I'm learning German and currently at A1 level. I'm confused by the ABC poem that the authors put at the very beginning of the A1-A2 German textbook.

It reads:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G
H, I, J, K, L, M, N
O, P, Q, R, S, T, U
V, W, X, Y, Z
Es ist klar: von A bis Z
Ich kenne das deutsche Alphabet.
Für niemand ist es ein Sekret:
Ich kenne deutsches Alphabet.

I know from another textbook that subtance names and abstracts (Stoffnamen und Abstrakta) like Tee, Wasser und Milch can be used without an article.

But how come that the same nound (das Alphabet) can be an abstract and a non-abstract at the same time, in the same context? Is there a hidden meaning that I don't understand yet and what's the difference between the two in the context of this poem?

  • 4
    It's just that their poem is weird. Using "Sekret" instead of "Geheimnis" (secret) and not using the definite article ("das") of "deutsches Alphabet" are done to make the rhymes work... Who knows why they choose to do this in a book for learners - Don't they realize it will throw people off. Very odd. Apr 16 at 8:51
  • 15
    Change textbook immediately. (This isn't German.)
    – David Vogt
    Apr 16 at 9:11
  • This? books.google.de/… It’s not great, but it could be worse, I suppose.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 16 at 10:26
  • 4
    It really does not make sense. It's a poem which at best fits the category "Reim Dich oder ich fress Dich" - and that's not suitable for beginners (of any language), including this way-off usage of Sekret just to make a rhyme somewhat work while still ignoring the rythm in the other lines. Apr 16 at 10:48
  • Das ist mit nichts zu rechtfertigen - this is by nothing to justify - dis is no way truly dejustificial. You see, arbitrary elements of speech can be stringed together, which may appear meaningful on their own, but they implode under their own wheight if... There's so much wrong with this.
    – vectory
    Apr 18 at 20:43

3 Answers 3


A noun can be an abstract and a non-abstract in the same context.


Du solltest den Fisch nicht kaufen. Fisch muss frisch sein.

However, the poem ist off in many ways and you are right: it should read das Alphabet in both cases.

@O.R.Mapper points out some odds and I can only agree with @DavidVogt: Change textbook immediately! This isn't German.


First explanation: The second instance does not so much refer to "the German alphabet" as a concrete thing, but rather to the abstract topic "German alphabet". This is how I would explain it grammatically. With that interpretation in mind, "deutsches Alphabet" without an article could still pass as correct in my opinion.

However ...

Second explanation: We are looking at a poem. Poems often induce poetic license to enable rhymes and meter, and I'd say this is such an instance, as well. Rhyme and meter trumps the usual rules of the language here.

Note that this also applies to other parts of the poem, most notably, (the letter) "Z" and the last syllable of "Alphabet" do not actually rhyme, just if you modify the pronunciation of one of them, as seems to be imagined by the poem's authors here.

Likewise, the word "Sekret" is not normally understood as meaning "secret" in German; it is rather used to describe a "secretion".

With that said, the meter still doesn't quite work; they should have shortened kenne das to kenn's in line 6.

  • kenn's would only be correct if followed by deutsche Alphabet.
    – RHa
    Apr 16 at 10:49
  • @RHa: Please read again. I was suggesting to replace "kenne das" (which occurs only in line 6), not "kenne" (from line 8). I have clarified the line I am referring to in the answer now. Apr 16 at 11:22

This text is not proper German.

Weak rhyme Z - Alphabet

The name of the letter Z is pronounced as [t͡sɛt] (similar to "tset") and rhymes with the English words let, set, wet. The German noun »Alphabet« is pronounced [alfaˈbeːt]. The last vowel is not [ɛ] but [e] which does not exist in standard English (but in many regional variations). These two vowels sound very similar, so for beginners it might be allowed to replace [e] by [ɛ]. There are even some German native speakers who do this, so this is acceptable. That's not the point.

The point is, that the vowel [ɛ] in »Z« is very short. This is the reason, why, when we write the full name of this letter, we write »Zett«. A double consonant always indicates a short pronunciation of the preceding vowel. But the last vowel in the German word »Alphabet« is pronounced long. This is not explicitely indicated in the normal spelling of the word, but when its pronunciation is written with IPA symbols, the symbol ː (which is not a colon) indicates stretched pronunciation of a vowel.

So, we have similar vowels but different lengths of this vowels. Both differences makes the rhyme weak, but still acceptable.

»das Sekret« means not »the secret« but »the secretion«, »the exudate«

»Sekret« is a German noun that refers to a substance produced by the cells or glands of an organism, such as sweat, tears, saliva, insulin and other hormones, but also nectar, resin, alkaloids, etc. in plants. This German word has never, under no circumstances, the same meaning as the English word »secret«. »Sekret« is a false friend of the English word »secret«, as they look similar but have completely different meanings. While »Sekret« refers to biological secretions, »secret« in English refers to something that is hidden or concealed, often in the context of information or knowledge.

(One might object that knowing the alphabet is in fact neither a secretion nor an exudate, but that was not the intended meaning of this sentence.)

While the weak rhyme was acceptable, this is a very severe error that never should be printed in a textbook. Throw this textbook away. Do not trust it!

Wrong: »Ich kenne deutsches Alphabet«

This is also wrong and should not exist in a textbook.

You are right. »Alphabet« is neither a substance name (like Bier = beer) nor an abstract noun (like Musik = music) which both can go without article:

Ich trinke Bier. Ich höre Musik. Ich kenne deutsches Bier. Ich kenne deutsche Musik.

So, the sentence »Ich kenne deutsches Alphabet« is wrong. But still this is correct too:

Ich trinke ein Bier. Ich höre die Musik. Ich kenne ein deutsches Bier. Ich kenne die deutsche Musik.

You can use many substance namens and abstract nouns also with an article. But then the meaning changes. I will explain it with only the first of my examples. Similar arguments can explain the other sentences:

  • Ich trinke Bier.
    No article
    This means, that I drink beer, like in English (»I drink beer«). This sentence does not tell which kind of beer and how many of it.
  • Ich trinke ein Bier.
    Indefinite article
    This means, that I drink one glass of beer.
  • Ich trinke das Bier.
    This looks like an definite article but here the word »das« is not an article but a pronoun. So, you don't translate it as »the« but as »this« or »that«. This sentence means, that you either drink a specific kind of beer (like a specific brand) that is already known to the listener from the further conversation, but it can also mean that you trink a specific glass of beer. (There might be 5 glasses on the table, and you point with your finger to one of them while saying this sentence.)

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