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Could you please tell me why ein does not change to einen at the beginning?

  • Ich habe einen Apfel.

  • Ein Apfel ist leicht.

    (I had been using duolingo and this one pop up)

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    The word Apfel is a noun, and in German all nouns always need to be capitalized. I corrected this for you, and I also did other corrections. – Hubert Schölnast Dec 20 '18 at 7:42
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German makes usage of grammatical cases. The subject of a sentence always is in nominative case. There are four grammatical cases in total in German, the most often used cases for objects are accusative case and dative case.

In the first sentence the verb haben (to have, to own) needs its object (whis is a grammatical form of »ein Apfel«) to be in accusative case. So in the group »ein Apfel« every word must be transformed into this case.

  • the singular masculine accusative form of »ein« is: einen
  • the singular accusative form of »Apfel« is: Apfel

(The gender of a noun never changes, so there is no need to say that Apfel is masculine. But the attribute must change its gender to match with the nouns gender. Also the number (singular/plural) must match.)

So it has to be:

Ich habe einen Apfel.
I have an apple.

This usage of cases makes German more flexible in means of word order. So this is also a valid German sentence:

Einen Apfel habe ich.

You can't do that in English. "An apple have I" is wrong.

In the German sentence you can see that only the pronoun ich is in nominative case, and therefore it must be the subject. Einen Apfel is not in nominative case (it is accusative case) and therefore it must be an object. Both German sentences are correct, both sentences are used by native speakers, and both sentences mean the same ("I have an apple").

In the other sentence the same group as before (»ein Apfel«) now is the subject, this means it has to stand in nominative case:

  • the singular masculine nominative form of »ein« is: ein
  • the singular nominative form of »Apfel« is: Apfel

So it has to be:

Ein Apfel ist leicht.
An apple is light.

Also correct:

Leicht ist ein Apfel.


The two other cases are:

  • dative case

    The verb ähneln (to look/be similar like) is an example for a verb that needs its object in dative case:

    Diese rote Kugel ähnelt einem Apfel.
    This red ball looks like an apple.
    Einem Apfel ähnelt diese rote Kugel.

  • genitive case

    The list of verbs that need its object in genitive case is short. Bedürfen (to need) is one of them.

    Der Gast bedarf eines Apfels.
    The guest needs an apple.
    Eines Apfels bedarf der Gast.

    Here you can see, that the noun also changes its form (Apfel → Apfels) when transforming it into another grammatical case.

    But genitive case is used more often in other constructions like this one, where the case does not depend on a verb:

    Die Schale des Apfels ist rot.
    The skin of the apple is red.
    Des Apfels Schale ist rot.
    The apple's skin is red.

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These are different cases of the indefinite article "ein". In German, articles are declined along with the noun. There are four cases in German: nominative, genitive, dative, and accusative. In the sentence

Ich habe einen Apfel.

"einen Apfel" is an accusative object. In the sentence

Ein Apfel ist leicht.

"ein Apfel" is the subject in nominative case. The other two cases are "eines Apfels" (genitive) and "einem Apfel" (dative).

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