About this Book

This open textbook is currently maintained by Dr. Alan Ng to support the University of Wisconsin online course German 391.

German 391, German for Reading Knowledge, offered online by University of Wisconsin Independent Learning:

  • Open to students around the world.
  • Prepares you to pass graduate-school language reading exams.
  • Start now, and complete at your own pace.
  • Earn 3 transferable college credits.
  • Register Now.

This textbook guides a learner who has no previous German experience to gain the ability to accurately understand formal written German prose, aided only by a comprehensive dictionary.

Two Things You Will Need to Succeed

  1. You are assumed to have no previous German experience, but thorough competence in English grammar and syntax. If you need help with English grammar while working through this textbook, we recommend, for example, English Grammar for Students of German, by Cecile Zorach, Charlotte Melin, and Adam Oberlin, Olivia and Hill Press (any edition).
  2. You will also need access to a comprehensive, full-sized German-English dictionary to succeed with this material. Students in University of Wisconsin German 391 typically need a dictionary equivalent to the Oxford-Duden German Dictionary, which weighs in at over 5 pounds with over 1,700 full-size pages.

This open textbook was launched publicly on 22 October 2014.


Howard Martin’s “Preface” to the last print edition, 2001

This book’s third edition is a field-tested manual designed to give individuals, no matter what their field of interest, the basic tools and knowledge to read German. It does not pretend to cover all of the rules of German grammar and syntax nor to address in detail exceptions to those rules. Rather it focuses on the essential elements of grammar, syntax and word formation drawing on similarities to and differences from English. With this focus, it aims to enable individuals to read and translate materials related to their interests with the aid of a dictionary or dictionaries in specialized fields. The material in this manual is suitable for use in distance learning courses.

The format of the book owes much to the late Hubert Jannach’s (Professor Emeritus, Purdue University) book, German for Reading Knowledge, which I used for many years to teach graduate students from humanities, social studies, and natural sciences departments. Its style, I believe, is my peculiar own. The motivation to write it came from my students and particularly from Professors Lester Seifert and Richard Ringler who stimulated my interest in investigating the many similarities between English and the other Germanic languages. Further, I owe much to Carol Crary and Kris Falk, who typed, retyped and formatted the first edition. My thanks go to former graduate students Friedemann Weidauer and Sue Tyson for developing many of the exercises, to the latter for her field testing and editing the second edition, and more recently to graduate students Hope Hague, for her suggestions, and Alan Ng, for incorporating them in this third edition. Last but not least, my thanks go to my wife, Cathie, who sacrificed much to enable me to continue my schooling.