The definite article

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Referring to a specific noun

The definite article is used before a noun when referring to a specific or somehow known person, thing or idea:
Die Hauptstadt von Deutschland ist Berlin.
The capital of Germany is Berlin.

Differences between German and English

The use of the definite article can sometimes differ in English and German. The definite article is used in German with:

  • names of countries which have masculine or feminine gender such as der Irak, die Schweiz, and names of countries in the plural form (die USA);
  • institutions such as schools and street names:
    Nadine geht in die Schule.
    Nadine goes to school.
    Er wohnt in der Goethestraße.
    He lives in Goethestrasse.
  • months and seasons such as der Sommer ‘(the) summer’, der August ‘August’ etc. and meals:
    Der August was schön.
    August was lovely.
    Nach dem Mittagessen …
    After lunch . . .
  • abstract nouns such as Leben ‘life’, Natur ‘nature’, Kunst ‘art’ and often with infinitives used as nouns:
    Das Leben in London ist sehr teuer.
    Life in London is very expensive.
    Ich fürchte mich vor dem Fliegen.
    I am afraid of flying.

Declension

As explained above, the definite article changes its form according to gender, number and case of the noun it precedes. Here are all forms:

 MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
Nom.der Mann die Frau das Kind die Leute
Acc.den Mann die Frau das Kind die Leute
Dat.dem Mann der Frau dem Kind den Leuten
Gen.des Mannes der Fraudes Kindes der Leute

Merging of definite articles and prepositions
When using definite articles with prepositions such as in, an, auf the two words often merge: Er ist in dem Garten. → Er ist im Garten. ‘He is in the garden’.