I was holding this question back because I suspected that it wouldn't be objective enough, i.e. there wouldn't be a scale to classify the awfulness of grammar mistakes. Well, there is no such a scale, but thanks to this question, now I see that messing up with the articles is just a Kavaliersdelikt – for beginners at least. I think it would be useful to know which mistakes are particularly meant to be avoided. This question is, therefore, the other way around.

For instance I witnessed (so to say) the following dialog between a German learner (A) and a German (B):

– A: Dann Tschüß und so! Ich gehe nach Lidl. (somewhere apparently a mistake)
– B: Nach Lidl? Das klingt schrecklich! (verärgert)

The fact that I do lots of mistakes and never had seen a native speaker so exasperated because of them, together with the results of the question linked above, makes me suppose there exist indeed nails-on-a-chalkboard–mistakes.

Please classify the mistakes below. Which of them should the brain focus on, on the first places? I'll accept the most voted question.

  • forgetting the first part of the phrasal verb:

    1. Na, ich fahre jetzt (ab) oder
    2. Wenn…, kriege ich nichts davon (mit).
  • wrong participle

    Die Sonne hat gescheint.

  • wrong auxiliary verb

    1. Ich bin deinen Geburtstag vergessen. Oder
    2. Erst jetzt hat das erschienen.
  • wrong article

    Ich gucke mir die WM-Finale zu Hause an.

  • wrong preposition (first example above)

  • wrong position of the verb

    …, weil ich habe Hunger!

  • wrong declension: -e instead of -en in, say,

    …die schöne Blumen.

  • You might want to add those you think might be even more horrid.
  • 3
    Apart: "Die Sonne hat gescheint" is a very common mistake, if not the most common mistake, by German children.
    – Em1
    Jun 20, 2014 at 9:27
  • Also, I don't see any problems with "Na, ich fahre jetzt." And IIRC there were multiple questions on that preposition thingy you mention. It seems that they are regionally different. AFAIR someone mentioned that "nach Lidl" is common in northern Germany.
    – Vogel612
    Jun 20, 2014 at 10:42
  • 1
    "Ich geh nach Lidl" sounds awesome. Have to remember that.
    – inf
    Jun 20, 2014 at 19:32
  • 2
    Mistakes made by non-native speakers are not terrible.
    – Carsten S
    Jun 20, 2014 at 23:03
  • 1
    I'm not going to put this as an answer, but one of my classmates in AP German ([supposed]college-level German in high school) last year always said "Ich hat..." no matter how many times he was corrected.
    – thekeyofgb
    Jun 21, 2014 at 3:13

5 Answers 5


I will classify these mistakes into smaller and big ones and will the explain for each, how bad i think it is (i'm a native german speaker, just fyi).

Close to no mistake at all:

  • wrong position of the verb: In german, you can re-order sentences any way you like if you don't destroy the order of words that go together like in "er ist nach hause gegangen" (he has gone home) <-> "nach hause ist er gegangen" (those two are the same sentence). if you destroy the order of words, most sentences will still be understood, but it will feel like Yoda from Star Wars said them ("nach hause gegangen er ist" <- "home gone he has").

Small mistakes:

  • wrong participle: This is a mistake that every german makes and listens to during growing up, children mess this up all the time and thus germans (and people of other nationalities for their respective languages as well i guess) will know what you wanted to say.

  • wrong auxiliar: Another mistake that is common for almost every language and there are different rules between using "to have" or "to be" in this circumstance. I've had that problem in spanish, but the spanish didn't have any problem with me misusing it from time to time.

  • wrong article: This must be the best example of "mistakes you do when learning german", not only for native english speakers (who need to learn the male/female/neutral article system), but also for french/spanish (who need to learn the neutral articles and the fact that some german female nouns are male in their respective language or the other way around). In your referenced question someone mentions words that have different meanings when paired with different articles and though this might look like it could become a problem, it will not in 99% of the times, since in normal conversations, you will always have context.

  • wrong or no preposition: Whether you go in, on, into or with Lidl, that does not change the meaning of your sentence. Same goes for "I go Lidl". I think the main reason for B's reaction was the fact that there are some regional accents that actually use "nach" in this context instead of the correct "zu". So the problem with the sentence in the example is less your knowledge of the german language, but the anger towards these regional accents that mutate and destroy proper german language. Him reacting like that is just showing that you should not always use the grammar you hear in TV (worst example here is probably bavarian).

  • wrong declension: This is close to the article mistake in both origin and "severity of the mistake", since declension is depending on the gender of the word and though sometimes it's misleading (lots of neutral words have silimar declensions as male words) people will get it. Whenever i hear stuff like "die schöne Blumen" i think of either italians or dutch, since both of these seem to have a problem with declensions by default (no offense, i think this might be the case because the rest of their german is actually quite good).

Bigger mistake:

  • forgetting the first part of the phrasal verb: This is a pretty big mistake, since leaving out first parts can actually change the meaning of your sentence. Your first example "ich fahre jetzt (ab)" is not affected as much, since "fahren" is, as well as "gehen", close to the english "go", and thus it does not matter as much if "i'll go now" or "i'll go away now". But then there is your second example "kriege ich nichts davon (mit)": There is a different meaning to "kriegen" as opposed to "mitkriegen". "Etwas kriegen" is "to receive something" while "Etwas mitkriegen" is like "To hear/overhear something". This is quite a different thing which can cause misunderstandings and irritation and is thus a bigger mistake for me.
  • 4
    Would add "no preposition" as in "Ich geh Lidl".
    – Raphael
    Jun 21, 2014 at 9:15

Of all your examples, only your initial one

Dann Tschüß und so! Ich gehe nach Lidl.

strikes me as awkward. However, it is actually the least wrong mistake, in the sense that almost every adult native speaker will never make the other mistakes (except for the verb position), while the "nach Lidl" one is quite popular.

I believe this is similar to the Uncanny Valley effect, in that we strongly reject almost correct grammar. By spotting one of the more severe mistakes, we might believe the speaker to be a beginning language learner (such as a child) and do not impose as strict rules on him as we would impose on someone who has (or should have) more experience.

Note that this is only my own speculation and I have neither sources nor data to defend it.

  • 3
    Made an account in order to upvote this for "Uncanny Valley". Combined with Fredchen777's note on "nach Lidl" coming from a stigmatized dialect, this is fascinating. It is almost as though we as a species are born to be suspicious and fearful of those just slightly beyond our inner circle of comrades. But true foreigners are OK because they just speak harmless gibberish.
    – njahnke
    Jun 21, 2014 at 0:52
  • Sorry but that origin is wrong.. "Ich gehe nach Lidl" is a copy in style of the original Comedy phrase: Ich fahre Memphis, which was very popular some 10 years ago. There are TV ads where they picked up the same pattern, and it still works as you can see. See Ich kaufe Edeka Kaya Yanar on YT Jun 21, 2014 at 10:56

All right then, here's my two cents

wrong article/wrong declension:

Not that big of a deal. You can partake in talk shows and use cases and articles at random just fine.

wrong participle:

Totally depends on how wrong. "Gescheint" is not very wrong. "Geschont" for "scheinen" is. As is "gevergesst" or "entschaden" (for "entscheiden").

wrong position of verb:

Depends on how wrong. Clearly, using V2 in spoken after "weil" won't draw too much attention. But

Gestern ich das Buch von Thomas gekauft habe.

is bad.

wrong preposition:

It can sound very wrong but there is a lot of regional variance so ultimately this can't be answered.

Wrong auxilliar

I find that pretty wrong. And it can alter meaning.

Ich bin anzurufen versucht.

Missing part of verb.

It's not so much that it is wrong but that it is incomplete.

Ich mache das Fenster.

This is a correct sentence but in context people will be left asking ... "WAS? Auf? Zu? Ran? Sauber? " Depending on the verb and the context the desire for completion can be more or less urgent. Of course there are many possible bad mistakes missing... wrong conjugation, wrong pronoun case, wrong pronoun gender, wrong relative pronoun, wrong tense etc. The one that I find to be really irritating is this.

missing adjective ending

The precise ending doesn't matter to me all that much as long as there is one

Die schön Frau

sounds really bad to my ears and that is not dependent on context and it cannot be hidden by otherwise fluent speech (like wrong articles can be)


The worst errors, in my opinion, are those that produce a perfectly grammatical utterance that means something different from what the speaker intended.

One example I did not witness personally was somebody using the parting phrase “schlaft gut miteinander” (“miteinander” is commonly used in Swiss German to address groups, similar to “y’all”, but in the case at hand, the phrase does not mean “y’all sleep well”, but “sleep well with each other”.

Another example which I did witness was a classical singer performing a Brahms Lied http://www.acampitelli.com/Brahms_tod_kuehle_nacht.htm:

Der Tod, das ist die kühle Nacht // Das Leben ist der schwüle Tag.

she sang it as

Das Leben ist der schwule Tag.

thus turning a sweltering day into a homosexual day.

  • The "miteinander" <-> "mit einander" issue is not that easy: "miteinander" in this case is legit, since it's the mentioned "y'all", but "mit einander", which is pronounces exactly the same will change the meaning to "with each other". Jun 23, 2014 at 9:16
  • Interesting point, @Fredchen777, but in spoken German, the two variants are not really distinguishable it seems to me. Jun 24, 2014 at 21:01

As a student of German, I think the most annoying thing I ever heard a fellow student do was pronounce the German "v" like the English: "eins, zwei, drei, wier...".

As a student of Yiddish, the most annoyed that anyone ever got at me was when I used German phrasings instead of echt-Yiddish. I once got bitch-slapped pretty hard for saying "es gibt a buch...". This is doubly wrong in Yiddish, first because the third person for geben is "git", and secondly because the expression as a whole is just not used for "there is..."; instead, we would say "es is dâ vorhan a buch…” or just “vorhan a buch…”; or in some circumstances, "es gefinnt sich a buch..."

And again as a student of German, I think the most annoyed I ever made a German speaker was when I proudly recited the following poem which I had just learned:

"Schiller sagt zu Göthe: dein Arsch ist eine Flöte.

Göthe sagt zu Schiller: dein Arsch ist ein Getriller

EDIT: I found this quote on the internet, but on thinking about it, the poem as I originally learned it was actually a little nicer, because it reversed the verb order at the start of the lines: "Sagt Schiller zu Goethe....sagt Goethe zu Schiller..."

  • 1
    Why Göthe and not Goethe?
    – c.p.
    Jun 20, 2014 at 18:35
  • I couldn't remember the snippet so I looked for it on the internet, and that is what I found. I didn't think they used the umlaut on Goethe but, you don't argue with the Source of All Knowledge. Jun 20, 2014 at 18:38
  • 1
    And I'm a little ashamed to admit that after all these years I still find it pretty funny. Especially after I fixed up the meter. Jun 20, 2014 at 18:39
  • @c.p. übrigens not übrigenst. Jun 21, 2014 at 11:02
  • @MartyGreen The most annoyed you ever made a German speaker just changed to the incident when you wrote Goethe with ö (even though both variants exist, even in the Göthe’s family). ;)
    – Philipp
    Jun 26, 2018 at 12:50

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.