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Basics of Yiddish Grammar: A Brief Primer

April 13, 2023


Yiddish, a language with deep roots in High German, is interwoven with Hebrew and Aramaic while also influenced by Slavic and Romance languages. Originating around the 9th century in Central Europe, Yiddish became the lingua franca among Ashkenazi Jews and boasts a rich literary and cultural heritage. The interest in learning Yiddish has been growing, particularly among younger generations. This primer will introduce the basics of Yiddish grammar, including information about the case, gender, and tense, with word and sentence examples.

Alphabet and Phonetics

Yiddish employs the Hebrew alphabet (alef-beys), containing 27 letters, including 22 primary consonants, five letters representing final forms of certain consonants, and a few additional characters. Like Hebrew, the language is read from right to left. Yiddish also borrows Hebrew's vowel system, called nekudes, but its primary vowel system is letter-based, using the consonants alef (א), vov (ו), yud (י), and ayin (ע), sometimes augmented by a nekude placed below, above, or beside the vowel letter.


  • פֿיש (fish) — fish
  • גלאָק (glok) — bell
  • מאַן (man) — man
  • וווּ (vu) — where
  • פֿעדער (feder) — feather
  • רויִק (ruik) — calm

Nouns and Genders

Yiddish nouns possess one of three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Though there are exceptions, some general rules include the following:

  • Masculine nouns often end in ער- (-er), ען- (-en), or a consonant.
  • Feminine nouns often end in ין- (-in), ר- (-r), or a vowel sound.
  • Neuter nouns often end in ט- (-t) or ן- (-n).
  • Diminutive nouns ending in ל- (-l) are neuter.
  • Words derived from Hebrew/Aramaic (loshn-koydesh) that end in a schwa sound (typically ending with an alef, hey, ayin, or yud) are feminine.
  • Words derived from German are typically the same gender as in German.
  • Words ending in הייט- (heyt) or ונג- (-ung) are feminine.
  • Words ending in קייט- (-kayt) or יש- (-ish) are feminine or neuter.
  • Verbal, or gerundial, nouns (i.e. actions) are neuter.


  • מאַן (man) — man (masculine)
  • בריק (brik) — bridge (masculine)
  • זייגער (zeyger) — clock (masculine)
  • טיר (tir) — door (feminine)
  • סטאנציע (stantsye) — station (feminine)
  • זיכערקייט (zikherkayt) — safety (feminine or neuter)
  • רגע (rege) — moment (feminine)
  • ברכה (brokhe) — blessing (feminine)
  • קינד (kind) — child (neuter)
  • לידל (lidl) — song (neuter)

Grammatical Cases

In Yiddish, nouns take on four grammatical cases: nominative, accusative, dative, and possessive. Each case has a specific function in a sentence and affects the definite article and adjective endings.

  • Nominative: Used for the subject of a sentence
  • Accusative: Indicates the direct object of a sentence
  • Dative: Signifies the indirect object of a sentence
  • Possessive: Expresses ownership or possession

The definite article (“the”) differs for each gender and case:

  • Masculine: der (nominative) / dem (accusative and dative)
  • Feminine: di (nominative and accusative) / der (dative)
  • Neuter: dos (nominative and accusative) / dem (dative)


  • Masculine, nominative: דער מאַן עסט (der man est) – the man eats
  • Masculine, accusative: באַגריס דעם מאַן (bagris dem man) – greet the man
  • Masculine, dative: גיב עס צו דעם מאן (gib es tsu dem man) – give it to the man
  • Feminine, nominative: די פֿרוי עסט (di froy est) – the woman eats
  • Feminine, accusative: באגריס די פֿרוי (bagris di froy) – greet the woman
  • Feminine, dative: גיב עס צו דער פֿרוי (gib es tsu der froy) – give it to the woman
  • Neuter, nominative: דאָס קינד עסט (dos kind est) – the child eats
  • Neuter, accusative: באגריס דאָס קינד (bagris dos kind) – greet the child
  • Neuter, dative: גיב עס צו דעם קינד (gib es tsu dem kind) – give it to the child

Plural Nouns

Yiddish plural nouns are formed by adding specific endings to the singular form, depending on the noun's gender and the presence of a stem vowel. Some common plural endings include:

  • Masculine: ער- (-er), ען- (-en), or ן- (-n)
  • Feminine: ס- (-s), ער- (-er), ען- (-en), or ן- (-n)
  • Neuter: ער- (-er), ן- (-n), or, when stem ends with ל- (-l), עך- (-ekh)

The definite article for all plural nouns in the nominative, accusative, and dative cases is “di.”


  • Masculine plural: די בריקן (di brikn) — the bridges
  • Masculine plural: די מענער (di mener) — the men
  • Feminine plural: די טירן (di tiren) — the doors
  • Feminine plural: די סטאַנציעס (di stantsyes) — the stations
  • Neuter plural: די קינדער (di kinder) — the children
  • Neuter plural: די לידלעך (di lidlekh) — the songs

Plural nouns deriving from Hebrew use the Hebrew form for plural.


  • די חכמים (di khakhomim) — the sages
  • די ברכות (di brokhes) — the blessings


Adjectives in Yiddish typically precede the noun they modify and agree with the noun in gender, number, and case. Adjective endings change depending on these factors. Some examples of adjective endings are:

  • Masculine singular: ער- (-er) (nominative) / ן- (-n) (accusative and dative)
  • Feminine singular: ע- (-e) (nominative and accusative) / ער- (-er) (dative)
  • Neuter singular: no modified ending (nominative and accusative) / עם- (-em) or ן- (-n) (dative)
  • Plural (all genders): ע- (-e) (nominative, accusative, and dative)


  • Masculine, nominative: דער גרויסער בריק (der groys'er brik) – the big bridge
  • Masculine, accusative and dative: דעם גרויסן בריק (dem groysn brik) – the big bridge
  • Feminine, nominative and accusative:די גרויסע שטאָט (di groyse shtot) – the big city
  • Feminine, dative: דער גרויסער שטאָט (der groyser shtot) – the big city
  • Neuter, nominative and accusative: דאָס קליין קינד (dos kleyn kind) – the little child
  • Neuter, dative: דעם קליינעם קינד (dem kleynem kind) – the little child

Verbs and Tenses

Yiddish verbs are classified into two main groups: weak and strong. Weak verbs follow regular conjugation patterns, while strong verbs exhibit vowel changes in different tenses. Yiddish has three basic tenses: present, past, and future.

Present tense: Verb endings vary according to person, number, and class. For example, weak verbs typically have the endings -n (first person), -st (second person), and -t (third person).


  • איך קוק (ikh kuk) – I look
  • דו קוקסט (du kukst) – you (singular) look
  • ער קוקט (er kukt) – he looks

Past tense: Formed by adding the prefix -גע (ge-) to the root of the verb and using the auxiliary verbs האָבן (hobn, to have) or זײַן (zayn, to be) depending on the verb's semantics. Weak verbs typically have the endings ט- (-t, third person singular) and ן- (-n, third person plural). Strong verbs display vowel changes and may have irregular endings.


  • איך האָב געקוקט (ikh hob gekukt) – I looked
  • דו האָסט געקוקט (du host gekukt) – you (singular) looked
  • ער האָט געקוקט (er hot gekukt) – he looked

Future tense: Constructed by using the present tense of the verb with the auxiliary verb וועלן (veln, will). The main verb remains in the infinitive form, which typically ends in ן- (-n).


  • איך וועל קוקן (ikh vel kukn) – I will look
  • דו וועסט קוקן (du vest kukn) – you (singular) will look
  • ער וועט קוקן (er vet kukn) – he will look


In Yiddish, negation is typically achieved by adding נישט (nisht, not) after the verb or adjective. In the past tense, נישט/nisht comes after the auxiliary verb. For example:

  • Present tense: איך קוק נישט (ikh kuk nisht) – I do not look
  • Past tense: איך האָב נישט געקוקט (ikh hob nisht gekukt) – I did not look
  • Future tense: איך וועל נישט קוקן (ikh vel nisht kukn) – I will not look

Word Order

Yiddish follows a Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) word order in declarative sentences, similar to English. However, in questions and subordinate clauses, the verb may move to the beginning or the end of the sentence, respectively. Here are some examples:

  • Declarative: איך זע אַן אויטאָ (ikh ze an oyto) – I see a car
  • Question: ?זעט ער אַן אויטאָ (zet er an oyto?) – Does he see a car?
  • Subordinate clause: זי זאָגט אַז זי זעט אַן אויטאָ (zi zogt az zi zet an oyto) – She says that she sees a car


Yiddish uses prepositions to express relationships between words, such as location, direction, and possession. Some common prepositions include:

  • fun (from)
  • tsu (to)
  • in (in)
  • mit (with)
  • oyb (if, whether)
  • far (for, before)
  • bay (by, at)

When a definite article follows a preposition, it is in the dative case, and depends on the gender of the noun that follows it.


  • מיט דעם אויטאָ (mit dem oyto) – with the car
  • פֿון דעם הויז (fun dem hoyz) – from the house
  • צו דער שטאָט (tsu der shtot) – to the city
  • אין דעם גאָרטן (in dem gortn) – in the garden
  • ביי דער סטאנציע (bay der stantsye) - at the station

For the masculine and neuter genders, the above prepositions may be be written as contractions to include the definite article, such as:

  • funem (from the)
  • tsum (to the)
  • inem (in the)
  • mitn (with the)
  • farn (for the, before the)
  • baym (by the, at the)


  • מיטן אויטאָ (mitn oyto) – with the car
  • פֿונעם הויז (funem hoyz) – from the house
  • צום פּאַלאַץ(tsum palats) – to the palace
  • אינעם גאָרטן (inem gortn) – in the garden
  • ביים וועג (baym veg) – at the road

Yiddish grammar may appear complex initially, but with consistent practice, you can master its intricacies. As you embark on your journey to learn Yiddish, familiarize yourself with the alphabet, basic grammar rules, and essential vocabulary. Embrace the opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich cultural and literary heritage of this fascinating language.