Children's grammar mistakes

Here in Germany I have noticed that children learning their language never make mistakes in neither article nor gender/adjective endings.

However, they do make mistakes in irregular verbs and prepositions. Recent examples include

Ich will im Fenster sitzen (am)
Hast du das Auto gefahren? (bist)
Ich bin gegangt (gegangen)

Does anyone know why they consistently get the nouns right? I reckon foreigners are less like to make these mistakes but would make more noun errors.

I would think that children would have trouble with anything irregular. The brain is good at creating patterns based on what they hear and see. This is the case in acquiring a language. Children to not study grammar rules and exceptions. That is why it takes a while for an English child to move from “goed” to “went”, “seed” to “saw” etc. But even the irregular patterns, or exceptions, are part of a larger pattern, so that if the child hears these often enough he or she will naturally start to use them correctly. That would be my take on it.


If a German child said “hast du das Auto gefahren?”, wouldn’t that actually be correct?

I’d be interested to see what the native speakers say about this one - because it feels right-ish to me!

“Bist du mit dem Auto gefahren” - okay, that would certainly be “bist”. But in the first sentence “bist” just feels wrong to me…somehow…

Well, I am not a native speaker, but I can tell you with confidence that “Bist du das Auto gefahren?” is definitely wrong!!!

Hast du das Auto gefahren? → Have you used the car?

and this happens to be correct.

Bist du mit dem Auto gefahren? → Did you come with the car?

is obviously correct and most often used.

As a native speaker I would say that all three (“Bist du das Auto gefahren”, “Hast du das Auto gefahren” and “Bist du mit dem Auto gefahren.”) are correct.


I’m not a native speaker either, but I’m pretty sure we are right here. ;-p

According to the dictionary, if “fahren” is used with a sense of “lenken”, then it is transitive and takes “haben” rather than “sein”. The dictionary gives “ein Auto fahren” as a specific example.

So, as I said above, “hast du das Auto gefahren” would be correct.

I agree with you that “bist du mit dem Auto gefahren” would be more usual.


If you used “bist” in the first sentence, would that perhaps be Southern German/Austrian dialect?

Yes it should have read bist du mit dem auto gefahren. I hope this does not detract from the point. She said hast.



@ Jay

Nein, dass ist alles Standard-Deutsch. Die Sätze haben allerdings verschiedene Bedeutungsnuancen:

  • “Bist du mit dem Auto gefahren” = Did you come with the car? / Did you drive [there] with the car?

  • “Bist du mit dem Auto gefahren”/“Bist du das Auto gefahren…”/“Hast du das Auto gefahren…” = Did you drive the car? [and not your wife]


Thanks for the explanation :slight_smile:


This is only one of the examples - it doesn’t alter your actual point. :wink:

(Sorry to sidetrack the thread, but points of German grammar are like an itch that I just have to scratch!)

I’m not sure, if I share Marianne’s observation. Small children (between the ages of 1 - 3 years) do mistakes using the articles. But from the age of 3 years on, they rarely do mistakes. So I tend to agree with Steve here. On the other hand, if there is a larger pattern, why even adult Germans don’t know the gender of all unknown words they encounter? For example:

  • der oder die Sapie? (cant hook)
  • die, das, oder der Hechel? (heckling comb)
  • die oder das Groma? (groma)
  • das oder der Gnomon? (gnomon)

I think most Germans don’t have a clue what is right here.

Sebastian: “I’m not sure, if I share Marianne’s observation. Small children (between the ages of 1 - 3 years) do mistakes using the articles.”

This is not my own observation. Many mothers have confirmed to me this is a mistake apparently children do not make. One mother explained it is because she thought the child hears the word as if the article is part of the word “dasauto” and “einauto”. Therefore they would not say “dieauto” because that to them would be a different word. Everyone I have asked tells me the same thing. If true, then that might suggest foreigners should learn it in the same way. More research needed :slight_smile:

Quote from: Gisela Szagun: “Das Wunder des Spracherwerbs: So lernt Ihr Kind sprechen”

(Das Wunder des Spracherwerbs: so lernt Ihr Kind sprechen - Gisela Szagun - Google Books)

“Kinder lernen das grammatikalische Geschlecht der Substantive früh. Sie fangen kurz vor zwei Jahren damit an. Das betrifft die Formen des bestimmten Artikels, der, die, das und des unbestimmten Artikels ein, eine, ein. Die meisten Kinder fangen kurz vor zwei Jahren mit dem Gebrauch von Artikeln an. Bei Zweijährigen kann die Fehlerquote zwischen 4% und 19% in einer Sprachprobe liegen. Ab drei Jahren werden kaum noch Fehler gemacht. Die Kinder gebrauchen die Substantive mit Artikeln, die bezüglich des grammatikalischen Geschlechts korrekt sind.”

“Kinder lernen die Kasusformen der Artikel im dritten Lebensjahr. Sie machen dabei viele Fehler. Die Fehlerquote in einer Sprachprobe kann bis zu 25% für den Akkusativ des unbestimmten, und bis zu 50% für den Dativ des bestimmten Artikels sein. Das ist auch im vierten Lebensjahr noch so.”

PS: I guess it is right, that children learn the articles together with the noun. Anyway small children do (sometimes quite a lot of) mistakes.

You could say “This is not my observation, and many fathers…” :slight_smile:

@3kingdoms: Yes, you are right. I had noticed this mistake before, when I saw Marianne quoting me. But I didn’t want to change it afterwards. Nevertheless, thank you for your correction.

Sebastian - vielen Dank. That was really helpful information.

It is very interesting to consider how native speakers of a language such as German come to master the correct use of cases.

I have heard some native speakers say that they have a kind of instinctive “feel” for which case-form is correct in any given situation. I have also heard it said that (contrary to what one might expect) this “feel” can’t be easily re-directed and applied to other case-languages which the person may learn as an adult.

In other words: it apparently isn’t true that a native speaker of German would have an automatic advantage over (for example) a Frenchman in mastering the correct use of cases in a language like Greek or Russian.

On the other hand, I do very much suspect that anyone who has learned a case-language as an adult develops a kind of “case-engine” in his or her brain, so that it is then relatively easy to come to grips with cases in another language.

I’d be interested to know what others folks think about this?

Jay B was right. We can say:

  • Ich habe viel getanzt.
  • Ich bin von einem Ende des Raums bis zum anderen getanzt.

The both sentences are correct.

Jay wrote:

“I have also heard it said that (contrary to what one might expect) this “feel” can’t be easily re-directed and applied to other case-languages which the person may learn as an adult.”

I think it strongly depends on the language. At the beginning of this year, I dabbled a bit with Hungarian (just because I happen to have an Assimil course for it here) and found the Hungarian case system very confusing and hard to learn. On the other hand, I never had any problems with the Russian cases (maybe because 4 of them are the same like in German and the usage of these cases is quite similar) and I have developed very quickly the same “instinctive feel” like in German.