In German, the indefinite articles are called ‘unbestimmte Artikel‘. They complement the other kind of articles, definite articles (‘bestimmte Artikel‘). Knowing how to distinguish those two types of articles is sometimes considered one of the most challenging aspects of learning German, but with this lesson, you’ll understand perfectly!
What are indefinite articles?
An indefinite article is a determiner that modifies a noun. In English, the indefinite articles are ‘a‘ and ‘an‘. The indefinite article must agree in gender, number, and case with the noun it modifies and only has a singular, not a plural, form.
What is the difference between indefinite and definite articles?
The difference between the two types of articles is very simple: The definite article, which is ‘the’ in English and ‘der‘, ‘die‘ or ‘das‘ in German, is used when talking about a specific noun. The indefinite article, which is ‘a’ or ‘an’ in English, and ‘ein‘ or ‘eine‘ in German, is used when talking about a generic noun.
If these definitions are too complex for you, think about it like this: If you are a dog owner, and you talk about having fed your dog in the morning, you might say:
Ich habe den Hund gefüttert.
I fed the dog.
On the other hand, if you came across a random stray dog that you’ve never seen before, you would say:
Ich habe einen Hund gesehen.
I saw a dog.
In the example sentences, ‘den’ and ‘einen’ are variations of the German articles ‘der’ and ‘ein’. That might seem very confusing to you, but there is a logical system behind those variations, don’t worry!
What are the German indefinite articles?
The German indefinite articles are ‘ein‘ for masculine and neuter nouns and ‘eine‘ for feminine nouns. Remember, for definite articles, ‘der‘ is masculine, ‘die‘ is feminine, and ‘das‘ is neuter.
Here are some German words with their definite and indefinite articles.
der Hund -> ein Hund
the dog -> a dog
die Katze -> eine Katze
the cat -> a cat
das Haus -> ein Haus
the house -> a house
How do the German indefinite articles change?
The form of the German indefinite article does not only change according to gender but also according to the case of the noun. There are four grammatical cases in German: Nominative (Nominativ), Genitive (Genitiv), Dative, (Dativ), and Accusative (Akkusativ). You will learn more about cases in the future, but for now, familiarise yourself with the following chart:
|Nominative||ein Hund||a dog||eine Katze||a cat||ein Haus||a house|
|Genitive||eines Hundes||of a dog||einer Katze||of a cat||eines Hauses||of a house|
|Dative||einem Hund||to a dog||einer Katze||to a cat||einem Haus||to a house|
|Accusative||einen Hund||a dog||eine Katze||a cat||ein Haus||a house|
I want to give you some example sentences for each case so that you will get an understanding of how to use the indefinite articles in different German cases.
In this example, the masculine German word ‘Hund‘ is in the nominative case:
Ich bin ein Hund.
I am a dog.
An example for the genitive case, using the feminine word ‘Katze‘:
Das ist das Essen meiner Katze.
This is the food of my cat. / This is my cat’s food.
An example for the dative case:
Ich habe dem Hund ein Leckerli gegeben.
I have given a treat to the dog.
An example for the accusative case, using the neuter word ‘Haus‘:
Ich habe ein Haus.
I have a house.
Is there a plural form for indefinite articles?
Indefinite articles have no plural form. Thus, if you want to use the plural form of a generic noun, you simply do not use an article.
Ich mag Hunde.
I like dogs.
Ich habe drei Katzen.
I have three cats.
Learn more German
I hope you found this lesson easy and clear. If you’ve missed my lesson on definite articles, that’s no problem, as you can still catch up with it. Once you are confident with the usage of German articles, you’ll be able to impress many Germans with your knowledge of their language. And there are other ways to impress Germans, too!
To recap and deepen your knowledge gained today, learn more about the easiest ways to learn German articles!