A Germanic language of the Indo-European family. German morphology is a little more complex than in English, in that German has more case and gender inflection. The four cases in German (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive) are fewer than in case languages like Finnish, but the four cases require an English speaker to learn new systems of articles, pronouns, and suffixes. German word order follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) pattern.

Phonologically, English speakers have trouble with a few German phonemes (just like Germans have trouble pronouncing the English voiced dental fricative /þ/ -- the 'th' in 'the'). The German vowels ä, ö and ü are new to English speakers. The German 'r' is not quite like our palato-alveolar liquid /r/. Other sounds unusual to the English speaker are German 'ch' and 'z'.

German words can be very long, as the language has many very productive derivational morphemes. All nouns are capitalized in German. Once written in an elaborate script called Fraktur, German's Roman alphabet looks like that of English, with the addition of three vowels with umlauts and the scharfes S, written ß.

The German language has gone through several reforms, including a recent spelling reform in which some foreign words were "germanized" and the use of the ß was decreased (for example, dass not daß).

German is spoken much differently in Austria and in Switzerland than it is in Germany, and within Germany itself there are many dialects. In Berlin, for example, dative and accusative cases are often mixed up, and the hard 'g' in words like gut is pronounced like the 'j' in ja.