German is complicated, this is no secret. The grammatical structure and its rules along with the extensive lexicon variety make it a tough language to fully possess. To the extent that even native speakers at time make some quite evident mistakes.
If it can happen to them is reason for someone trying to learn the language not to feel too discouraged. Allowing to be inhibited from saying something wrong is the best way to make no progress. This is the message of Trixi, Svenja Patricia Quecke, German Youtuber that through her channel DontTrustTheRabbit publishes a series of funny videos explaining the difficulties, secrets and tricks of the German language. In the two videos that we propose, Trixi makes a list of common mistakes that even native speakers do in German. Often they are related to dialect variations which (consciously or unknowingly) have been imported into the Hochdeutsch. In other cases it is due to common expressions that have become official expressions that have been even integrated in the Duden Dictionary (we talked about a few of them here). As follows is a list of the most common / interesting / funny mistakes, which you can also find in the videos.
Das macht Sinn
“This makes sense”. Doesn’t it? It might seem so, but in German the correct way should be Das hatt Sinn or Das ergibt Sinn. In any case, even Duden appears to have come to terms with this version.
German has two different words to say “at least”: zumindest and mindestens. Some love these words so much that they have fused them together in a word that doesn’t even exist: zumindestens.
Ich gehe bei Aldi
The matter of motion towards the place and being in the place is a complicated one in German. There are thousand of nuances and variations which at times not even German get right. Trixi takes the example of supermarkets, such as Aldi or Penny. It is not uncommon to hear a German say: ich gehe bei Aldi or ich gehe nach Aldi. The first form is definitely incorrect, as bei expresses the being in a place. The second one is debatable, as nach is generally used to convey the motion towards a state, city, continent. The correct expression would be: ich gehe zu Aldi.
The subjunctive, a foreigner.
Most Germans don’t consciously use the Konjunktiv II and the Konjunktiv I, used in indirect speeches especially in writing. Building the correct form of the Konjunktiv and above all deciding when to use one or another is a complicated matter. So a lot of people give up the hassle and almost always use the formulation würde + infinite form, even when it shouldn’t be so. Trixi makes an example of the correct form of speaking indirectly Er sagte, er sei ein Goldfisch (he said he was a Goldfish, where “sei” is the third person singular of the Konjunktiv I or sein, the verb to be). Some native speakers don’t bother, and write instead. “Er sagte, er würde and Goldfisch sein, which is two times incorrect. a) Because indirect speech requires Konjunktiv I and not Konjunktiv II. b) Because “sein” (but also “haben” and modal verbs) have their own specific form in the Konjunktiv II and can’t be replaced with a periphery (so at the most we could have accepted wäre, the Konjunktiv II of sein).
Ich bin größer wie du
Some native speakers struggle even with the comparative forms. Often, following a majority comparative they use “wie” (as) as opposed to “als”, the correct form that introduces the second comparative term. “Wie” would be correct after an equal comparative. The sentence reported here is a nosense as literally means “I am taller as you”. The correct version would obviously be ich bin größer als du.
Strictly speaking, you can not make the comparative or superlative of adjectives that already involve the idea of perfection or that are already superlative (you feel more and more often “the closest” but technically close is already superb). So, say das Perfekteste, “the most perfect thing” does not make much sense.
Scared of the genitiv?
The genitiv in German is a case that is gradually disappearing, replaced where possible by the dativ. So many, to say “my sister’s dog” would never dare to use the gentiv form, “Der Hund meiner Schwester”. They would find refuge in the expression – correct, but a bit sloppy – von+ dativ: “Der Hund vor meiner Schwester”. Or, according to Trixi (we fortunately still never hear of it), they come up on unlikely hypothesis like “meine Schwester ihr Hund” (??)
In German, which unlike English when we try to indicate the same form of identity we always use “the same”, there are two adjectives to express the concept of identity. So, to say “wir tragen den gleichen Pullover” would mean we are wearing the same Pullover. But if we wrote “wir tragen denselben Pullover” we would maybe be trying to say that it is really cold and in that moment we are trying to share the same type of Pullover.
Das/dass: ist mir egal?
The neutral determinative article (but also the determinative and relative pronouns) “das” and the declarative conjunction “dass” are written almost identically. But they have very different uses. A fact that, according to Trixi, many native speakers fail to acknowledge and in turn may lead to misunderstandings and frivolous sentences. Perhaps the unlikely mistake taken as an example by the youtuber can help bring some clarity: “ich denke, dass das das Dasseler Museum ist” (I think that this is the Dassler Museum), where the “dass” is clearly the subordinate conjunction. The first “das” is demonstrative, “this”, and the second “das” is the article related to the Museum.
The courtesy form
When they refer to a friend or a member of the family, Germans use “du”. But when they talk to someone they just met they wish to be more formal and use the courtesy form “Sie” (with the capital S). To which always follows the third person plural (and the corresponding possessive adjectives). As follows “kannst du mir helfen” equates to our “can you help me?” whereas “können Sie mir helfen” would be “could you help me?”. However at times Germans exaggerate with the courtesy capitals, using them even when they are out of context. Trixi reports a sentence read on a magazine, “Taylor Swift hat all Ihre Shuhe gespendet” would mean “Taylor Swift donated all her shoes”. But with the possessive article “Ihre” written with the capital distorts the meaning of the sentence, addressing the reader that the american star has donated, without permission, all the shoes of the unfortunate reader.
Cover Photo: © Facebook – DontTrustTheRabbit
Wish to perfect your German or are you just starting to get intrigued by the language? Take a look at the German courses that Berlino Schule organizes in the heart of Berlin.