The Awful German Language

“Surely there is not another language that is so slip-shod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp. One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way; and when at least he thinks he has captured a rule which offers firm ground to take a rest on amid the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech, he turns over the page and reads, ‘Let the pupil make careful note of the following exceptions.’

He runs his eye down and finds that there are more exceptions to the rule than instances to it . . . Every time I think I have got one of these four confusing ‘cases’ where I am master of it, a seemingly insignificant preposition intrudes itself into my sentence, clothed with an awful and unsuspected power, and crumbles the ground from under me.”

(from The Awful German Language, Mark Twain, 1880)

For all of us who have worked at learning the German language, we have to smile when reading this passage. Yes, four cases: nominative, accusative, dative and genitive. And, yes, prepositions determine which case, and therefore, which declinations.

Although I am no linguist, I found and find the German language to be very logical, almost mathematical. Whenever folks ask me for my thoughts about how best to learn German, my response is always the same: “Focus fully on learning the grammar. It will intimidate you at the start. But it is graspable. And once you do, your German will improve quickly. Get the grammar down cold. That is the key!”

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