The German Grammatical Equation

There are some qualities one must have to properly learn German: be good at math, be logical and have a good memory. In a nutshell, your brain must score a 200 on an IQ test. As I am more attracted to poetry, English, Spanish or Italian are way more adapted to my personality. Still, for those who never took German 101 in High School, I would love to give you a short introduction to the most arithmetical language I had to learn so far.

“The verb is the sun”

My German teacher always says that in a sentence “the verb is the sun.” Depending on the linking-words you use, the verb could be at the first place (Position null), at the second place (Position eins), at the third place (Position zwei) or at the end of your sentence (am Ende). You see by yourself how this is pure mathematics: 0, 1, 2 … infinite. For instance: “Sie kam auf den Blog, weil sie nichts zu tun hatte”, can literally be translated as: “She came on the blog, because she nothing to do had.” Exactly like the Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally rule, the one you learned to know the order of operations (Parenthesis, Exponent, Multiplication, Division, Addition and Substraction), there is an order of appearance in the German sentence. Some verbs can be separated (trennbar), which means that the prefix could appear at the end. For example, ankommen (to arrive) : “Der Zug kommt um 10Uhr an” means: “The train arrives at 10.”

Now imagine what Honoré de Balzac would have done in German? He who could write a sentence which had almost the length of the entire page, would have had to wait to turn to the next one to finally write his verb. I often encounter this problem. I write my paper for school and by the time I have to proofread it, I cannot find my verbs anymore: I forgot to write them. Then I spend two hours trying to figure out what I wanted to say. A phrase without a verb is like an equation without any symbol. There is no plus or minus, just numbers. There is no information. This is like speaking German just with nouns and complements.

Molière or Shakespeare? 

The German language is full of words that sound like French or English. Most of them have the same meaning, but they write differently: “by=bei”, “flexibilité=Flexibilität”, “price=Preise”, or “orthographe=Orthographie”.

Now you get all excited because you think you can solve the equation. Keep hoping! First, you have to write it correctly. Second, you have to find the right article, for which you have the choice: der, die or das. Unless you really know them, you have only a thirty percent chance to use them correctly in your essay.

Using French words sounds fancier in any language. Knowing how hard it is to correctly implement that in German, I would advise to just use Latin or Greek words instead. At least you will not have to bother to always remember that every single noun starts with a capital letter. And now you just get a reason to tell your kids why they should learn these dead idioms in school.

Talking about Latin and Greek… 

We all have this wonderful memory of “rosa, rosa, rosam, rosae, rosae, rosa” from our Latin classes. Sorry, I do not have a Greek keyboard to keep on with my example. Apparently, the German system is clearly attached to its roots and kept the declension system: Nominativ, Akkusativ, Dativ und Genetiv. These are simple formulas you use the same way as you calculate the area of a square. The method is actually the easiest part of the grammar equation, but as I said, only insofar you know the correct article, otherwise your calculation result is wrong.

To know which preposition engenders the accusative or dative, I had to learn specific songs. The accusative mnemonic is based on the German ballad “Laurencia”. The dative song uses the Blue Danube waltz tune. And for prepositions that could employ either, you have the Brahm’s “Lullaby” melody. Only important rule to remember: dative does not move whereas active does. Finally, the genitive case unfortunately tends to disappear in the old dusty books and is more and more replaced by the dative.

The word logikê was first use by the Greek Philosopher Xenocrates to designate the reasoning, especially of the language. Grammatikê is the art of reading and writing. Europé was a character of the Greek mythology. It is now coherent to me that the German grammar, as part of European languages, is logical.

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4 Comments

This is a beautiful explanation of how complicated the German language is. I just uploaded two YouTube videos for the songs I know about the two-way prepositions (Wechselpräpositionen) with accusative and dative.
Here is the first one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lrhOadwCHg
Here is the second one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RTk30ba7wk
Anyone wanting to learn some of the more basic grammar topics in German should check out my channel and blog. I teach German 1 and 2 at the high school level. I use these videos to supplement my classes and to help anyone else who wants to learn German.

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