For articles on GL&U it is usual to use German words in English texts. While writing an answer, I was unsure how to use articles in a right way. Finally, after I had read my answer again, I became aware, that I mixed up several possibilities. Especially for German words starting with I, U, E... (An as for an English words or A because it is foreign)

Moreover, I can imagine that the environment is important. I think on GL&U it is important to name the German article (as you know, in German articles are much more complicated as in English), so "Ein/Der Fehler" could be the better solution. This is in contrast to dissertations in which the German article doesn't matter.

Which one is the correct way to use articles for foreign words?

  • A "Fehler" can be affected by an "Irrtum"
  • A "Fehler" can be affected by a "Irrtum"
  • "Ein Fehler" can be affected by "Irrtum"
  • "Fehler" can be affected by "Irrtum"


This is the German sentence:

Ein Fehler kann durch einen Irrtum entstehen.

(For those who knows German: Yes, I know that my translation into English is not the best one. Create, Produce, Develop should be the better translations)

In the 3rd example I left out the second article, because it sounds terrible if I would insert it.

For those who are interested in the article, this is the question and here's my answer.

2 Answers 2


The first problem is using affect instead of effect in the sentence. Entstehen is inchoative -- whatever entsteht is coming into existence (effect), rather than merely being changed (affect). Both verbs are stressed on the second syllable, so the distinction is inaudible and of interest only in writing [thank you once again, English spelling!]

I think the best solution to the problem is to use the full noun phrase with the appropriate number, gender, and case markers on the article. Number and gender should be no problem, really; native speakers will glide over them, and non-natives might even learn something.

It's case that causes the problem. That's where I think you should translate durch literally as through, which is acceptable as a causal source preposition with effect and other causative verbs, and which governs the Accusative. Again, natives will glide over it and non-natives might learn to associate through with an Accusative construction, which will do no harm to their German competence.

So I'd suggest something along the lines of

"Ein Fehler" can (occur/happen/be (effected/generated/caused)) through "einen Irrtum".


I’d go for the first. Indefinite articles because the German nouns they precede have generic reference. An because the following word begins with a vowel. No German article because the sentence is concerned only with the meaning of the two German nouns, not with their number, gender or case.

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