How to learn German nouns

German nouns are determined according to three categories: gender, number and case.

They are always written with a capital letter which is also the case with all nominal words:

  • der Tisch (table)
  • die Schwester (sister)
  • das Haus (house)
  • alles Gute (all well)
  • das Nichts (nothing)
  • das Lesen (reading)

There are three grammatical genders in German language: masculine, feminine and neuter.

These are expressed by articles: der, die and das.

Examples:

  • der Anzung [clothing] m,
  • die Wohnung [flat {BE}, apartment {AE}] f,
  • das Bett [bed]) n.

 

Photo source: http://www.uwplatt.edu/web/auralcss/AccessingHigherGround2005/index.html

Photo source: http://www.uwplatt.edu/web/auralcss/AccessingHigherGround2005/index.html

 

The grammatical gender of nouns meaning male or female beings is usually in accordance with the natural gender:

  • der Mann – die Frau (man – woman)
  • der Vater – die Mutter (father – mother)
  • der Sohn – die Tochter (son – daughter)
  • der Lehrer – die Lehrerin ([male]teacher – [female]teacher)
  • der Schüler – die Schülerin ([male]student – [female]student)
  • der Koch – die Köchin ([male]cook – [female]cook)

Exceptions are:

  • das Weib (woman)
  • das Fräulein (miss/Madam/damsel)
  • das Mädchen (girl)
  • das Mitglied (a member of a society)
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Rules for the determination of gender

The gender of some noun groups is determined by meaning.

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MASCULINE GENDER

Four seasons:

  • der Frühling [but das Frühjahr because of the noun das Jahr {year}] (both words meaning spring),
  • der Sommer (summer),
  • der Herbst (autumn/fall) and
  • der Winter (winter).

Days of the week:

  • der Montag (Monday),
  • der Dienstag (Tuesday),
  • der Mittwoch (Wednesday),
  • der Donnerstag (Thursday),
  • der Freitag (Friday),
  • der Samstag (Saturday),
  • der Sonntag (Sunday).

Months of the year:

  1. der Januar (January),
  2. der Februar (February),
  3. der März (March),
  4. der April (April),
  5. der Mai (May),
  6. der Juni (June),
  7. der Juli (July),
  8. der August (August),
  9. der September (September),
  10. der Oktober (October),
  11. der November (November),
  12. der Dezember (December).
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The cardinal directions or cardinal points:

  • der Westen (west)
  • der Osten (east)
  • der Norden (north)
  • der Süden (south)
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Precipitation (meteorology) or rainfalls:

  • der Regen (rain)
  • der Schnee (snow)
  • der Nebel (fog)
  • der Hagel (hail)

Car and train names:

  • der VW,
  • der Skoda,
  • der Fiat,
  • der Opel,
  • der ICE

Note ! Ship and airplane names are feminine gender nouns!

Words ending in -ismus:

  • der Journalismus (journalism),
  • der Kommunismus (communism),
  • der Synchronismus (synchronism) [equal -ism words in English]
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FEMININE GENDER

Names of ships and planes:

  • die Titanic,
  • die Boeing

Nouns ending in -ei, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -ung:

  • die Malerei (painting), die Partei ([political] party)
  • die Gelegenheit (opportunity), die Krankheit (disease)
  • die Kleinigkeit (doit), die Fähigkeit (ability, capability)
  • die Gesellschaft (society, company) die Wirtschaft (economy)
  • die Heizung (heating), die Zeitung (newspaper)

 

Nouns of foreign origin ending in -age, -ät, -anz, -ie, -ik, -ion, -ur, -enz:

  • die Etage (floor)
  • die Qualität (quality)
  • die Toleranz (tolerance)
  • die Kopie (copy)
  • die Politik (politics)
  • die Aktion (action)
  • die Frisur (hairstyle)
  • die Differenz (difference)

Nouns derived from numbers:

  • die Eins (number one, for example a school vote/mark in German school system)
  • die Acht (eight)
  • die Million (million)
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NEUTER GENDER

Nouns expressing physical units, letters, music notes, colours and languages:

  • das Kilowatt (kilowatt)
  • das A, das B, das Ypsilon (letters A, B, Y)
  • das Cis (music note)
  • das Grün, das Blau (green, blue)
  • das Englisch(e), das Deutsch(e) (English, German language)

Collective nouns (which describe a group of objects) with the prefix Ge-

  • das Gebirge (plural: mountains),
  • das Getreide (rick, grain, corn, cereal),
  • das Gerede (idle talk)

Infinitive functioning as a noun:

  • das Essen (meal),
  • das Sprechen (talk, speaking)

Adjectives functioning as nouns:

  • das Gute (good/welfare),
  • das Neue (novelty)

Nouns of foreign origin ending in –(i)um and –(m)ent:

  • das Datum (date),
  • das Zentrum (center),
  • das Museum (museum),
  • das Studium (study),
  • das Gymnasium (gymnasium),
  • das Dokument (document),
  • das Argument (argument).

Names of cities, continents and most countries in situations in which gender is clear from the word standing next to the noun:

  • das alte Nürnberg (old Nürnberg),
  • das tropische Afrika (tropical Africa),
  • das benachbarte Österreich (neighbouring Austria)
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Note!

The gender of compound nouns depends on the last part of the word:

  • der Spielplatz (playground) [das Spiel + der Platz],
  • die Briefmarke (stamp) [der Brief + die Marke],
  • das Abendkleid (evening gown) [der Abend + das Kleid]

Some nouns have the same forms, but different genders and meanings:

Table 1. Nouns with same forms but different genders and meanings

Noun ↓ Gender → → Masculine Feminine Neuter

Band

der Band (issue, volume)

-

das Band (ribbon)

Erbe

der Erbe (heir)

-

das Erbe (heritage)

Leiter

der Leiter (leader)

die Leiter (ladder)

-

Kiefer

der Kiefer (jaw)

die Kiefer (pine)

-

Messer

der Messer (gauge, meter)

-

das Messer (knife)

See

der See (lake)

die See (sea)

-

Steuer

-

die Steuer (tax)

das Steuer (rudder, wheel)

Tau

der Tau (dew)

-

das Tau (rope, cord)

Tor

der Tor (fool)

-

das Tor (goal)

Verdienst

der Verdienst (profit)

-

das Verdienst (merit)

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Noun number

Most nouns have singular and plural forms.

The easy aspect of German plural nouns is that the plural form of each noun is determined by the article die. All German nouns, regardless of gender, have die in the nominative and accusative plural.

So, a the plural form of a noun such as das Buch (book) is die Bücher(books).

Sometimes the only way to recognize the plural form of a German noun is by the article:

das Gebäude (building) - die Gebäude (buildings).

3) Abstract nouns:

  • der Fleiβ (diligence),
  • der Verkehr (traffic),
  • der Hunger (hunger),
  • der Durst (thirst),
  • das Wetter (weather)

4) Infinitives functioning as nouns:

  • das Singen (singing)

Some nouns have only the singular form:

1) Material nouns:

  • das Gold (gold),
  • das Holz (wood),
  • die Milch (milk),
  • der Kaffee (coffee)

2) Collective nouns:

  • die Bevölkerung (population),
  • das Gepäck (luggage),
  • das Publikum (audience)

 

Note ! Some compound nouns made of material nouns, collective or abstract nouns can also have the plural form:

  • der Kaffee – die Kaffesorten (sorts of coffee)
  • die Bevölkerung – die Bevölkerungsgruppen (population groups)
  • das Alter (age) – die Altersstufe – die Altersstufen (age)
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Certain nouns have only the plural form:

1) Some geographic names:

  • die Alpen (the Alps),
  • die Niederlande (the Netherlands),
  • die USA.

2) Groups of people:

  • die Eltern (parents),
  • die Leute (people).

3) Other nouns:

  • die Ferien (vacations),
  • die Chemikalien (chemicals),
  • die Lebensmittel (ingredients, foodstuffs),
  • die Kosten (costs),
  • die Spesen (expenses),
  • die Diäten (daily allowances/wages),
  • die Kenntnisse (knowledge), die Fachkenntnisse (expert knowledge),
  • die Unterlagen (documentation).

Note! When learning a German noun, always treat its article as an integral part of the word! Not Sprache (language), but die Sprache (language).

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