ein, eine, einen – The forms of "a/an" in German

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Nominative Case

The German word for the indefinite article, a or an, is ein or eine. When the noun is in the nominative case, the forms of the indefinite article in German are ein, eine and ein, as shown below:

Masculine Noun: der Hund

Das ist ein Hund. → This is a dog.

Feminine Noun: die Katze

Das ist eine Katze. → This is a cat.

Neuter Noun: das Buch

Das ist ein Buch. → This is a book.

The term “nominative” refers to the noun that is the subject of the sentence, that is, the doer of the verb. A noun is also in the nominative case if it follows the verb to be – in German, sein, as in the simple examples above.

Accusative Case

Once a sentence has both a subject and an object, the rules become slightly more complicated. A noun that is an object of a verb is in the accusative case. This kind of noun is having something done to it: it is being possessed (as in the examples below), being loved, hated, embraced, despised…When you adopt a dog or cat, call it, pat it or feed it, it is no longer simply existing, as it was in the nominative case above; it is being acted upon by you.

The forms of the indefinite article in the accusative case are einen, eine and ein, as shown below.

Masculine Noun: der Hund

Der Mann hat einen Hund. → The man has a dog.

Feminine Noun: die Katze

Die Kinder haben eine Katze. → The children have a cat.

Neuter Noun: das Buch

Das Kind hat ein Buch. → The child has a book.

These rules in the accusative require you to focus on the masculine nouns, since ein in the nominative changes to einen in the accusative. You almost need a little grammatical bell to ring in your mind to remind you: masculine noun – take action!

The forms for feminine and neuter nouns do not change in the accusative case.

Quiz: Practising the Accusative Rules

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6 thoughts on “ein, eine, einen – The forms of "a/an" in German

  1. This helps me to understand to read and write better in Nominative and Accusative cases also definite and indefinite articles incl. Masculine, Feminine and Neuter Nouns. Thank you for your wonderful assistance, much appreciated!

  2. What about the following sentence that has me so confused.
    “Einer fur alle, alle fur einen”
    I know what it means, I know how it sounds.
    But….. “Einer” and at the end “Einen”
    I also know where the endings come from. But just as many other sentences the structure, and the usage ….. still cannot grab the concept.

    • At the beginning, “einer” is the subject.
      After “für”, it is the object, so you need the accusative ending, “einen”.
      I think it’s a long, slow process to grasp all the endings. I am still in the process myself.

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