Ever heard someone say Guten Nacht?!?
Well, you probably did because this is a pretty common mistake that learners of German will make. It obviously has not much to do with the very expression Guten Nacht ( I will tell you the right way to say it in a minute, don’t worry) but much more with adjective declensions in general.
But first of all, let’s solve the mystery and let me tell you the correct way to wish someone a good night in German.
The correct way to say good night in German
The correct way to wish somebody a good night in German is: Gute Nacht!
Ok, great. But could you now tell me why Guten Nacht is wrong, please?!?
But why is it wrong to say Guten Nacht?
Well, this is where the fun begins. I hope you’ll all enjoy the ride!
First, let’s have a look at the noun Nacht. Nacht is a feminine noun. So it is die Nacht. Ok, that was easy, right?
Now, all we need to know is in which case Nacht figures in Gute Nacht and then we got all the tools to determine whether we need to say gut, gute or guten.
Nacht is in accusative case in this example. And therefore, it must be gute.
Not so fast, please!
How do I know that Nacht is in the accusative case in this example?!? Well, first of all you would need to realize that Nacht is a direct object in our example (Gute Nacht).
If you don’t know what (direct) objects are, you might want to double-check this here.
In our example, you can consider Gute Nacht as a wish somebody would have for you when you are about to sleep. So it corresponds more or less to the sentence:
I wish you a good night. | Ich wünsche Dir eine gute Nacht.
So wish is the verb and “I” is obviously the subject of the sentence. The verb “to wish” demands a direct object and an indirect object. The indirect object in our sentence would be “you” (= Dir).
The direct object of this sentence is “a good night” (eine gute Nacht). And as direct objects are always in the accusative case in German, you know that Nacht must be in the accusative case in our example.
Ok, it’s getting a little bit complicated right here, I can see that. So let’s just stop right here and get back to the essentials…
But wait, I still don’t get it!
Ok, ok….let me add some more examples to clear things up further:
Let’s have a look at some greetings to do so.
- Guten Tag
- Guten Morgen
- Guten Nachmittag
- Guten Abend
Ok, great. All of these are written with Guten and not Gute, doesn’t that just prove my point that it should be Guten Nacht instead of Gute Nacht?
Well, NO! Sorry.
The difference here is that all of these nouns are masculine nouns:
- Der Tag
- Der Morgen
- Der Nachmittag
- Der Abend
And as the nouns are in the accusative case here as well (in Guten Tag, Guten Morgen, Guten Nachmittag and Guten Abend), you would need to choose guten instead of gute.
If all this info didn’t really help you all that much, you might just want have a look at this table here: It pretty much sums up everything we just discussed!
|Accusative||-en||-e (This is why it is Gute Nacht!!!)||-es||-e|
Gute Nacht, dear Linguaholics!
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.