If you have been a student of German for any length of time, you have probably asked yourself at some point why on earth do Germans need 16 different ways to say the word the?! Although this statement makes logical sense to any English speaker, ask the question to the speaker of any other Germanic language or Romance language, and you will find that this question would be deemed a silly one at best. The answer to the question is a simple one. German needs that many forms of the word the to account for the gender and number of the words that the needs to modify. Different from English, every noun in German has a gender. Nouns are either masculine, neuter, or feminine. Although this may seem strange, you might consider that it is stranger that English nouns do not have gender seeing as English is a Germanic language and is highly influenced by Latin. Both of these languages are gender-based.
Knowing that nouns have gender in German is a big step in the right direction of learning German. Knowing that those genders are masculine, feminine, and neuter is another big step. Knowing the basic rules for determining the German gender of nouns is a very big and important step as you start your German-learning journey. Learn an easy way to determine the German gender of nouns in the categories below.
Any words that refer to male individuals, their nationalities, their professions, directions (e.g. der Westen), times of day (e.g. evening), days, months, and seasons are all masculine nouns. Other nouns that are usually masculine are most (singular) nouns ending in –en, –el, -er, and –ling. Additionally, nouns that end in –är, -ar, -or, -ich, –ant, -ent, -eur, –ismus, -ist, and -ier are usually masculine, Furthermore, brand names of cars are always masculine (e.g. der Porsche, der Volkswagen).
Examples: der Lehrling – the apprentice
der Rasen – the lawn
Female individuals, their professions and their nationalities are feminine. Nouns ending with an unstressed -e, or ending in –heit, -kei, -ung, -tät, -ion, -age, -ur, -schaft, -ei, -ie, -anz, -enz, and -ik are generally feminine. Numbers, brands of motorcycles, and ships are also feminine (e.g. die Zwei, die Zehn, die Honda, die Titanic).
Examples: die Landschaft – the landscape
die Universität – the university
Neuter nouns are used when you are referring to young humans and animals, when you use diminutive suffixes -sel, -lein and -chen (e.g. das Baby, das Mädchen), for letters (e.g. das A, das Z), for infinitival nouns/gerunds (e.g. das Essen, das Schwimmen), as well as for nominalizations of adjectives (e.g. das Gute, das Beste) and for the majority of metals. Other neuter nouns are words ending in -um, -tum, and -ment, names of most cities, countries, and also continents.
Examples: das Wachstum – the growth
das Universum – the universe
As with any grammatical rule, there are always exceptions. In German, borrowed or “loan” words (i.e. words taken from other languages), are frequently a little more challenging to predict as far as determining gender. A general but not hard-fast rule is that the gender of these words are often based on their German equivalents/counterparts and their endings:
Examples: das Training — follows gerund rule, i.e. always neuter
das Apartment — ‘-ment’ suffix is always neuter
For a more in-depth look at the German gender of nouns with additional resources, check out our course content page for this topic.
Want to test your knowledge of the German gender of nouns? Show your skills on this German grammar quiz at the bottom of our lesson page.
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