Ein Eine Einen Einer Einem- German Indefinite Article Hack

When learning a language like German, there is more to learning vocabulary than simple memorization. There is also much more to using indefinite articles (a, an in English) than one or two rules. What is the difference and usage of these crucial words?

The indefinite articles ein, eine, einen, einer, and einem in German are all grammatical uses of the English equivalent article ‘a’. The differences in their usage depend on gender and case. There are ones that appear more frequently than others in written and spoken German.

These are some of the most used words in the German language and are integral to most sentences. To find out more on how these are used and hacks that you can use to start using this article immediately in German conversations you will want to read on.

My wife Jackie walking in front of the Berlin Wall.

German Indefinite Articles By Gender And Case

In German there are 4 cases that are determined by usage and even sentence position. There are also three genders in German as well as a plural form for most words.

When the indefinite articles are used in context in German the type of ending placed on ‘ein’ will change depending on the case. This ending will also be modified by the gender of the noun the article refers to. The state of singular or plural also determines the indefinite article form.

There is a very straight forward and regular usage that can be applied to these articles. The endings change in regular patterns. You can see the endings in their proper form in the following table.

Dativeeinemeinereinemkeinen (-n)
Kein and its derivatives are a negation and can be used in plural forms even if other forms of ein cannot.

The problem with using the correct form of indefinite article especially in speaking is the multiple variations and specific rules that apply. It is difficult to come up with the proper one on the fly.

One thing that I learned by having many speaking partners and taking many trips to German speaking countries is that many native German speakers won’t always get these right. They will much of the time of course, but they tend to look over us non natives as we muddle through the process.

If you would like to read other articles about German, I recommend some of my others…

Indefinite Article Nominative, Accusative, Dative, Genitive

To know how each of the specific indefinite articles (a, an in English) are used, it is important to understand the German case system. When an indefinite article is in one of these four cases the ending of the word is particularly set.

First let’s look at each case and what it is concerned with in a sentence.

German Grammar CasesDefinition
NominativeSubject or naming case
AccusativePredicate or direct object case
DativeCase for indirect objects or objects of prepositions
GenitiveCase that shows possession

All of this for a new learner may start to feel overwhelming. We are not just talking about gender, but also case combined together to determine which ending to put on a simple word meaning ‘a’ or ‘an’ in English.

Don’t worry, I have some hacks that I used in the beginning to start speaking German immediately as I learned vocabulary. Let me first help you understand the cases so that the hacks make more sense.

As you get better at speaking the German language or if you are wanting to write using it, being able to do everything exactly right will be important. So here I will set out the precise way it should be done, and then we will move on to the more usable, less rigid way of diving right into German conversations.

The Nominative German Case For Indefinite Articles (Ein, Eine, Keine)

‘A’ in the German language when used as the subject or naming portion of a sentence is usually considered the base form of the word. The endings by most students are seen to change from this form.

It is best to simply memorize these forms and start your modifications from there.

  • Masculine – ein
  • Feminine – eine
  • Neuter – ein
  • Plural – keine


Ein Pferd des Reiters gibt der Frau einen Kuss. – A rider’s horse gives the woman a kiss.

Keep in mind that all nouns in German whether proper or not are capitalized.

In this example, Ein Pferd (a horse – neuter) would be an example of the nominative case. It names the subject of the sentence.

Accusative Case For Indefinite Articles (Einen, Eine, Ein, Keine)

An indirect object in the accusative case is point to the thing that the action acts upon. It is the thing given, read, eaten etc. The endings either remain the same as the nominative case or add an -en, or -e,

In the accusative case the only the masculine spelling and pronunciation changes.

  • Masculine – einen

Let’s look at our example sentence again:

Ein Pferd des Reiters gibt der Frau einen Kuss. – A rider’s horse gives the woman a kiss.

Here a kiss is the thing being given. It is therefore in the accusative case.

Dative German Case For Indefinite Articles (Einem, Einer, Keinen)

The indirect object in the dative case is referring to the thing or place the action is directed to. This should not be confused with what the verb is acting upon, but where the action is ultimately directed.

Once again:

Ein Pferd des Reiters gibt der Frau einen Kuss. – A rider’s horse gives the woman a kiss.

In our example der Frau is in the dative case. She is the one receiving the kiss that is given.

Frau is a feminine word and would normally take the die form of the English ‘the’. Der many times is used for masculine words outside of a sentence or in the nominative case. This can be confusing.

For our purposes here, der is also used as the definite article (‘the’ in English) for feminine words in the dative case. For the dative indefinite articles we have…

  • Masculine – einem
  • Feminine – einer
  • Neuter – einem
  • Plural – keinen (with ‘n’ added to the end of the word referenced)

If this is a bit difficult, you are not alone. I learned it and it was hard in the beginning. You can too. So, just keep at it.

But there is another famous figure in literature that shares your pain…

It’s awful undermining to the intellect, German is; you want to take it in small doses, or first you know your brains all run together, and you feel them flapping around in your head same as so much drawn butter.

Mark Twain – A Tramp Abroad

Genitive Case For Indefinite Articles (Eines, Einer, Keiner)

The Genitive case is not only fairly simple, it by nature is the least used of all the cases. This important fact helps develop my hack further on.

Here, just keep in mind that it is much simpler to notice when and how to use it.

One last time for our example:

Ein Pferd des Reiters gibt der Frau einen Kuss. – A rider’s horse gives the woman a kiss.

Des Reiters or of the rider here is in the genitive case. It describes who the horse belongs to.

For our indefinite articles in the genitive case we have…

  • Masculine – eines
  • Feminine – einer
  • Neuter – eines
  • Plural – keiner

The German Indefinite Article Hack

Now that I have explained the how and why of the German indefinite articles (a, an in English), it is time to let you in on the secret to speaking the German language faster. It is a simple trick you can apply in the beginning that you can slowly replace as the language becomes more familiar.

The German indefinite article hack is simply omitting the lesser used forms of ein and saying the ones with higher percentage use. In most situations where a learner will be speaking German the small percentage of the time the wrong form is used will not change the meaning or be misunderstood.

First let me show you the percentages of use of the masculine, feminine, and neuter forms of words and then we can relate it to the case forms we just discussed. You will find that while learning, you can simply use one or two forms at all times and will be understood completely.

This being said, if you are needing your German for a professional workplace or higher education environment, this may be less useful. But for the vast majority of German speaking situations, this will make a German learner’s life so much eaiser.

Der, Die, Das, Ein, Eine, Einen Percentage Usage In German

If we can determine the amount that German speakers use each of these words, we can then determine which of these we can use for every situation as beginners and be ‘the most right’.

Let me stress again, the times you are not using the proper form will be less than the times you are right and you will be understood 99% of the time with no problem.

Let’s look at how often German speakers use each of the three genders. According to duden.de, one of the webs most authoritative German dictionary and grammar sites, there is one of the three used much more than the others.

The usage of feminine is at 46%, masculine is 34%, and neuter comes in at 20%. As you can see, this can be used by students of German when speaking in making educated guesses on the fly.

For instance, if you know the gender of the noun being used then you simply apply that in the flow of a sentence. Yet, if you don’t know or are unsure, you will be much more likely to be right if you use the feminine definite or indefinite article.

This gets even better. If you notice how articles work with plural forms you will recognize something. In the plural in nominative and accusative cases, they act just like feminine ones. For dative cases just at an ‘n’ to the end.

Applying The German Gender Hack

I used this a lot on my way to intermediate German. It sped up my learning significantly for one simple reason.

I would use the feminine version whenever I didn’t know or wasn’t sure.

I didn’t get hung up on using the exact right article because I was certain to be right the majority of the time.

Not only this, I was rarely if ever misunderstood because of improper article usage. This hack actually works.

Using the feminine form of an indefinite or even a definite article when you don’t know which to choose will have you being right the majority of the time. Add that to the ones you are sure of and you shouldn’t have to sweat over articles until you are trying to perfect them above intermediate stages.

German Cases And How To Hack Them Along With Gender

Here it can seem as though the method of simplifying the German article system would break down. Now we have another completely different pattern to lay on top of the gender system. Yet the same sort of concept applies.

Here are some guidelines to help use this method with the cases.

  • The nominative case will mostly be at the beginning of the sentence and easy to spot.
  • The accusative case appears in simple and complex sentences more than the dative case.
  • The genitive case can be completely omitted and the preposition for ‘from’ (von) added for simplification.

If you know the case and the gender then you won’t need this to help move the sentence along. If you don’t then using an educated guess and inserting one or two of the options most of the time will have you being correct in a majority of the cases.

You can also look at the chart again and notice that there are some that share the same ending.

Here’s how I approached this until I learned more vocabulary and the usages began to ‘sound’ right.

Note: Most language teachers know this, but may not think to tell you. You won’t be able to use grammar on the fly in a conversation in any real way. You are using it in private practice to help you know what ‘sounds’ right. As you become more experienced, ‘sounding’ right will be your main guide.

  1. I used the feminine definite and indefinite articles when I didn’t know.
  2. I used ‘the book from Adel’ (das buch von Adele) instead of ‘Adel’s book’ and I didn’t have to deal will the genitive case until much later.
  3. I used einem for all dative cases unless I knew specifically to use einer and was right more than wrong.
  4. I used eine for all nominative and accusative instances unless I specifically knew it was masculine or neuter.
  5. I used keine for all plural negations and was right most of the time.

Of course this also means you will have to either know or guess the case, but like I said before there are places in a sentence that the cases usually end up in normal conversation.

The nominative usually comes first, then the dative, then the accusative. The problem is that the dative and accusative can switch places. You will get better and better at your educated guessing. Just don’t let mistakes stop you from speaking. Speaking is the only way to get better at… speaking.

The Final Talking Point On Ein Eine Einen Einer And Einem…

I hope this explanation has helped and the hack can get your speaking up and going in no time. Some of the most fun I have had learning the German language was speaking, making mistakes, and laughing with speaking partners and friends.

You can do it the same way I did. All it takes is the willingness to lighten up and don’t sweat the mistakes. Just dive in and make them using the higher percentage educated guesses when it comes to gender and cases.

Viel Spaß beim Lernen!

I recommend my other articles on German…

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a proud father of four, husband of over 26 years, and an avid lover of languages and language learning. He taught himself to conversational fluency in German and then did the same for his daughter Lexi. She went on to spend an exchange year in Germany, minor in German at LSU, and become president of the LSU German club. Mathew continues to this day to learn languages with an emphasis on communication.

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