German language from the perspective of morphology and syntax

This paper is a brief analysis of the German language from the perspective of morphology and syntax.


German is one of the world's major languages, with an estimated 95 to 100 million native speakers. The reason we chose German for our analysis is that German has many words derived from English, as well as similar grammar. This is because they are part of the same language family.


Grammatical Categories Recognition


Singular and plural forms of nouns

 As we all know, we describe plural nouns by adding endings such as -s or - es in English. In German, there are five basic plural indicators: -en, -n, -e, -er, or 'Umlaut', a German vowel sound indicated by two dots over the letter i.

Examples of nouns in German








das Jahr






das Ei


The Genitive Case

German nouns ending with -s or -es represent masculine and neuter nouns. In these cases, German always uses a definite article 'des' in front of the noun.

Feminine and plural nouns do not end in the genitive case and the definite article is der for this type of noun.

Examples of the Genitive Case

das Auto meinesBruders

my brother's car

die Bluse des Mädchens

the girl's blouse

der Titel des Filmes (Films)

the title of the film

Nouns derived from nouns

German Nouns ending with -er often represents an expert in a special field. For example, buchhalter means accountant in English.

Nouns with the suffix -in

 In German, nouns with the suffix -in, which is added to masculine nouns, change them into feminine nouns.

Examples of -in nouns

-die Professorin (female beings, professor)

-die Schulerin (the female students)

The Infinitive verb as a noun

In German, there are a group of infinitive verb formsthat can appear as nouns. These verbs are often capitalized and are neuter in gender.  In English, a verbal noun ending with -ing has the same meaning.

Example infinitive verb noun forms


Verbal Noun


das Empfangen

to receive

The receiving (reception)




das Senden

to send

the sendings (the things I am sending)

Adjectives as nouns

Some German adjectives can also function as nouns. These are also capitalized.


Angehorig means belonging (to) in English. It can appear as a noun in a sentence like this:


... several members of a family (people belonging (to) a family)


Basic Subject- Verb Agreement

The basic subject in German is the same as it isin English. The first person singular form is ich(I) and the plural version iswir(we).

The singular form of the second person (you) is du and the plural form is ihr.

Finally, the third person singular form is er (he),sie (she), and es (it). The plural form is sie(they).

Verbs describe actions and states. Just as in English, German verbs havespecific agreements with the subject and different tenses:


  • In the present tense, "ich" has an "e" ending
  • In the present tense,"er/sie/es" has a "t" ending
  • In other tenses, the "ich" and "er/sie/es" either both take an "e" ending or they both do not have endings.

Verb tenses

 Unlike English's various tenses, German verbs generally have only two tenses, a present tense and a past tense. From the book, we found the following rules for verbs in the present and past tense:


  • Often there is a vowel change from present tense to past tense i.e.gehen - gingen
  • Sometimes, a "t" is added instead of changing a vowel ie. spiele - spielte
  • In some other cases, there is both a vowel change and an addition of a "t" i.e. Wiss-wussten

Verbs with prefixes

Most German verbs are a combination of prefixes and basic verbs. There are verbs with 'inseparable' and 'separable' prefixes.

Inseparable prefixes are always attached to the verbs, such as get/forget or come/become in English.


erscheinen-- to appear

enthalten -- to contain

sichverbinden -- to combine

for these combined verbs, the basic verbs arescheinen, halten, and binden.

Separable prefixes appear after the verb in the present and past tenses, and are usually at the end of the clause. This is like the English verbs: get/get on, and give/give up.


voranstellen-- to put in front

sichauseinandersetzen (mitetwas) -- to have a good look (at some-thing)

The basic verbs for the above are stellen and setzen.



An adjective modifies a noun or pronoun. It describes that word.

Adjectives before nouns

These adjectives end in-e,-em,-en,-er,or-es


?        das religioseLeben der germanischen Volker

The religious life of the Germanic peoples

?        Leben und Werk des großendeutschenPhilosophen

Life and work of the great German philosopher

?        die sogenannte Muller-LyerscheTauschung

The so-called Muller-Lyer illusion


Complex adjectives derived from nouns

This type of adjective is very common in German.


in der funfbandigenAusgabe -- in the five volume edition

nacheinemfunfjahrigenAufenthalt -- after a five-year sojourn

Complex adjectives derived from verbs

Some German adjectives are derived from verbs, such as:


weitverbreitet - widespread (verbreiten - to spread)

weitgehend-far-reaching (gehen - to go)

gleichbedeutend - synony-mous (bedeuten - to mean)



An adverb is a word that describes or modifies a verb.


Adverbs before adjectives

In German, the adverb comes before the adjective. The adverb usually takes a non-end position. For example:


die chronologischaugfebauteAnthologie

the chronologically constructed anthology


der scheinbarkleinereKreis

the apparently smaller circle


Adverb darauf :

Da- or dar- connected with a preposition sometimes before daß


... achtete man in der Regel darauf, daßjeder fur sichseineneigenenTherapeutenerhielt

... it was generally arranged that each was allocated his own therapist

(daraufachten, daß - to take care that)


Adverb daruber:

Da- or dar- combined with a preposition sometimes before a dependent clause


EinesolcheTheoriemußVoraussagenmachendaruber, was zukunftigeBeobachtungen und Versuchezeigensollen

Such a theory must make predictions about what future observations and experiments shall show



Derivation is the process of forming a new word on the basis of an existing word by adding affixes.

Affixation&Prefixation, Inseparable and Separable Prefixes

In many languages, prefixes are used to change the meaning of a verb. In  German, a verb with a prefix gives it a completely new meaning.

There are two kinds of prefixes in German: inseparable and separable.

be-,emp-, ent-, er-,ge-, miss-, ver, zer- are eight basic inseparable prefixes.

durch-,hinter-, uber-, um-, unter-, voll-, wider-, wieder- are eight primarily separable prefixes.


 There are three derivatives of the verbstehenthat can be formed with inseparable prefixes:


to exist


or does an internal relationship exist...?


to originate

Wieist die Sprachentstanden?

How did language originate?


to understand

Warumist die NeueMusik so schwerzuverstehen?

Why is Modern Music so difficult to understand?


The best method to determine which kind of prefix is being used is to find the location of the stress.Inseparable prefixes are easily identified because they are never the stressed syllable of the verb. However, for separable prefixes, the stress is on the prefix of the verb.

Other Prefixes

The prefixvor- gives two ways to forming words with regards to their lexical category. First,words with the prefixvor- cannot be easily understood using the meaning of  the component parts(their prefix and root).They are independent words with a distinct meaning. This also applies to many words with other prefixes.


For example: der Teil →der Vorteil→ der Nachteil

                            parts      advantage     disadvantage


In addition, the prefixvor- has the same function as the English pre-.

For instance:  industriell→vorindustriell   (industrial→preindustrial)

geschichtlich→vorgeschichtlich  (historical→prehistorical)

das Wort→ das Vorwort  (word→preface,foreword)



Compound words in German are usually combined using infixation using the letter -n-. For example:

Bauer (Farmer) + -n- + Hof (Yard)  → Bauernhof (Farm)

Backe (Jaw) + -n- + Bart (Beard)  → Backenbart (Whiskers)

Melie (Mile) + -n- + Stein (Stone)  → Meilenstein (Milestone)

Sonne (Sun) + -n- + Brille (glasses)  → Sonnerbrille ( Sunglasses)

Auge (glasses) + -n- + Blick (look)  → Augenblick (Moment)



There are only four verb suffixes in German: -en, -ern, -eln, -ieren (generally used for foreign words). The noun suffixes are -ik, -ung, and -ie. The suffixes-los, -haft, -bar, -chen, -lein, -er, -schare added to nouns in order to form adjectives.

For exampleIn English, when you need to describe a specific place, you can add a clause or adjectives in front of the name of a place, e.g. "the shop near the Nick's grocer". However, in German,"-er" is added to nouns to create adjectives which designate the location or the place of origin of persons or objects. For example:

der bekannteOxforderHistoriker

The well-known Oxford historian

Similar to "-er", the suffix"-sch" designates personal names. "-sch" is added to personal names which are changed into adjectives. For examples:

die sofenannte Muller-LyerscheTauschung

The so-called Muller-Lyer illusion


The term compound words (Komposita) refers to the synthesis of a new noun phrase using two or more other words. In German, you are free to generate compound wordswith a combination of oral and written forms.

In other words, the total number of German nouns can theoretically be unlimited. Both people in everyday spoken dialogue, and literary documents are free to create new words, as long as the meaning of the new word is logical.

The basic forms of compound words are:

Qualifiers (Bestimmungswort) + Basic word (Grundwort) = compound words (Komposita). 

A basic word here can only be a noun. The modification qualifier can be a noun, verb or adjective. Each class in the following gives an example:

Noun + Noun:  Wort (word) + Schatz (treasure) = Wortschatz (vocabulary)

Verb + Noun:  Hoer (listen) + Saal (Hall) = Hoersaal (classroom)

Adjective + Noun: Rot (red) + Wein (wine) = Rotwein (red wine)

Grammatical Form Changing Derivation

Noun to Adjective: die Kunst(art) → kunstlich (artificial)

Verb to Noun: versuchen(to try) → versuch(experiment)

Verb to Adjective:verbreiten (to spread) → weitverbreitet(widespread)

Verb to Noun: vorgehen(to proceed) →der Vorgang (process)

Adjective to Noun: besser(better) → verbesserung(improvement)



 German inflection appears from nouns, verbs, and adjective and combines with the rules for the different affixations.


Most German prefixes have their own special meaning and directions.By adding them, a word may change its properties and meaning. These prefixes are derivational rather than inflectional (they change rather than modify a words meaning).

Inseparable prefixes

There are some German verbs with prefixes that cannot be separated from the word. The most common permanent prefixes are ver-, ge-,be-,er-, ent-,and zer-. The meaning of these permanent prefixes will vary depending on the root. Generally speaking, they are not inflectional. 

Separable prefixes

Some German words containseparable prefixes. An perfect example is prefix -aus. When you put a word containing a prefix -aus into a sentence, the prefix moves to the end.

For instance: I look good - Ichsehe gut aus. The basic word (to look) in this sentence is aussehewhen we put this word into the sentence, the prefix -aus moves to the end.

Another example will be the prefix -auf,  "She isn't stopping" - Siehörtnicht auf. The basic word (to stop) is aufhort, and the prefix -auf moves to the end of the sentence.


Inflectionalinfixation system is not very common in German.



German infinitive verbs consist of the root and the suffix -en. When infinitive verbs end with eler, and the e, the suffix -en is dropped.

laufen (to run)

Other inflectional characters

There are three person types, two number forms and four moods in German considered to be inflectional. Also, there are two basic tenses (present and past) in German. The other four tenses are compounded. With regard to verbs, German has weak and strong verbs.

Past participle

German weak verbs create their past participles with ge- plus the third person singular form of the verb. For example:

?      fragen (erfragt) → gefragt

?      passen (espasst) → gepasst

?      antworten (erantwortet) → geantwortet


Some other verbs with no initial stress do not have ge- added to the verb.

?      verführen (erverführt) → verführt

?      miauen (ermiaut) → miaut


If these verbs are used alone, without an infinitive, they have a regular participle.

Ichhabe den Chef besuchendürfen  (I was allowed to see the boss)

Present participle

To create the basic form of a present participle, attach the suffix -d to the infinitive of the verb.

laufen - laufend ("walk" - "walking")

verraten - verratend ("betray" - "betraying")

aufbauen - aufbauend ("establish" - "establishing")

Future participle

The way to combine a German future participle tense is complicated. The basic form is to put the word zu before the infinitive verbs, but there are many variations and other rules.

?        zusuchen ("to be looked for")

?        Der Schlüsselistzusuchen ("the key needs to be looked for")

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