Pretty simple question. I came across a sentence

Er ist zugleich ein Schüler und ein Lehrer.

Questions of word choice aside, my gut feeling is that this is not correct usage of articles and should instead be

Er ist zugleich Schüler und Lehrer

as I always learned no articles before professions and countries rule (with the exceptions of die Schweiz etc). I was not however aware of any exceptions for the professions aspect, but perhaps the inclusion of zugleich changes this? Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts!

  • 1
    The rule "no article before professions" is true if you want to point out the affiliation to the group. "Er ist ein Lehrer/Schüler" is absolutely correct.
    – Em1
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 14:56
  • The rule concerning countries is wrong. Most countries, but not all, have no article. The countries that do have an article, you can find here: german.stackexchange.com/questions/12078/…
    – Toscho
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 11:08
  • 1
    @Toscho: Für was hältst Du "die Schweiz etc.", nicht für Länder? Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 14:38
  • @userunknown Entsprechend kannst du auch die Regel „Alle Primzahlen sind gerade (außer 3, etc.).“ bilden. Eine Regel, die eine Allaussage auf einer Menge formuliert, aber Außnamen für einen relevanten Anteil der Elemente dieser Menge braucht, taugt nicht viel als Regel. Wenn dir „die Regel ist falsch“ ein zu hartes Urteil erscheint, dann weiche ich das gerne für die auf.
    – Toscho
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 21:40

3 Answers 3


I wouldn’t know where a rule ‘no articles before professions or countries’ would stem from.

Das ist ein Bauarbeiter. Er kommt aus dem Vereinigten Königreich.

Raif wohnt im Irak. Er ist ein Blogger.

In der Mongolei wirst du einen Hirten treffen.

Especially the ‘countries’ part of the rule already has so many exceptions spanning all grammatical gender that there is no point in keeping it up. But also the ‘professions’ part is very weak. You can maybe turn it into a much more restricted ‘if talking about your own profession in a sentence that starts with ich bin, do not use an article’, but that’s not something I would call a rule of any kind.

So such a rule does not exist for German and all sentences here are completely valid. Funnily, that goes for both:

Er ist ein Schüler und ein Lehrer zugleich.
Er ist Schüler und Lehrer zugleich.

(The usage of an article very slightly changes the nuance of a sentence. It’s not always possible just like leaving it out isn’t always possible. But trying to get behind these nuances would be too much for the margin of this answer.)


The grammatical phenomenon here is called referentiality: the article (or its absence) marks whether one refers to

  • One certain thing or person, which has been introduced in the context (definite): the pupil / der Schüler "Der Schüler ging dann mit Kopfschmerzen nach Hause."
  • One certain thing or person, which has not been introduced in the context yet (indefinite): a pupil / ein Schüler "Ein Schüler beklagte sich bei seinem Lehrer über Kopfschmerzen."
  • A whole class of things or people, without having a certain item in mind (general): pupils / Schüler "Schüler mit Kopfschmerzen dürfen nach Hause gehen."
  • A hypothetical instance of such a class (non-referential): a pupil / ein Schüler "Ein Schüler mit Kopfschmerzen darf nach Hause gehen."

As you can see, not all these cases are clearly different from each other, neither in English, nor in German. So, one has to go back to the meaning of the sentence to find out.

In your example, "Er ist ein Schüler und ein Lehrer." would be non-referential, "Er ist Schüler und Lehrer." would be general. Both is correct, and the difference in meaning wouldn't probably matter in the context.

However, if you want to give the profession of a person, you'd normally use "Er ist Lehrer". But this is not only for professions, since you could also say "Er ist Vater."


O. R. Mapper raised the point in a comment that the example for the general reference is plural, while the others are singular. This is a good point, because it seems that you need to use the plural for general references if you want to use them as the subject of a sentence. In the example "Er ist Schüler und Lehrer", the general references are used as predicates for "Er", and seem to have to agree in number with the subject.

  • 3
    It's a bit unfortunate that in your four examples, the one without an article happens to use plural, where no article is used in the indefinite case, anyway. Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 7:18
  • @O. R. Mapper: good point, got me to think and add an edit...
    – hbarck
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 22:14

In declarations of nationality, religious affiliation, or profession, the indefinite article is always omitted.

Ich bin Amerikaner. Er ist Deutsche.

Ich bin Katoliker. Er ist Jude.

Ich bin Chemiker. Sie ist Anwältin.

Ich bin Student. Er ist Soldat.

We should all be aware of this after JFK’s famous gaffe, when he claimed, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” when he should have said, “Ich bin Berliner.” The two mean completely different things.

  • 2
    Welcome! Unfortunately, your answer is just wrong, see Jan’s answer. Also, the myth about JFK having claimed to be a doughnut is popular but wrong.
    – Carsten S
    Commented Dec 8, 2018 at 22:35
  • @CarstenS I am sorry to say, but hear this: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/41/… He clearly says, "ich bin ein Berliner". The funny thing is, that also the wiki says it is only an urban legend, while the "ein" is clearly hearable.
    – peterh
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 3:21
  • 7
    @peterh: You're misunderstanding. The urban legend is not that he said "Ich bin ein Berliner." (he did). The urban legend is that "Ich bin ein Berliner." invariably means "I am a jelly donut." Actually, it is completely valid to translate "Ich bin ein Berliner." as "I am a citizen of Berlin." Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 7:20
  • @O.R.Mapper Thank you very much, it is a very important clarification.
    – peterh
    Commented Dec 9, 2018 at 8:56
  • One wouldn't say/write Ich bin Katoliker. but Ich bin Katholik.
    – Arsak
    Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 19:52

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