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Resources: Language Help - German

Resources on the German language.

About this Page

This page is meant as a quick reference for cooking up German names for your timelines - names of countries, alliances, institutions, places. While it is relatively easy to find the German translations of single words or place names, here you can find an easy way to combine them correctly.

How to Use this Page

Imagine you are making map captions for your new timeline. In the middle of it, you stumble across the term 'New Bavarian Confederation', and feel the desire to translate into German. Then there are two possibilities: Either you know enough German to do that, or you use this page as a guide. Follow these steps:

  1. Find the German translations of the individual words. Use a dictionary for that, e.g. LEO, or patch the words together from original German captions at your disposal.

But be sure to find the basic form of each word (which is what you find as dictionary entries). In our case, you find out that “Bavarian” is Bayerisch in German, “New” translates to Neu, and for some reason we make up our mind for Föderation for “Confederation”.

  1. Specify the desired construction. In our case, we have a simple Adjective + Adjective + Noun construction.

The only decision to be made is whether to use an article or not. Now if it is the title of a map, displaying the member states of the entity under that name, then “The Bavarian Confederation” may be a good idea, and we remember to include a definite article. If, however, the caption is to indicate what the dark blue color means on a map of Europe, then “Bavarian Confederation” is enough. Luckily, this reasoning directly transfers to German.

  1. Look up the construction, or its elements.

In our example, we only need the section Adjective + Noun or (Definite) Article + Adjective + Noun, respectively, dependent on our choice under 2. Now these sections chatter about the gender of the noun in questions, so we need to find out about that. Consulting the List of nouns with genders, or an appropriate hard copy or online dictionary, yields that Föderation is female; in this case, a look at Gender Hints would have served the same purpose. Following the “female” row in the adjective table for the non-article case yields the adjective ending -e, which we apply to both adjectives. Thus we already obtain the final caption for the European map: Neue Bayerische Föderation. If we chose the article option, then the table tells us the same adjective ending, and provides us with the female article Die. Therefore, the detail map would be entitled Die Neue Bayerische Föderation.

A quick look at the spelling section encourages us to keep the consistent initial capitalization. Moreover, in the sad case we cannot type umlauts, we learn that the transcription should read Neue Bayerische Foederation.

Haff fun viz zis paitche!

Caveats

This is a short list of things which are closely related to the material presented here, but are not (yet) explained (please update the list when editing this page):

  • Numbers: ordinals and numerals;
  • indefinite articles;
  • construction: preposition + adjective + noun without article;
  • prepositions indicating a direction/movement; more generally: prepositions governing accusative or genitive;
  • attributive constructions with nouns (genitive, constructions with von);
  • comparison of adjectives;
  • verbs, in particular: participles;
  • nominalization of adjectives.

So we're sorry this page does not yet lead you to translate the phrase

the most refined one of the five states of German nation during the Seventh French Republic, in a way.

You are welcome to contribute!

Grammar

Identifiers, as used on maps or other captions, often consist of adjectives and nouns, occasionally with article added. The following table lists the correct forms of articles and adjectives to use. The right form depends on the gender of the noun. (For the cracks: All listed forms are in the nominative case, which you usually only need.)

Adjective + Noun

gender/number adjective ending example
Male: -er Deutsch-er Bund (German Confederation)
Female: -e Heilig-e Allianz (Holy Alliance)
Neuter: -es Deutsch-es Reich (German Empire)
Plural: -e Kaiserlich-e Truppen (The Imperial Forces)

The plural rule refers to nouns of any gender (if they happen to appear in multiplicity).

If there is more than one adjective, all take the same ending: Heilig-es Römisch-es Reich — Holy Roman Empire

(Definite) Article + Adjective + Noun

gender/number article adjective ending example
Male: der -e der Deutsch-e Bund (the German Confederation)
Female: die -e die Heilig-e Allianz (the Holy Alliance)
Neuter: das -e das Deutsch-e Reich (the German Empire)
Plural: die -en Die kaiserlich-en Truppen (the Imperial Forces)

Again, the plural rule refers to all genders. Only in the singular differentiation takes place.

As above, if there is more than one adjective, all take the same ending: Das Heilig-e Römisch-e Reich — Holy Roman Empire

Usage of the Definite Article

For practically all terming and caption purposes, the article der, die, das is employed roughly in the same cases when the would pop up in English.

How to avoid adjectives

German speakers like composite nouns, and they do so even more when non-person names are concerned. This is particularly practical since declension complications cannot arise. It often feels natural even if you make up new combinations hitherto unheard of.

And so it works: Just attach the words to each other :-). This is meant literally: In most cases, no hyphen will be used.

Infixes

If the first noun is male or neuter, often an -s- is glued in between. If it is female, sometimes -(e)n- takes the same place. There is no fixed rule whether or not (and which) infix should be taken in neologisms; but a rule of thumb can be given: if you happen to find a combination with the same first part, than treat it the same way.

Here is a small sample of possible first parts:

  • all compass orientations: Nord-, Süd-, Ost-, West-, Südwest- etc.
  • “Reichs-” — Imperial, of the Empire. From Reich n. — Empire.

e.g.: Reichsmarschall — Imperial Marshall.

  • “Kaiser-” — Imperial, of the Emperor. From Kaiser m. — Emperor.

(mostly substituted by adjective kaiserlich)

  • “Staats-” ← Staat m.

e.g.: Staatskanzlei — state chancellery.

  • “Landes-” ← Land n. (in the sense of a political structure)

e.g.: Landesregierung — state government, state administration. \ But: Landtag — state parliament (without -es).

  • “Bundes-” —- Federal, ← Bund m.

e.g.: Bundesregierung — federal government, Bundestag — federal parliament.

  • “Heeres-” ← Heer n. — army.

Composing with Adjectives

Less frequently, the first part of a composite noun can also be an adjective in its basic form. Again, this avoids the declension part. This time, the composition is marked with a hyphen in most cases. Typical applications include:

  • Adjectives of nationality with dependent territories

Französisch-Guayana, Deutsch-Westafrika, Britisch- Kolumbien (the latter occurred up to WWI, now the English term is used)). Also with cities: Sächsisch-Altenburg, Ungarisch-Altenburg.

  • Ober-, Nieder- (Upper, Lower) in geographical names.
  • Groß- (Great, Greater), Klein-, Alt-, Neu- (Small(er), Old, New)
  • Vor-, Hinter- (Hither, Farther)

Also Rotchina (Red China; contemptuous term).

Cascading

Of course, if you can do two, you can do more… but if you combine more than three words, it will soon sound ironic. Mostly.

Gender

In German, every noun is assigned one of the three grammatical genders: Male, female, or neuter. The gender controls the way that word is integrated in phrases and sentences; more precisely, it determines the forms of adjectives, articles, and pronouns referring to it.

In general, the gender cannot be told from the word itself; it can be considered an independent part of the vocable beside spelling, pronunciation (and stressing), and meaning. However, see section Gender Hints.

List of nouns with genders

Obviously, the above list is only useful if you can find out genders of German nouns. Start of a semantically ordered list (to be extended):

  • Allianz f. — alliance
  • Bund m. — (con)federation, union, alliance
  • Union f. — (con)federation, union
  • (Kon)föderation f. — (con)federation
  • Verein m. — union (this usage only possible until ~1900)
  • Reich n. — empire, realm
  • Königreich n. — kingdom
  • Staat m. — state, country
  • Republik f. — republic
  • Mark f. — march/mark
  • Land n. — country, land, region
  • Stadt f. — city, town
  • Burg f. — castle
  • Fluss m. — river
  • Meer n. — sea
  • See f. — sea
  • See m. — lake
  • Bucht f. — bay
  • Golf m. — gulf
  • Insel f. — island
  • Berg m. — mountain
  • Gebirge n. — mountains, mountain area
  • Grenze f. — border, frontier
  • Parlament n. — parliament
  • Kammer f. — chamber, house (of a parliament)
  • Rat m. — council; (male) councellor
  • Regierung f. — government (mostly in the narrow sense: top of executive power)
  • Senat m. — senate
  • Heer n. / Armee f. — army

Gender hints

Although the gender usually cannot be told form the word itself, there are some simplifications:

  • For instance, composite nouns take the gender of the second part.

See above: Reich is neuter, hence so is Königreich.

  • Most suffixes have a consistent gender behavior.
    • -ion: female, see Union, (Kon)föderation.
    • -tum: mostly neuter, Fürstentum (principality), Bistum (diocese).
    • -schaft: female, Grafschaft (county).
    • -tät: female, Fakultät (faculty), Universität (university).
    • -ie: female, Kolonie (colony),
    • -ei: female, Kanzlei (chancellery),
    • -at: mostly neuter, Protektorat (protectorate), Triumvirat (triumvirate), Kalifat (caliphate). But: Senat (male).
    • -ung: female, Festung (fortress, keep), Regierung (government).
    • -ment: neuter, Parlament (parliament).
    • -ismus: male.
  • In general, terms for male persons are grammatically male, and terms for female persons are grammatically female.

Terms for male persons employed for females are usually “moved”, i.e. made female. In most cases this is accomplished by the suffix -in (e.g. König m. → Königin f.), sometimes with additional umlaut (e.g. Graf m. → Gräfin f.). Moving may be omitted for carelessness. \ There are few nouns which do not allow for moving (Gast m. guest, Spitzel m. informer).

  • On the other hand, neuter gender cannot be interpreted as lifeless.

Many things and abstract notions have male or female gender. Moreover, neuter can also

Prepositions

German prepositions behave in a completely different way if they specify a location than if they define a spatial direction. All information below refers to location/position. \ Insider hint: Direction is usually expressed via the accusative, whereas location requires dative from the noun after the preposition. We explain prepositions with dative. \ The section about //auf// already explains the general case for such prepositions (the ones reigning the dative), i.e. an and in (along with a couple of others) constitute exceptions with their contraction behavior.

Preposition "an"

The preposition “an” means “near, next to”; we need to mark the position of a city “on” a body of water. The complete forms depend on the gender of the word after it, here the river. For the table of forms, we assume that the river always takes a definite article, which should be always the case for our applications.

gender/number preposition + article adjective ending example
Male: am -en Köln am Rhein (Cologne on the Rhine), Bregenz am Bodensee
Female: an der -en Wien an der Donau (Vienna on the Danube), Neustadt an der Weinstraße
Neuter: am -en Trapezunt am Schwarzen Meer
Plural: an den -en Çanakkale an den Dardanellen

Preposition "in"

The preposition “in” corresponds closely to the English “in”. Obviously, it is often applied to countries, regions, and cities.

To explain the corresponding forms, I have to tell you the whole truth now. The sad news is that in addition to the genders and the plural, we get another case, namely “no definite article after the preposition”. Luckily, this is the simplest as well as the most frequent case. The rest is similar to “an”.

gender/number preposition + article adjective ending example
no article: in - Darmstadt in Hessen
Male: im -en Freiburg im Breisgau
Female: in der -en Kaiserslautern in der Pfalz
Neuter: im -en Kempten im Allgäu
Plural: in den -en eine Stadt in den Alpen (a town in the Alps)

Now we have to specify in which cases you drop the article.

  • If the country/region is male, female, or a plural noun, then USE the article (and look up the details in the lower rows of the table).
  • If the country name contains a regular (i.e. appellative, non-name) noun as its key element, then USE the article (e.g. in den Vereinigten Staaten = in den USA. In some standard country names the suffix is not sensed as a regular noun any more, and these names stand without article (hopefully complete list: England, Schottland, Irland, Finnland, Island (Iceland), Grönland (Greenland), (Weiß-)Russland (Belarus, Russia), and some compositions with ethnic terms (Somaliland); Frankreich (France), Österreich (Austria); Dänemark (Denmark)). In all other contexts, the same suffixes require the use of an article: das Frankenreich (Francia/Kingdom of the Franks), das Perserreich (Persian Empire); das Rheinland, das Saarland, das Baskenland; die Altmark (region in Brandenburg). Therefore, it is in England, but im Saarland; in Frankreich, but im Frankenreich.
  • If you want to use an adjective for the country, then also USE the article (im schönen England - in the beautiful country of England).
  • This leaves us with the large mass of neuter singular country names. Most of them do not take an article. Exceptions are isolated; some samples: das Kosovo, das Allgäu, das Banat.

Preposition "auf"

gender/number preposition + article adjective ending example
no article: auf - Binz auf Rügen
Male: auf dem -en -
Female: auf der -en Freiburg auf der Schanz'
Neuter: auf dem -en auf dem Matterhorn
Plural: auf den -en -

auf (English on) is used for the location on small islands; in this case, it practically always stands without article (auf Ibiza, auf Long Island). Exception: If there a regular (non-name) noun is part of the name, the the article is used (auf der Osterinsel). See Islands.

These forms explain the generic case of a preposition with dative; in particular, the prepositions which indicate location (as opposed to direction). (The contractions of in, an are exceptions.)

Geographical Names

General rule: Names for rivers, mountains, islands etc. stand for themselves. Do not add the notions “Fluss” or “Berg”.

Gender

Country, city, and other place names are usually neuter. Exceptions may arise:

  • if they carry their form of government around, or any other non-name nouns. (Republik Irland - female, Vereinigte Staaten (United States) - plural).
  • if the name actually refers to mountains, e.g. Balkan (male, no plural as in English!)
  • Countries in -ei are female (Mongolei (Mongolia), Slowakei (Slovakia), Tschechei (Czechia, not used any more recently), Tschechoslowakei (Czecheslovakia), Türkei (Turkey))
  • Some French regional names have taken their female gender into the German language (die Provence, die Normandie; but: Burgund, Elsass, Lothringen are neuter)
  • isolated rank-breakers (alphabetically):

Irak (male), Iran (male), Kongo (male), Libanon (male), Niederlande (Netherlands, plural), Schweiz (Switzerland, female), Sudan (male), Tschad (male), Ukraine (female), Vatikan (male)

Rivers

… dropping by in German-speaking countries are usually female (die Donau - the Danube), with a few significant male exceptions (hopefully complete list: Rhein (Rhine), Main, Neckar, Inn, Regen, Lech, and Belt, if that one counts as (historic) German-speaking sphere). In particular, the adjective rules above apply (die untere Elbe — the lower Elbe).

Rivers outside German-speaking spheres are usually male (der Amazonas, der Nil, der Ohio). Exception: If the name ends in an unstressed -a or -e, a German speaker will sense strong female vibes about it (die Wolga, die Seine, die Rhone, die Themse; nevertheless, der Volta).

Position on a River

A city “on” a river, or lake, or sea, is called “an” + definite article + that body of water in German. This is subject to declension, see the Prepositions section.

Islands

Island names are almost always employed without an article. Exception: If there a regular (non-name) noun is part of the name, the the article is used (auf der Osterinsel).

Location on an Island

The position on an island is expressed via the preposition auf for small islands, and with the preposition in if the island is large. Hence, big islands are treated like other countries and regions.

Now good luck telling small from large islands.

A rule of thumb which seems largely acceptable: Formosa/Taiwan is big, Sicily is debatable, and Hawaii Main Island is small. At any rate, it is in Britannien, in Irland and auf Sansibar. Either in Sizilien and auf Sizilien are correct.

When following the link to the respective preposition, please take care of deciding whether you need an article (usually not).

Disambiguation of Geographical Names

If a city name occurs more than once, or if its rough position should be explained, DO NOT just juxtapose it with a state or country name.

  • First see if you can find a river to specify which city you mean (e.g. Frankfurt am Main, Frankfurt an der Oder).
  • If there is no river at hand, take the name of the region (e.g. Kempten im Allgäu, Freiburg im Breisgau).
  • In both cases, you should use prepositional phrases (see there).

Vocabulary

Foreign Names

If you want to make non-German notions look like lean words in German, follow these simple rules:

  • Replace c by a k, if it is pronounced like a k.
  • Replace it by z otherwise.
  • Replace z, pronounced as in zoo, by s.
  • If a country or region name ending in -ia, make that -ien.
  • If deriving from Greek, replace ai by ä and oi by ö.
  • Render kh as ch, ch (as in chop) by tsch, sh by sch, and zh and perhaps j (as in job) by dsch. Moreover, replace ts by z and ks by x, unless the combination was generated by a composition.
  • If it is a real object or a process (rather than a country), you may replace a final unstressed -a in Indo-European- or Semitic-based words by -e.

This covers most changes lean words undergo in spelling.

Building New Adjectives

Country and ethnic adjectives are usually formed out of a country name by adding the suffix -isch after a consonant (japanisch, indisch); sometimes the suffix -(i)anisch replaces the country suffix -(i)en (brasilianisch, peruanisch). In most recent cases, -esisch is used, corresponding to the English suffix “-esian”. A final vowel of the country name is then skipped (ghanesisch, kongolesisch).

The suffix -sch (without i) is only used in a few specific terms (deutsch — German, kölsch — Colognian, pommersch — Pomeranian).

For adjectives derived from personal names, mostly -sch is used (wagnersch, freudsch). If, however, it refers to the supporters of a person, you will often find -ianisch for the adjective and -ianer for the followers (singular and plural); e.g. Hegelianer, hegelianisch; Wagnerianer, wagnerianisch).

Orthography

Capitalization

General rules of capitalization:

  • Capitalize all nouns (!), and all words used as nouns.
  • Capitalize all proper names. Adjectives derived from country of people names do NOT count as names (französisch), unless they are used as nouns, or part of a complex proper noun (die Dritte Französische Republik). This rule usually applies to map captions.
  • The first word in a sentence or incomplete phrase (such as a newspaper heading or a map caption) is capitalized.
  • All other words are NOT capitalized. In particular, do not capitalize adjectives or verbs in headings/captions. Unless the last rule applies, of course.

General Remark on Umlauts and Special Characters

German uses two types of special characters in spelling:

  • The umlauts Ää, Öö, Üü, occurring in both upper and lower case,
  • the ß (“Ess-Zet”), a variant of s, occurring in lower case only.

In case you do not have these at your disposal, there is a standard way of paraphrasing them:

  • Them umlauts are represented by adding an e to the basic letter: Ae ae, Oe oe, Ue ue.

DO NOT just replace them by a, o, u.

  • ß, if not available, can be replaced by ss. (In Switzerland, this substitution is the rule, the ß has been abandoned.) In earlier times, sz (as the name implies) is another, though less common substitute. (Only usable, if at all, if the vowel before the ß/sz is a long one.)

See Also

resources/language_help_-_german.txt · Last modified: 2018/10/01 13:32 by petike