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Ein, Eine, and Einen – What is the difference?

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Did you know that the German language has as many as 13 definite and indefinite articles when you consider all of them in their singular and plural form? Today we’ll talk about three of those, the indefinite articles ein, eine and einen. In this post, we’ll start by explaining what German indefinite article is, teach you about the different articles in German, and show you how to use them correctly. 

Ein, Eine, Einen at a Glance

Gender

Nominative

Accusative

Masculine

ein

einen

Feminine

eine

eine

Neuter

ein

ein

ein eine einen German

Nominative vs Accusative

Before diving straight into ein, eine, and einen, let’s talk a bit about sentence cases. Sentence cases aren’t really something we use in English, so it may seem like a strange concept at first glance. German sentence cases are simply a way to mark a noun to show the role that it plays in the sentence.

For ein, eine, and einen, the two sentence cases you need to know are nominative and accusative. These might sound a little intimidating, but they’re actually rather simple.

Nominative (Nominativ)

The nominative case is used when the noun is the subject of the sentence. By this, we mean that the noun is doing the action.

Let’s take a look at two examples. The bolded nouns indicate that they’re the subject in the sentence. These nouns belong to the nominative case.

  • A child eats the ice cream.
  • A ball hits the ceiling.

Accusative (Akkusativ)

In contrast, the accusative case refers to a noun that is the direct object of the sentence. It’s the noun that receives the action of the verb. We can use the example sentences. The accusative noun is bolded.

  • A child eats the ice cream.
  • A ball hits the ceiling.

Here, ice cream and ceiling are the direct objects and are accusative. The ice cream is being eaten, and the ceiling is being hit.

Nominative Case – Ein and Eine

Ein and Eine are the indefinite articles in German. It’s the equivalent to “a” or “an” in English.

In German, a noun can either be masculine, feminine, or neutral. Masculine and neutral nouns have the indefinite article ein. Feminine nouns have the indefinite article eine.

The topic of genders can be tricky if you’re just starting to learn German. For the most part, genders of nouns are just something you’re going to have to memorize over time. But there are some shortcuts and patterns to learn German genders quickly. A good tip is, when you learn a new noun, make sure to also include the gender to your Anki deck of vocab list.

Let’s take a look at some examples of ein and eine

Gender

German

English

Masculine

ein Baum

a tree

Feminiine

eine Familie

a family

Neutral

ein Haus

a house

Ein and eine are the indefinite articles used when the noun is nominative. Take a look at the examples below.

Gender

German

English

Masculine

Ein Baum schützt der Hund.

A tree shelters the dog.

Feminiine

Eine Familie besucht der See.

A family visits the lake.

Neutral

Ein Kind tritt der Ball.

A child kicks the ball.

Accusative Case – Ein, Eine, Einen

So what about Einen? The examples that we have looked at so far were in the nominative case. Einen is used for the accusative case, which as we learned is when the noun is the direct object. Luckily, most articles don’t change in the accusative form, the feminine article is still eine, and the neutral article is still ein. The male article however becomes einen. Let’s put this into practice:

Gender

German

English

Masculine

einen Tisch

a table

Feminiine

eine Tasse

a cup

Neutral

ein Auto

a car

Pretty simple right? Let’s use these in a full sentence and see how the noun is used as a direct object.

Gender

German

English

Masculine

Der Mann hebt einen Tisch.

The man lifts a table.

Feminiine

Der Junge bringt eine Tasse.

The boy brings a cup.

Neutral

Mama fährt ein Auto.

Mom drives a car.

Conclusion

Although this seems like a tedious and complicated subject, it’s really important to understand the difference between Nominativ and Akkusativ in the German language. There are two other cases in German, the Dativ and Genitiv. If you don’t know the gender of a noun it becomes increasingly difficult to choose the correct article, indefinite or definite. Now the use of ein, eine and einen is no longer a mystery for you!

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