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The article das is reduced to s when it's coupled with a preposition in for example ins, ans, fürs. But would it be possible to realise das as s without prepositions in the accusative or nominative in casual speech? Would this be possible only in some parts of the German sprachraum or could it occur irrespective of what regional variety is used? Here I list four sentences by way of example:

  • Ich hab 's Problem gelöst.
  • Er fährt 's Auto in die Garage.
  • 'S Kind ist eingeschlafen.
  • 'S Wasser ist zu heiß.
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  • This is common. But then, you should drop the pronoun too, ist becomes is, and in die becomes inne. – Janka Jul 6 '19 at 21:50
  • No. You can do one, the other or both. That's not an if-then rule. – infinitezero Jul 6 '19 at 22:00
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I suspect that the former case, where the article is attached to a preceding verb («ich hab’s Problem gelöst», «er fährt’s Auto in die Garage») is more common than the latter case, where the article is reduced to «s» all by itself («’s Kind ist eingeschlafen», «’s Wasser ist zu heiss»).

Nonetheless, the latter case occurs in some Swiss German dialects, e.g. in Zurich German:

’s Chind isch ygschlaaffe.

’s Wasser isch z häiss.

I am sure there are other dialects where it occurs as well.

Side note: The former case can even be found in classical German literature, cf. Faust: «Mein Freund, so kurz von mir entfernt, und hast’s Küssen verlernt?»

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Reductions like that are possible, but as you assumed almost exclusively in casual spoken language. I wouldn't necessarily localize them, "Er fährt's Auto in die Garage" could with little changes be from the Stuttgart area as well as from Berlin or the Ruhrgebiet. It's more of a sociolect than a dialect.

Additionally, reductions like that were used when the syllable count was of importance, for example in song lyrics or poems. Especially "'s Kind ist eingeschlafen" could be from an old volkslied (as I learned today, this word seems to be used in English), maybe a lullaby. But that use was much more common in the past than it is today.

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No, it is not possible to reduce das to -s in Standard German. Since das does not have a variant -s, forms such as ins, ans, aufs cannot be analyzed as combinations of a preposition with a variant of the definite article.

First, note that not all prepositions have variants with -s. Forms like nebens, ohnes simply do not exist. This gap cannot be explained under the assumption that the article has a variant -s that can be clitised to a preposition.

Second, and more interestingly, the contracted forms have a specific meaning not shared by the full forms. Full and contracted forms cannot be substituted for each other in all contexts; they are not phonological variants of each other.

1. Contracted forms are (mostly) incompatible with restrictive relative clauses:

??Bist du ins Schwimmbad gegangen, das ich dir empfohlen habe?
Bist du in das Schwimmbad gegangen, das ich dir empfohlen habe?

2. Contracted forms can be interpreted similarly to an indefinite expression:

a) Wir sind in das Schwimmbad gegangen und Hans auch. (same bath)
b) Wir sind ins Schwimmbad gegangen und Hans auch.
~ Wir sind in ein Schwimmbad gegangen und Hans auch.
(not necessarily the same bath)

3. Nouns introduced by contracted forms cannot be contrasted with other referents:

#Ich bin ins Schwimmbad gegangen, weil das andere geschlossen hatte.
Ich bin in das Schwimmbad gegangen, weil das andere geschlossen hatte.

4. Contracted forms cannot be used anaphorically:

Siehst du dieses Schwimmbad? In dem Schwimmbad hatten wir Schulschwimmen.
Siehst du dieses Schwimmbad? #Im Schwimmbad hatten wir Schulschwimmen.

5. Certain phrases with generic reference require contracted forms.

Beim Frühstück höre ich am liebsten die Nachrichten. (#bei dem)
Im Wartezimmer ist mir immer langweilig. (#in dem)

For further study: Maria Cieschinger, The Contraction of Preposition and Definite Article in German – Semantic and Pragmatic Constraints, dissertation, university of Osnabrück, 2016, link.

Interestingly, in dialects that do have phonologically reduced forms of the definite article, the distribution of reduced forms vs. non-reduced forms seems to parallel that between contracted and regular prepositions (see pages 12–13 of the work cited above).

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  • I am not sure if there is a real difference in meaning between 'ins' and 'in das' in this example. If 'ins' should indicate a weaker definite than the full 'in das', why is this construction only available for neuter nouns? What would the weaker version of 'Gehen wir heute in die Schwimmhalle?' be? – jarnbjo Jul 7 '19 at 12:01
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    -1: Of course you can say «gehen wir heute in das Schwimmbad», and without stressing «das». – mach Jul 7 '19 at 14:13
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    @jarnbjo in die simply has both readings (i.e. is ambiguous). – David Vogt Jul 7 '19 at 15:00
  • @mach I expanded the bit about weak definites and removed the example you disliked. Note that I never wanted to claim that sentences like Gehen wir heute in das Schwimmbad? do never occur; just that they have a different meaning than if ins was used. For instance, in das would require the Schwimmbad to be part of the common background between speaker and hearer, whereas ins does not. – David Vogt Jul 7 '19 at 15:02
  • @DavidVogt: For one, your examples do not convince me at all. They seem like an interesting theory, but I doubt that they reflect actual use. On top of that, the original question was explicitly about the case without prepositions, while your answer exclusively focuses on cases with prepositions. – mach Jul 8 '19 at 8:22

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