6

Is Geneva a city in Switzerland or in Austria?

T: Ist Genf eine Stadt in der Schweiz oder in Österreich?

Why is there a "der" before Schweiz but not before Österreich? Secondly, perhaps basic, but why do we get a definite article when we move form English sentence to the German one?

2
  • To expand on 30thh's answer, 'in' pushes the sentence into the dative as the sentence talks about "Where at?". [Refer this article][1]. [1]: google.com/… Jan 25 at 9:02
  • I'm not sure, whether this question contains a topic not covered by that one.
    – guidot
    Jan 25 at 12:31

2 Answers 2

13

For independent countries, the rule is relatively easy:

If the name of the country is neuter singular and not a compound expression, no article is used: "Österreich", "Deutschland", "Japan", "Kanada". This applies to the majority of countries.

The article is used if the name of the country is

  • masculine: "der Vatikan", "der Senegal",
  • feminine: "die Schweiz", "die Slowakei",
  • a compound expression: "das Vereinigte Königreich",
  • or plural: "die Niederlande", "die Philippinen".

For regions that are not independent countries, it gets much more complicated. Regions that are grammatically neuter singular sometimes need an article and sometimes not. It seems that there is absolutely no rule for this case:

  • "das Saarland", but "Niedersachsen",
  • "das Tessin", but "Graubünden",
  • "das Burgenland", but "Vorarlberg",
  • "das Elsass", but "Lothringen".

Strangely, some country names need an article in English, but don't have an article in German (since they are neuter singular): "The Gambia" (en) vs. "Gambia" (de).

7
  • It's probably not worth mentioning, but while "The Gambia" is the official name, the "The" isn't strictly needed and plain "Gambia" appears about equally often. The country is named for the Gambia River, and since rivers usually do get an article, the country officially has one as well. On the other hand "the Mississippi" would just mean the river, not the US state; I'm not claiming English is consistent.
    – RDBury
    Dec 25, 2021 at 13:40
  • As a non-native speaker who’s never officially learnt but just sort of picked it up along the way (without ever having lived in a German-speaking area), I had no idea of this gender-based rule (for countries, at least) – which unfortunately doesn’t help me much in practice, since I don’t know which countries are what gender. I would probably have used articles for der Vatikan and die Slowakei (and definitely for the compounds and plurals), but I’d almost certainly have said in Schweiz and in Senegal. Does this sound as absurd as saying ‘in the France’ does in English? Dec 26, 2021 at 14:03
  • "In Schweiz" sounds weird. For many countries outside of Europe, the situation is simplified a bit by the fact that native speakers tend to consider them as masculine (so the article is required), but that the governments of these countries dislike the article (for absurd reasons) and the German government (and TV stations) respect their foolish wishes. So we're kind of used to hear "in Iran", "in Irak", or "in Senegal", even though it sounds wrong.
    – Uwe
    Dec 26, 2021 at 14:23
  • The question was: When to use "der" for countries. When to use articles for countries may depend on genus/plural/compound expression/etc. But subsequently you wonder: What is the genus of a country etc.? And there is no rule to predict it. So when you want to be able to write it correctly, then you simply have to learn it for each country.
    – anion
    Dec 27, 2021 at 0:02
  • @anion That applies to all German nouns, doesn't it? Actually, the list of feminine country names is short ("Schweiz", "Ukraine", and almost all country names ending in "-ei"), and most masculine country names are alternatively used with neuter genus (see my previous comment).
    – Uwe
    Dec 27, 2021 at 9:29
4

Usually countries have no articles. But there are lot of exceptions - der Iran, der Irak, die Türkei, die Ukraine, die Mongolei, die Schweiz etc...

There is no special rule to remember, it is just to be memorized for every single county. One can find reasons in the most cases, but it won't help a lot learning German.

(Notice: In the question "der" is used within "in der Schweiz" because "der" ist the Dativ form of "die".)

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.