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I have a question about articles in German. Is it ok to drop them from a sentence? For example, is this a weird sentence?

Ich war in Schule.

or

Ich gehe in Schule.

In Polish there is no need to use articles before nouns and it is hard to feel them in German.

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9  
Not only weird - it's wrong. I guess it's a common mistake made by people from all Eastern European (Slavic speaking) countries. –  splattne May 25 '11 at 13:32
8  
It's not OK with English, either: "Is it ok to drop them from a sentence?" –  Tomalak May 25 '11 at 13:56
3  
@splattne it's also very common among turkish and arab youngsters –  Sean Patrick Floyd May 25 '11 at 14:06
1  
@Sean Stimmt. Da rollen sich mir die Fußnägel auf. –  Tomalak May 25 '11 at 15:07
4  
Yes, and if you're unlucky, you'll get very xenophobic reactions for that. :( (Sad, but true, but even to me, it's one of the most annoying mistakes. Don't know why, but it really raises my pulse. ^^) So this should be #1 error to get rid of in real life! –  ladybug May 25 '11 at 15:10

7 Answers 7

up vote 32 down vote accepted

In this case it's wrong.

The correct forms would be:

Ich war in der Schule.

and

Ich gehe in die Schule.

You can (have to) omit the article for toponyms:

Ich war in Berlin.
Ich gehe nach Hamburg.


There a some cases where you can omit the article though, but you have to pay attention to the semantics:

Sie glaubten dem Präsidenten und langjährigen Freund.

Meaning that the "Präsident" and the "Freund" are the same person while in the next sentence they are two different people:

Sie glaubten dem Präsidenten und dem langjährigen Freund.

You can also omit the article if you're referring to a name, as in:

Es wurde Wachtmeister Hans Meier gerufen.

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1  
Great. I didn't think of toponyms. –  musiKk May 25 '11 at 13:30
2  
Very good answer! –  Deve May 25 '11 at 13:55
2  
+1 encyclopedic. :) –  Tomalak May 25 '11 at 13:58
    
Nice answer @splattne. :D In the end it's better to be standard I suppose... I can risk omitting parts of speech when I'll be masterful :D –  Alenanno May 25 '11 at 13:58
    
Not with all toponyms, especially some countries are peculiar: Ich war in der Schweiz, ich war im (=in dem) Irak, auf den Philippinen (though I don't think there are common exceptions with city names [urbanonyms] as above). And also: Ich war an der Nordsee, in den Alpen, ... –  Hagen von Eitzen May 17 at 14:50

Although grammaticaly not correct, articles are sometimes omitted when the number of words is critical, e.g. on signs. Also in transcripts and logs, articles may be ommitted sometimes. Here's an example for a sign:

Hunde-Schild

It would be correct to say: Wenn der Hund kommt, ...

However, these are rare exceptions. In spoken language and in all other forms of German texts, the usage of articles is mandatory.

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2  
awesome example and very well observed! :) –  ladybug Jul 4 '11 at 13:41
    
articles are sometimes omitted when the number of words is critical, e.g. on signs. which is observable wrong. The der would fit in Line 1, move the den to Line 2, and warten to Line 3, where it would fit. Signmakers surely know how to sell bigger signs or how to use smaller fonts. The idea of the sign therefore has to be, to express something with the missing word, probably a lack of education. I would try a reinterpretation of the sign in the light of this new idea. –  user unknown Sep 13 '11 at 13:12
    
I don't think, it has to be a lack of space, leading to omitted articles. For signs it is usually crucial to be able to comprehend them fast and omitted words may help you with that. Plus, it led to the German-sign-style dialect. Of course, this sign is a parody and also plays on this linguistic style. –  user212216 Sep 14 '11 at 8:40
    
I could imagine that even serious signs would use that style (something like "Wenn Alarm ertönt, Gebäude verlassen und Sammelpunkt aufsuchen" or "Rettungsweg freihalten") –  Hagen von Eitzen May 17 at 14:54

In this case it's wrong, you should use

Ich war in der Schule. Ich gehe in die Schule.

Note that this is not the case for some countries, so saying

Ich war in _ Polen

is correct - there is no article for most countries, places or cities.

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3  
Switzerland is the famous exception (Ich war in der Schweiz.). –  musiKk May 25 '11 at 13:42
1  
As always; exceptions everywhere^^ –  Florian Peschka May 25 '11 at 13:45
2  
Another bad one: ich fahre in den Irak, aber ich fahre nach Iran (according to "Tagesschau" ;-) ) –  Jan May 25 '11 at 13:54
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Good thing we're ignoring dialects ("Gehst du am Wochenende auch auf Schalke?" ;-) ) –  Jürgen A. Erhard May 25 '11 at 13:58
1  
Not to mention using synonyms for countries "Ich war in den Staaten" –  Florian Peschka May 25 '11 at 13:58

Although syntactically wrong, such incorrect usage has become popular in certain youth slang.

Here's a description of a language research project in Berlin, "Bist du mit Auto oder gehst du Bahnhof?". They refer to this syntax construct as "Minimalkonstruktion", and suspect a Turkish-Arabic influence.

Similarly, in the third book of his series "Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod", Bastian Sick quotes a German soccer player saying, "Ich habe Vertrag bis 2007." Which is equally incorrect usage of course.

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Yes, in this case it would be weird (read: wrong). It's always

Ich war in der Schule.

and

Ich gehe in die Schule.

Likewise for other places like town hall, hospital, swimming pool, church, etc.

Others have already indicated that it is different for many geographical places. But there are exceptions too:

  • die Schweiz (Switzerland)
  • the mountains: die Alpen, das Erzgebirge
  • die Antarktis (Antarctica)
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Most people already pointed out, that it's wrong and provided some usage advice. I just wanted to give you some perspective with a correlation to Polish. If you drop the article from German nouns, you're often losing two important bits of information:

  • the gender of the noun
  • the case of the noun

You could compare that to simply dropping suffixes from polish nouns. So that

Chodzę do szkoły

would become

Chodzę do szkoł

which is, I believe, plain wrong. Just be careful when transferring concepts between languages which have a significantly different grammatical structure.

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The phenomenon of the missing article in the German language is called Nullartikel.

In short, this is the case with substantives without further determination.

Such as

  • Plural with indefinite article
  • Abstracts
  • Titels & Names
  • Professions
  • Substantives after size, weight and quantity information
  • Not countable materials
  • Nationalities
  • Most countries
  • Proverbs

See the link for examples.

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