How to Write a German Vocab List

You may think it’s easy to write a German vocab list, but you will soon realise there is a lot to think about. Over the years the way I record vocabulary has evolved, finally culminating in what you see here.

Below is a sample list of German words using my system, which I designed to record all of the most important grammatical information of the new words you encounter.

The list below contains every type of word you are likely to encounter, and shows how to record them efficiently. You can also see an example of a bad vocab list here, including how to correct it.

Example German Vocab List

1. r Tisch -e                             table
2. e Fabrik -en                           factory
3. s Fenster -                            window
4. r Baum -¨e                             tree     
5. r Kaktus, Kakteen                      cactus
6. r Schlaf                               sleep
7. r Pianist -en -en -in -innen           pianist
8. r Arzt -¨e                             male doctor (pl: male or mixed)
9. e Ärztin -nen                          female doctor
10. lachen                                to laugh
11. (jn./etw.) sehen, sah, hat gesehen    to see sb./sth.
12. jn./etw. lieben                       to love sb./sth.
13. jm. helfen                            to help sb.
14. jn./etw. achten                       to respect / think highly of sb.
15. auf jn./etw. achten                   to pay attention to sb./sth.                                  
16. (an etw.[d]) arbeiten                 to work (on sth.)
17. sich[a] (bei jm.) bedanken            to give thanks (to sb.)
18. an jn. einen Brief schreiben          to write a letter to sb.
19. grün                                  green
20. abhängig von                          dependent on

It’s beautiful isn’t it! This example list contains most types of word you are likely to encounter. You’re probably wondering what all the brackets, dashes and little letters are for. Have a look at the explanation at the bottom for a detailed breakdown. Though I should warn you it might be pretty boring for non-Grammar nerds.

Simplify Your Vocab Lists

More recently I’ve preferred to simplify the entries and write more of them, e.g. missing out the brackets for optional verbal elements, or writing feminine forms separately.

arbeiten                                  to work
an etw.[d] arbeiten                       to work on sth.
r Student -en -en                         student
e Studentin -nen                          female student

Example Sentences Are Brilliant

Often the best way to record a new piece of vocab in your list is simply to find an example sentence. They are much more fun to review and your brain will understand the additional information intuitively. Have a look at my beginner’s guide to Anki where I talk about using example sentences on flashcards. I love using thefreedictionary to find example sentences.

Er liebt seine Frau.                                 He loves his wife.
Ich habe mich bei meiner Nachbarin bedankt.          I paid thanks to my neighbour.
Ich habe einen Brief an meinen Bruder geschrieben.   I wrote a letter to my brother.
Ich achte meinen Großvater.                          I think highly of my grandfather.

Start paying more attention when you write a German vocab list.

Explanation

This part is for grammar nerds. If you want to take your vocab list to the next level then get your teeth into this.

  1. r means masculine (der) and -e is the plural ending
  2. e means feminine (die) and -en is the plural ending
  3. s means neuter (das) and – means the plural is the same as the singular
  4. -¨e means an umlaut is added on the relevant vowel plus an e (der Baum – die Bäume)
  5. for weird plurals, I just write out both
  6. some words have no plural, so I don’t write anything (not even a dash)
  7. for weak masculine nouns I write -en twice to signify weak masculine status. The -in -innen are the endings for the feminine singular and plural forms
  8. I add extra notes in brackets, e.g. here where I note that the plural of masculine nouns referring to people can also refer to groups containing women
  9. however, for feminine forms I usually just write them separately because some forms are irregular (e.g. Ärtztin)
  10. for intransitive verbs (verbs that don’t take an object such as fall, laugh) I write them on their own. Writing only the infinitive means the verb is regular
  11. things in brackets are optional, i.e. you can say ich sehe or ich sehe einen Baum. jn. is short for jemanden (someone) and etw. for etwas (something). The n makes it clear that the object must be in the assusative case. For irregular verbs I write the infinitive, 1st/3rd person simple past and past participle – that’s all you need.
  12. if an element is required, I write it without brackets, e.g. here you can say ich liebe dich but not ich liebe
  13. similarly, jm. is short for jemandem, and shows that the dative case is required
  14. similarly here, achten takes a direct object
  15. or can be used with the preposition auf with a new meaning
  16. here the brackets show that an etw. is optional. I put a ‘d’ in square brackets to indicate the dative case, as an can be used with accusative or dative and etw. doesn’t indicate which one it is, unlike jn./jm
  17. again, the part in brackets is optional, and the ‘a’ in square brackets after sich shows that the accusative case is needed, so ich bedanke mich bei meiner Nachbarin
  18. sometimes I write longer phrases such as this as vocab items just to have them in the bank
  19. a simple adjective, nothing more to say
  20. an adjective with preposition, no need to note down the case as von always takes dative