Lesson Four / Vierte Lektion

Burg Rheinstein

Tying Up Loose Ends

The ideal way to learn a language would be through some way of absorbing everything all at once. Particularly in a highly structured language like German, a linear approach--one thing at a time--can be frustrating, as everything seems to want to come first. As we saw in the last lesson, trying to find something interesting to practice before developing enough vocabulary to use in the real world leads to things like, well, swine soup.
   This lesson will seem a bit disconnected, but will pull together some bits and pieces that will open up new possibilities for practice and understanding.

We'll start by coming to an agreement: our pronunciation lessons are nearly complete. Some language texts, especially phrase books, don't give the student credit for learning pronunciation at all, and laboriously spell out everything phonetically from first page to last. We're smarter than that, so from here on we'll repeat very little of what has been learned about pronunciation, and really go into only the few new bits. For the rest, I'm counting on the mp3 audios to help out—and the three p's. (That's practice, practice, and pra--, you get the idea.)

We need to get serious about some verbs at this point, too. I am, you are—things like that. That means we need to deal with more pronouns.

And finish up the numbers.

We've dealt with only one noun case so far, the subjective or nominative. If we add new verbs, we're going to need some direct objects to go with them, and that means an objective case.

Sounds like the lessons are going to start getting longer.


Try to learn the numbers cold. If you lack motivation, think of the one question you'll be asking several times a day once you're off the bus in Germany:

Wieviel kostet es? How much costs it? (sidebar note 1)

The only way to answer it is with numbers. If you haven't thoroughly learned the numbers up to 19, review Lektion Eins. And remember that 17 is siebzehn, not siebenzehn. The sieben is cut off in the same way when you get to 70.

counting by tens
10 zehn  
20 zwanzig Pronunciation alert!
30 dreißig -ig at the end of a word
40 vierzig is pronounced like -ich
50 fünfzig  
60 sechzig  
70 siebzig  
80 achtzig  
90 neunzig  
100 ein hundert  
110 einhundertzehn  
120 einhundertzwanzig  
1000 tausend tau-zent
2330 zweitausenddreihundertdreißig No spaces! No hyphens!

counting by ones from 21 to 99
think one-and-twenty, two-and-twenty


21 einundzwanzig New word alert: und means and. Pronounced like Hund without the H.
22 zweiundzwanzig  
23 dreiundzwanzig  
45 fünfundvierzig  
56 sechsundfünfzig  
68 achtundsechzig  
77 siebundsiebzig  
80 achtzig  
98 achtundneunzig Pretty logical, this. Remember, the French would say four-twenties-eighteen (quatre-vingt-dixhuit) , so this really isn't so bad!
146 einhundertsechsundvierzig  


Second Person Pronouns

Like French, German has two forms of the second-person pronoun, an intimate version (du) and a formal one (Sie).

Close friends and family—and all children—get the du version; everyone else is Sie. There are even words for this practice: (duzen) "to address one intimately"and (siezen) "to address one formally."

Switching from Sie to du is probably analogous to a first kiss, or maybe getting roaring drunk with someone for the first time, I'm not sure. I don't think it's really a part of American consciousness. But Germany—and Europe in general—has a different kind of past, a legacy of social stratification and ritual and posturing that is foreign to us. Our culture has gone all palsy-walsy: we call people by their first names immediately upon meeting them, and we would probably duzen everybody. But in Germany, unless you are introduced by a common friend in a casual setting, you will probably be addressed as Herr or Frau everywhere you go. Respect this, respond in kind, and don't try to break through the reserve just because you want to be a chum. Let them do it first.

So, think du with your American companions and Sie in the shops and hotels. Because you'll be mostly speaking with strangers, we'll concentrate on Sie forms.

Important verbs, to be and to have

These are irregular, which just means they're harder than most. It's good to memorize them, but we're going to use them so often that they'll be second nature soon.

infinitive 1. person singular 2. person singular 3. person singular 1. person plural 2. person plural 3. person plural
sein, to be
ich bin
du bist,
Sie sind
er, sie, es ist
wir sind
Ihr seid,
Sie sind
sie sind
haben, to have
ich habe
du hast,
Sie haben
er, sie, es hat
wir haben
Ihr habt,
Sie haben
sie haben


Hast du kalte Händen? Die Füße, sind sie auch kalt? Meine Füße sind nicht kalt, weil meine Schuhe warm sind. Die Schuhe sind neu. Sie kosten viel Geld. Vierundsechzig Euros.

Have you cold hands? The feet, are they also cold? My feet are not cold, because my shoes warm are. The shoes are new. They cost much money. Sixty-four Euros.


Number confusion. Don't let this happen to you.

True story: I was traveling with my mother up (or down, I forget) the Rhine, and a Fräulein came around with my Bier. I asked her "Wieviel?" She said, "Fünfundfünfzig."

I thought, Five and fifty; hmm ..., that would be five marks and fifty pfennigs. Verdammt, that's a lot for a beer! But, well, on a tour boat I guess I should expect to be gouged. (It would have been $1.10, which was a lot for a German beer in Germany in 1962.)

I started counting out one-mark coins, and she said, "Nein, nein. Fünfundfünfzig!" Of course! Five-and-fifty in German means 55. My beer was just 55 pfennigs, or eleven cents. I relaxed and enjoyed the buzz, er, the brew.

Please add your comments about this lesson, this page, the Web site, or anything at all you'd like to say (preferably in German!) to me or the rest of the Phamily who stop by here. Your post will become a part of this page.

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