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What are some guiding rules as to the use of articles and demonstrative pronouns (and other linguistic elements like these?) in German?

Note: I'm not asking about the gender each takes or anything along those lines.

Here's an example:

"Jazz hilft mir, mich auf das Studium zu konzentrieren."

"Jazz helps me focus on studying."

Why "das Studium" as opposed to "Studium"? How would the meaning of the sentence (and any given sentence more generally) change if you added an article where it shouldn't be or took one away from where it should be? How noticeable would it be?

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What are some guiding rules as to the use of articles and demonstrative pronouns (and other linguistic elements like these?) in German?

Honestly, this is a very broad question. If you want to get technical and dive into grammatical theory, the keywords you'll want to look up are determiners and the determiner phrase. Suffice it to say, in German we >>really<< love our determiners, as most of any given noun's grammatical features (case, number, gender) are encoded within the determiner and can only be seen there.

The only case (I can think of right now) where we don't typically use a determiner (and even then, linguists like to analyze this as a null-determiner), is when we are talking about generalisations, uncountable nouns or indefinite amounts:

examples:

Probieren geht über Studieren. Ich trinke am liebsten Wasser. Elefanten haben ein gutes Gedächtnis.

So here's your "guiding rule"; if you have noun, you'll want to use a determiner. Now, on to your second question.

Why "das Studium" as opposed to "Studium"?

I think the real root of your confusion here, is that English and German analyze the studying in your example very differently. In English, we have a gerund, which is an infinitive verbal construction and thus can't take a determiner. The German translation however uses a nominal phrase to express that same part of speech. And that means, as we are talking about a specific instance of Studieren, that we need some sort of determiner - in this case, the definite article.

We could actually just rephrase the English sentence to get a very similar nominal phrase that would also require a determiner:

Jazz helps me focus on my studies. Jazz helps me focus on studies.

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The general rule is: German is (unlike, for example, most Baltic and Slavic languages and like most West-Germanic and Romanic languages) article-based. So, nouns require an article - If they don't have one, this is considered an exception. So much of an exception that some grammars even tend to denote the absence of an article a "Nullartikel".

So, your question is actually sort of upside-down - Instead of asking why there is an article in front of Studium in your example (because, that's just how it is), you should ask why there is none in front of Jazz (this is the exception).

Very generally, you leave off articles in the following cases:

  • indefinite article in plural: Meine Mutter hielt Hühner
  • Substances (indefinite): Wir tranken Milch und Bier
  • Conceptual notions and abstracts (indefinite): Wir aßen Obst (your "Jazz" example)
  • after indications of quantity: drei Liter Milch
  • notion of occupation, nationality,...: Er ist Franzose, sie wird Pilotin
  • proper names: das Auto gehört Hans

and some more - the above are the most important

With regards to the last part of your question: It would clearly be noticeable, and instantly reveal you are a foreigner. Articles, definite or indefinite, denote whether you are talking about a general or abstract concept or a specific, distinguishable thing. In most cases, this can make a big difference and leaving off an article automatically makes your statement indefinite.

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  • I think you might add the case of possessive pronoun (definite): mein Auto (but eines meiner Autos). Edit: In fact this is not only with pronouns (Egons Auto or des Kaisers neue Kleider, but das Auto Egons and die neuen Kleider des Kaisers) – Hagen von Eitzen Mar 2 '19 at 7:34
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When you say "Jazz hilft mir, mich auf das Studium zu konzentrieren.". You actually say something like "Jazz helps me focus on the studies.". Of course it's meant as you said before, but thats what it literally says. A sentence, which literally means what you translated, you would look like this: "Jazz hilft mir beim Konzentrieren aufs Studieren.". You have to be really careful, where you take some articles away and where you put some, because in your sentence, "Studium" is a noun and thats why it needs an article. In your translated sentence, you translated a noun into a verb, which changes the meaning a little bit, because instead of saying that jazz helps you focus on studying it actually means it helps you focus on the studies. I would recommend you looking at: Substantivierung von Verben because thats essentially what you need help with. -Best of Luck

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