Hammer's German Grammar and Usage states, "German typically uses an article with abstract nouns." But how does one identify an abstract noun? For instance,

Gestern wurde Ben angerufen, während er bei der Arbeit war.

Arbeit appears to be "abstract" here. But he has a specific and concrete job. Or is this a set, idiomatic phrase?

  • 1
    Maybe a non-abstract noun describes something physical, such as »der Baum« or »das Haus«. In English there would be a difference between “I am at school” and “I am at the school”, where “school” is the abstract noun of the classes you're taking at the physical, non-abstract building “the school“. Hence it's stressed in an English (?) grammar of the German language. To Germans, saying »Nomen die abstrakte Dinge beschreiben haben üblicherweise einen Artikel«, is like saying “water is wet” ... Oct 5, 2020 at 16:43
  • This Wikipedia passage seems relevant.
    – RDBury
    Oct 6, 2020 at 5:43
  • "Ich esse gerne Brot" - is an abstract noun, too, even if you cannot eat abstract bread.
    – tofro
    Oct 6, 2020 at 10:35

1 Answer 1


"Bei der Arbeit" translates to "at work" in German. It refers to work in general, not a specific job. This example illustrates that German uses a definite article whereas English does not use an article.

  • This example just illustrates that in this example German uses a definite article whereas English does not use an article :) For I'm an Architect but Ich bin Architekt.
    – c.p.
    Oct 5, 2020 at 18:05
  • One could argue that an architect is not abstract in the way work is.
    – RHa
    Oct 5, 2020 at 18:09
  • OK, but exactly how would one so argue, that an architect is not abstract and work is?
    – user44591
    Oct 5, 2020 at 21:48
  • @user44591: you can touch an architect?
    – Jan
    Oct 6, 2020 at 22:39

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