er; the neuter nominative and accusative endings are -es;
otherwise the pronominal endings are identical to the determiner endings.
(36) a. Keiner (masc. nom.) war da.
˜Nobody was there.™
b. Ich m¨ chte eines (neut. acc.) meiner Mopeds verkaufen.
˜I would like to sell one of my mopeds.™
See Table 2.10, which lists the pronominal forms for einer and keiner.

2.2.3 The in¬‚ection of adjectives
There are two basic ways in which adjectives in German are in¬‚ected. They
can be in¬‚ected for degree (positive, comparative, superlative). This type of
Morphology 71

in¬‚ection is an example of inherent in¬‚ection. When adjectives occur prenom-
inally, they receive additional in¬‚ectional morphology. This type of in¬‚ection
is contextual; it is dependent on the features of the syntactic environment in
which the adjective occurs. Degree forms The positive degree form of an adjective is its
basic stem. The comparative form is produced by adding the suf¬x -er to the
stem; the superlative is formed by adding -(e)st:32
(37) a. sch¨ n ˜beautiful™, sch¨ ner ˜more beautiful™, sch¨ nst- ˜most beautiful™
o o o
b. freundlich ˜friendly™, freundlicher ˜friendlier™, freundlichst- friendliest™
c. bunt ˜colorful™, bunter ˜more colorful™, buntest- ˜most colorful™
Contextually determined in¬‚ectional endings (see the following section for
further details) are added after comparative and superlative endings.
(38) a. kein sch¨ n-er-er Tag ˜no more beautiful day™
b. der sch¨ n-st-e Tag ˜the most beautiful day™
This is to be expected, since in¬‚ection for degree is a type of inherent in¬‚ection.
A handful of monosyllabic adjectives with the root vowels a, o, and u umlaut
these vowels in the comparative and superlative:
¨ ¨
(39) a. alt ˜old™, alter ˜older™, altest- ˜oldest™
b. grob ˜coarse™, gr¨ ber ˜coarser™, gr¨ bst- ˜coarsest™
o o
c. jung ˜young™, j¨ nger ˜younger™, j¨ ngst- ˜youngest™
u u
As in English, some adjectives have irregular comparative and/or superlative
(40) a. gut ˜good™, besser ˜better™, best- ˜best™
b. hoch/hoh- ˜high™, h¨ her ˜higher™, h¨ chst- ˜highest™33
o o
c. nah ˜near™, n¨ her ˜nearer™, n¨ chst- ˜nearest™
a a
The in¬‚ectional paradigm of the adjective gut, with comparative and superlative
forms that are very different from its positive form, provides an excellent
example of suppletion. We speak of suppletion when two forms in the paradigm
of a lexeme show no phonological similarity.34 Prenominal in¬‚ection When adjectives are used attributively
(when they precede the noun they modify), they are in¬‚ected for gender, num-
ber, and case; they agree with the noun they modify in gender, number, and
case. We will refer to the in¬‚ectional af¬xes on adjectives that indicate gender,
number, and case as adjective endings. The adjective toll ˜fantastic™ is used
attributively in (41a); it has the adjective ending -es. When adjectives are used
predicatively (when they do not precede the noun they modify), they are not
72 German

Table 2.11 The strong adjective endings

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative -er -es -e -e
Accusative -en -es -e -e
Dative -em -em -er -en
Genitive -en -en -er -er

in¬‚ected for gender, number, or case; they receive no in¬‚ectional af¬xes beyond
those indicating degree.35 The adjective toll is used predicatively in (41b); it
therefore has no adjective ending.
(41) a. Es war ein tolles Wochenende.
˜It was a fantastic weekend.™
b. Das Wochenende war toll.
˜The weekend was fantastic.™
When an adjective is used attributively, it is also sensitive to the type (if any) of
determiner that precedes it. For example, one says der gute Mensch ˜the good
person™, with the adjective ending -e, but ein guter Mensch ˜a good person™,
with the ending -er.
The traditional approach to adjective endings identi¬es three different
paradigms of endings (Grebe 1973:244“246): strong endings (used when no
determiner precedes the adjective); weak (used when the adjective is preceded
by the de¬nite article and determiners in¬‚ected like dieser); and mixed endings
(adjective preceded by determiners in¬‚ected like ein, kein, etc.). Because each
paradigm has sixteen relevant gender, number, and case combinations, this
yields forty-eight different combinations. A somewhat simpler approach (with
only thirty-two different combinations) identi¬es just two paradigms, strong
and weak (e.g., Seymour 1959, Durrell 2002:126, Dudenredaktion 2005:368“
369). This approach eliminates the mixed paradigm because it recognizes the
overlap between the traditional strong and weak paradigms and the mixed
paradigm. Under this approach, the strong endings (see Table 2.11) are used
when the adjective is not preceded by a determiner or is preceded by an
unin¬‚ected determiner (a determiner without a suf¬x); the weak endings (see
Table 2.12) are used when the adjective is preceded by an in¬‚ected determiner.36
Becaues both of these approaches present the adjective endings in paradigms,
they obscure somewhat the fact that there are very few distinct endings: -er,
-es, -e, -en, -em.37
More pedagogically oriented approaches to adjective endings, which
endeavor to present the facts in the simplest way possible, capitalize on the
small number of distinct endings and attempt to motivate any choice of ending
Morphology 73

Table 2.12 The weak adjective endings

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural

Nominative -e -e -e -en
Accusative -en -e -e -en
Dative -en -en -en -en
Genitive -en -en -en -en

for each combination of gender/number and case by considering the in¬‚ection
of the noun phrase as a whole (see, for example, Dickens 1983, Barthel 1994).
Combining insights from the various approaches to adjective endings (includ-
ing the more traditional approaches), the in¬‚ection of adjectives can be
described in two steps, (a) and (b) below.38
(a) The adjective ending supplies the same gender, case, and number infor-
mation that the endings of dieser supply if there is nothing in the noun phrase
that already supplies this information. For example, if there is no determiner in
the noun phrase and the noun itself is not in¬‚ected for case, the adjective will
take the ending that dieser would have. This is demonstrated by the nominative
singular and plural noun phrases in (42).
(42) a. dieser Wein ˜this wine™
billiger Wein ˜cheap wine™
b. dieses Bier ˜this beer™
gutes Bier ˜good beer™
c. diese Suppe ˜this soup™
warme Suppe ˜warm soup™
d. diese Apfel ˜these apples™
rote Apfel ˜red apples™
If there is a determiner but it does not have an ending, the adjective will take
the ending that dieser would have. This situation occurs with masculine nouns
in the nominative and neuter nouns in the nominative or accusative, as shown
in (43).
(43) a. dieser Wein ˜this wine™
ein billiger Wein ˜a cheap wine™
b. dieses Bier ˜this beer™
ein gutes Bier ˜a good beer™
This ¬rst step in our account of the in¬‚ection of adjectives capitalizes on the
fact that the strong adjective endings (see Table 2.11) are virtually identical
to the endings of the determiner dieser (see Table 2.3). The only difference
between the two sets of endings is in the masculine and neuter genitive singular,
74 German

where dieser has the ending -es and a strong adjective has the ending -en. This
difference is noted by highlighting the masculine and neuter genitive singular
endings in Table 2.11; these endings are accounted for by step (b) below.
(b) If something in the noun phrase already supplies the gender, case, and
number information that the endings of dieser supply, the adjective takes the
ending -e when it occurs in a noun phrase in its citation (canonical) form,
otherwise it takes -en.39 The citation form of a noun phrase is the nominative
singular form, or any form that is identical to the nominative singular (the
accusative singular for neuter and feminine nouns). For example, in the phrase
der billige Wein, the de¬nite article, der, supplies the same gender, case, and
number information that the corresponding form of dieser would, and the noun
phrase is in its citation form (nominative singular); therefore the adjective
ending on billig is -e; see (44a). In the noun phrase die roten Apfel ˜the red
apples™, the de¬nite article, die, supplies the same gender, case, and number
information that the corresponding form of dieser would (diese), but the noun
is not in its citation form, so the adjective ending is -en instead of -e; see
(44) a. dieser Wein ˜this wine™
der billige Wein ˜the cheap wine™
b. diese Apfel ˜the apples™
die roten Apfel ˜the red apples™
If a masculine or neuter noun is in the genitive singular and not preceded by
a determiner, the adjective modifying it will receive the ending -en, because
the noun phrase does contain the information that an ending of dieser would
supply “ these nouns are in¬‚ected with the ending -(e)s “ and the noun phrase
is not in its canonical form:
(45) a. die Tasse schwarzen Kaffees (masc. gen.) ˜the cup of black coffee™
b. das St¨ ck harten Brotes (neut. gen.) ˜the piece of hard bread™
This second step in our account of the in¬‚ection of adjectives motivates the
weak endings in the masculine and neuter genitive singular (the endings in
Table 2.11 that differ from the corresponding endings of dieser), and explains
the relatively “uninformative” and undifferentiated weak adjective endings (see
Table 2.12).
Support for this approach to the in¬‚ection of adjectives comes from adjectives
that modify weak masculine nouns. Recall that weak masculine nouns are
in¬‚ected with the ending -en in the genitive singular, not with the -(e)s ending
of “strong” masculine nouns: Compare dieses Studenten ˜of this student™ (weak
noun) with dieses Mannes ˜of this man™ (strong noun). If a weak masculine noun
in the genitive singular is modi¬ed by an adjective not preceded by a determiner,
the adjective ending is not -en (the ending for an adjective modifying a strong
Morphology 75

noun), but -es, the ending that dieser would have, since this ending does not
occur elsewhere in the noun phrase. Compare the in¬‚ection of the adjective and
weak masculine noun in (46a) (from Durrell 2002:126) with the in¬‚ection of
the adjective and strong masculine noun in (46b).41

(46) a. der Gesuch obiges Adressanten ˜the request of the above sender™
b. im Sinne obigen Punktes ˜in the sense of the point above™

For further details of adjectival in¬‚ection, see, for example, Durrell 2002,
Dudenredaktion 2001, and Dudenredaktion 2005.

2.2.4 The in¬‚ection of verbs
Verbs in German are in¬‚ected for the morphosyntactic categories person, num-
ber, tense, mood, participle, and in¬nitive.42 The citation (dictionary) form of
a verb is the in¬nitive, a form that ends in -(e)n: lieb-en ˜to love™, sammel-n
˜to collect™, zitter-n ˜to tremble™. The stem of a verb is the in¬nitive without
the -(e)n suf¬x. Verbs are in¬‚ected by attaching af¬xes to the stem and/or by
changing the root vowel of the stem. For example, liebt ˜loves™ (from lieben ˜to
love™) is formed with an af¬x; trank ˜drank™ (from trinken ˜to drink™) is formed
by changing the root vowel; and trankst ˜drank™ (second person singular) is
formed by changing the root vowel and adding an af¬x. The way in which a
verb is in¬‚ected is determined by the class of verb to which it belongs. There
are two main classes, weak and strong. There is also a small mixed class, made
up of verbs that have features of both weak and strong verbs; a small class that
includes the modals (verbs like k¨ nnen ˜to be able to™ and m¨ ssen ˜to have to™);
o u
and some irregular verbs (e.g., sein ˜to be™).
The majority of German verbs are weak. Weak verbs are regular; they form
their past and past participle forms with a -t suf¬x: lieben ˜to love™, liebte
˜loved™, geliebt ˜loved™. There are many fewer strong verbs than weak verbs.
According to the Duden grammar, there are roughly 170 simple (non-derived)
strong verbs in German (Dudenredaktion 2005:456). Strong verbs form their
principal parts (in¬nitive, past, past participle) by alternating the vowel of the
root: trinken ˜to drink™, trank ˜drank™, getrunken ˜drunk™. This vowel alternation
is known as ablaut, and it can be seen in irregular verbs in English like drink
(drink, drank, drunk). Although there are a number of different ablaut patterns
that must be learned in German, the strong verbs appear to be able to resist
pressure to become regular (weak), in spite of their small numbers. Many strong
verbs in German, like their strong (irregular) counterparts in English, are very
common (they belong to the basic vocabulary and are used frequently) and are
thus relatively stable as strong verbs.
76 German

Table 2.13 Present tense forms

Number Person Present tense

Singular 1st ich lieb-e ˜I love™
2nd du lieb-st ˜you love™
3rd er/sie/es lieb-t ˜he/she/it loves™
Plural 1st wir lieb-en ˜we love™
2nd ihr lieb-t ˜you love™
3rd sie lieb-en ˜they love™ Person and number Verbs in German agree with their sub-
jects in person and number. The person and number of the subject of a verb
determine the af¬x that is attached to that verb. Any form of a verb that is
in¬‚ected for person and number is a ¬nite form.43 A form that is not in¬‚ected
for person and number is a non-¬nite form. Non-¬nite forms are the in¬nitive
(lieben ˜to love™); the present participle (liebend ˜loving™); and the past partici-
ple (geliebt ˜loved™, getrunken ˜drunk™). See section for a discussion of
the in¬‚ection of these forms.
The relevant person distinctions (features) are ¬rst, second, and third (per-
son); the relevant number distinctions are singular and plural. Table 2.13 illus-
trates the different person and number af¬xes for the present tense (indicative)
forms of the verb lieben ˜to love™.44 Not included in this chart (or any other
verb charts) are the polite second person forms, since these are identical with
the third person plural forms: compare Sie lieben ˜you (polite) love™ and sie
lieben ˜they love™.
Notice that it does not make sense to try to identify a unique af¬x for each
of the person and number distinctions in German. For example, given the three
different af¬xes on present tense singular forms, -e, -st, and -t, one would be
hard pressed to ¬nd a single af¬x with the feature [singular]. Similarly, given the
singular and plural third person af¬xes, -t and -en, it would not be particularly
productive to search for a single af¬x with the feature [third person]. Verbal
af¬xes in German are portmanteau morphs, morphs that realize more than one
morpheme. The -t af¬x on liebt in sie liebt ˜she loves™, for example, can be
viewed as realizing the morphemes {third person}and {singular}as well as the
morphemes {present}and {indicative}. Tense Tense is a morphosyntactic category of the verb that
is used to express the time at which the action denoted by the verb takes
place. There are two features for the category of tense in German, [+past] and
[’past]: ¬nite verbs in German (those in¬‚ected for person and number) are
either [+past] or [’past]. We use the feature [’past] instead of the feature
Morphology 77

[present] to capture the fact that verb forms like besuche in (47) express more
than just present-time meaning.
(47) Ich besuche ihn.
I visit([’past]) him
˜I™m visiting him.™/˜I™ll visit him.™
The verb form besuche in (47) can have present-time or future-time meaning.
In this discussion of tense we will consider the various forms of the verb that
are in¬‚ected for the category of tense. In chapter 4 (section 4.3) we will discuss
the semantics of these verb forms as well as the semantics of the periphrastic
tense forms. Periphrastic tense forms are those that are made up of more than
one word (periphrasis is the use of a multi-word expression in place of a single
word). German present perfect forms, for example (see [48a] and [49a] below),
are periphrastic.45 They are made up of a present tense form of an auxiliary
verb (haben ˜to have™ or sein ˜to be™) and the past participle of the main (lexical)
verb. Like past tense forms, present perfect forms are used to locate events in
(48) a. Sie hat lange geschlafen. (present perfect)
˜She {slept/has slept} for a long time.™
b. Sie schlief lange. (past)
˜She slept for a long time.™
(49) a. Sie ist nach Hause gefahren. (present perfect)
˜She {drove/has driven} home.™
b. Sie fuhr nach Hause. (past)
˜She drove home.™

However, we do not include the present perfect forms of a verb (the auxiliary
together with the past participle) in the in¬‚ectional paradigm of that verb; we
only include the past participle, the portion of the verb that is used in the
formation of the present perfect.46 This discussion of the in¬‚ection of verbs for
the category of tense will therefore not deal with present perfect tense forms. It
will also exclude discussion of other periphrastic tense forms (the past perfect,
double past perfect, and the so-called future and future perfect). When we
discuss the semantics of these forms in chapter 4, we will touch brie¬‚y on their
structure. The present tense When we speak here of the “present
tense,” we mean those verb forms that realize the feature [’past]. These are
the forms that textbooks and grammars typically refer to as the “present tense.”
As mentioned above, Table 2.13 presents the different present tense forms for
the verb lieben ˜to love™. The verb lieben is a weak verb; the present tense of
78 German

weak verbs is formed by adding the appropriate person and number endings to
the stem of the verb. Some present tense forms involve the epenthesis of -e-:47
(50) e-Epenthesis
If a verbal base ends in -d, -t, or in an obstruent followed by a nasal,
-e- is added before the endings -st and -t.
We ¬nd e-Epenthesis with a verb like arbeiten ˜to work™, which has a stem that
ends in -t, and with a verb like offnen ˜to open™, which has a stem that ends in
a fricative followed by n:
(51) a. du liebst ˜you love™
du arbeitest ˜you work™, du offnest ˜you open™
b. sie liebt ˜she loves™
sie arbeitet ˜she works™, sie offnet ˜she opens™
c. ihr liebt ˜you love™
ihr arbeitet ˜you work™, ihr offnet ˜you open™
The strong verbs and verbs belonging to the mixed class take the same endings
in the present as the weak verbs. Some strong verbs, however, also change the
root vowel in second and third person singular forms. Most strong verbs with
-e- ([e¦] or [µ]) in the root change this to -ie- or -i- ([i¦] or [©]) in the second and
third person singular forms:
(52) a. lesen ˜to read™: du liest, sie liest
b. sprechen ˜to speak™: du sprichst, sie spricht
Most strong verbs with -a- or -au- in the root umlaut these vowels in the second
and third person singular forms:48
(53) a. fahren ˜to drive™: du f¨ hrst, sie f¨ hrt
a a
b. laufen ˜to run™: du l¨ ufst, sie l¨ uft
a a
If the root of a strong verb with a vowel change ends in -t, no -e- is added before
the ending -st in the second person singular (e-Epenthesis does not apply), and
no ending is added in the third person singular:49
(54) a. gelten ˜to be worth™: du giltst, sie gilt
b. halten ˜to hold™: du h¨ ltst, sie h¨ lt
a a
The verbs in the class that includes the modals are in¬‚ected quite differently
from their strong and weak counterparts. The root vowel of the singular is
typically different from the root vowel of the in¬nitive (and plural). In addition,
the ¬rst and third person singular forms have no endings. Table 2.14 lists the
present tense forms of the modals (d¨ rfen ˜to be allowed to™, k¨ nnen ˜to be
u o
able to™, m¨ gen ˜to like to™, m¨ ssen ˜to have to™, sollen ˜to be to™, wollen ˜to
o u
want to™) and wissen ˜to know™. Historically, these were past forms with past
meaning. They are now past forms with present meaning.50
Morphology 79

Table 2.14 Present tense forms of the modal verbs and wissen ˜to know™

d¨ rfen
u k¨ nnen
o m¨ gen
o m¨ ssen
u sollen wollen wissen

ich darf kann mag muss soll will weiß
du darfst kannst magst musst sollst willst weißt
er/sie/es darf kann mag muss soll will weiß
wir d¨ rfen
u k¨ nnen
o m¨ gen
o m¨ ssen
u sollen wollen wissen
ihr d¨ rft
u k¨ nnt
o m¨ gt
o m¨ sst
u sollt wollt wisst
sie d¨ rfen
u k¨ nnen
o m¨ gen
o m¨ ssen
u sollen wollen wissen

Table 2.15 The past of weak verbs

lieben arbeiten offnen

ich liebt-e arbeitet-e offnet-e
du liebt-est arbeitet-est offnet-est
er/sie/es liebt-e arbeitet-e offnet-e
wir liebt-en arbeitet-en offnet-en
ihr liebt-et arbeitet-et offnet-et
sie liebt-en arbeitet-en offnet-en The past tense Past tense forms are those ¬nite verb forms
in German that realize the feature [+past].51 Weak verbs form the past by
simply adding -t to the stem (which yields what we will call the past stem) and
then the endings for person and number. The person and number endings in
the past of weak verbs are identical to the person and number endings in the
present “ with the exception that the third person singular ending is -e (rather
than -t, as in the present). The rule of e-Epenthesis applies in the formation
of the past stem for those verbs that end in -d, -t, or in an obstruent followed
by a nasal, since the past ending is -t. In addition, because the past stem ends
in -t, -e- must be also be added before the person/number endings -st and -t.
Table 2.15 lists the past forms for the weak verbs lieben ˜to love™, arbeiten ˜to
work™ (which has a stem that ends in -t), and offnen ˜to open™ (which has a stem
that ends in a fricative followed by n). The instances of -e- that are produced
by e-Epenthesis are in bold face in this table.
The past of strong verbs is formed by changing the root vowel and adding
endings for person and number. The past endings of strong verbs differ from
those of weak verbs, however. In fact, the ¬rst and third person singular forms
of strong verbs in the past have no endings. Table 2.16 lists the past forms for
the strong verbs trinken ˜to drink™ and halten ˜to hold™. As Table 2.16 shows,
e-Epenthesis applies only optionally before the second person singular ending
-st with strong verbs like halten (which ends in -t); it is mandatory before
80 German

Table 2.16 The past of strong verbs

trinken halten

ich trank hielt
du trank-st hielt(e)st
er/sie/es trank hielt
wir trank-en hielt-en
ihr trank-t hielt-et
sie trank-en hielt-en

Table 2.17 Ablaut classes in German

In¬nitive Past Past participle Meaning

ei ie ie schreiben schrieb geschrieben ˜to write™
ei i i beißen biss gebissen ˜to bite™
i a u trinken trank getrunken ˜to drink™
i a o beginnen begann begonnen ˜to begin™
ie o o ¬‚iegen ¬‚og ge¬‚ogen ˜to ¬‚y™
e a o helfen half geholfen ˜to help™
e a e lesen las gelesen ˜to read™
e o o heben hob gehoben ˜to lift™
a u a fahren fuhr gefahren ˜to drive™
a ie a fallen ¬el gefallen ˜to fall™

the second person plural ending -t. The epenthesized -e- is in bold face in
Table 2.16.
There are a number of different ablaut classes (subclasses of strong verbs)
that can be identi¬ed on the basis of the vowel changes in their principal parts
(in¬nitive, past, past participle).52 According to Durrell (2002:234), most of the
strong verbs belong to one of ten different ablaut classes. These ten classes are
given in Table 2.17. In some classes, the vowel of the past participle is identical
with the vowel of the in¬nitive; in others, the vowel of the past participle is
identical with the vowel of the past. In no class, however, is the vowel of the
past identical with the vowel of the in¬nitive.
Verbs that belong to the mixed class form the past by changing the root vowel,
like strong verbs, but they also add -t to the stem and then the person and number
endings of the weak past. The past participle of verbs in the mixed class also
has characteristics of both strong and weak verbs. It has the same vowel as in
the past (a vowel that differs from the vowel of the in¬nitive), but it ends in -t,
like the past participle of weak verbs. Table 2.18 lists representative verbs that
belong to the mixed class. Notice that bringen ˜to bring™ has consonant as well
Morphology 81

Table 2.18 Principal parts of verbs in the mixed class

In¬nitive Past Past participle Meaning

bringen brachte gebracht ˜to bring™
brennen brannte gebrannt ˜to burn™
denken dachte gedacht ˜to think™
senden sandte gesandt ˜to send™

Table 2.19 Principal parts of the modals and wissen ˜to

In¬nitive Past Past participle Meaning

d¨ rfen
u durfte gedurft ˜to be allowed to™
k¨ nnen
o konnte gekonnt ˜to be able to™
m¨ gen
o mochte gemocht ˜to like to™
m¨ ssen
u musste gemusst ˜to have to™
sollen sollte gesollt ˜to be to™
wollen wollte gewollt ˜to want to™
wissen wusste gewusst ˜to know™

as vowel changes: brachte ˜brought™. The remaining verbs all have the same
vowel changes, but denken ˜to think™ also involves a consonant change (dachte
˜thought™), and senden, which ends in -d, does not require e-Epenthesis.53
The modal verbs (and wissen ˜to know™) form their past very much like
verbs in the mixed class. The only signi¬cant special feature of the modals is
the vowel change:54 The vowel in the in¬nitive, if umlauted, appears without
umlaut in the past and past participle. The two modals without umlaut, sollen
˜to be to™ and wollen ˜to want to™, do not involve a vowel change in the past
(or past participle) and are thus like weak verbs. The verb wissen changes the
in¬nitive vowel to u in the past and past participle. Table 2.19 lists the principal
parts of the modals and wissen.
The verbs haben, sein, and werden (which are used as auxiliary verbs in
periphrastic tense forms) are irregular in that they do not ¬t neatly into any one
of the major verb classes. The present and past forms of these verbs, as well
as their past participles, are given in Table 2.20. The verb sein is particularly
interesting because it provides a classic example of suppletion. The forms (ich)
bin ˜(I) am™, (sie) sind ˜(they) are™, and (er) war ˜(he) was™, for example, are
all suppletive (they show no phonological similarity).55 Mood There are three moods in German: the indicative, the


. 3
( 12)