Since long before Mark Twain complained about the German language, students have been grappling with German genders. The concept of grammatical gender is an especially difficult one for English-speakers to wrap their minds around at first.
What is gender?
Grammatical gender is a system of noun classification. Nouns, not objects, have genders. Germans therefore can interchangeably refer to a car as das Auto (neuter) or der Wagen (masculine) or an idea as die Idee (feminine) or der Einfall (masculine). Nouns that designate beings with a natural biological gender usually – though not always – have the same grammatical as biological gender – Frau (woman) is feminine, Bruder (brother) is masculine, for instance. But the grammatical gender of most words is a seemingly random occurrence with no relationship to the objects they designate.
Why learn noun genders?
In German, cases convey the functions of nouns in sentences, how they relate to one another and to other elements of the sentence. The markers that signify case in German are dependent on noun genders: the gender of the word determines the form of any article and/or adjective that accompanies the noun and any pronoun that substitutes for it. Beginning learners often don’t see the point of learning genders. But as they advance in their language skills and must deal with increasingly complex language structures, it becomes apparent that not knowing the genders makes it more difficult to communicate effectively and understand accurately. To become a proficient user of German, you must learn the noun genders.
Are there any shortcuts to learning genders?
Beyond rote memorization, there are some statistics and tendencies I will outline below that can aid your learning process. Please note that these are not hard-and-fast rules, as nearly every “rule” that one can conjure up has certain exceptions. They are meant as general guidelines to give you a leg up in remembering word genders. I suggest that you use them as follows: When you encounter a word that appears to belong to one of the described categories, assume it fits into the category until you have proof that it does not. Then make a special note of the gender and put it on your list of words to learn. Learning a language is all about trial and error, so why not employ that strategy when learning genders?
So without further ado, here are the tendencies:
● According to Duden, approximately 46% of German nouns are feminine, 34% are masculine and 20% are neuter. So, statistically speaking, if you have to guess, don’t guess neuter.
● The majority of feminine nouns can be identified as feminine because they designate female beings or because they end in a particular suffix. Words with the following suffixes are almost always feminine: –a, –anz, –ei, –enz, –heit, –ie, –ik, –ion, –in, –keit, –schaft, –sion, –sis, –tion, tät, –unft, –ung, –ur.
● In addition, 9 of every 10 nouns ending in –e are feminine. Most of the exceptions are masculine nouns that designate male beings.
● Words that designate male beings, seasons, months, days of the week, weather phenomena, rocks and minerals and units of currency are generally masculine.
● Nouns are generally masculine when they end in –f, –tz, –g (but not –ung), –en (but not –chen or when derived from verb infinitives, both of which are neuter), –ling, –ich, –ist, –ismus.
● Words that designate young humans or animals, metals and chemicals and the names continents, countries, and cities are generally neuter.
● Nouns are generally neuter when they end in: –chen, –il, –it, –lein, –ma, –ment, –tel, –tum, –um.
● Nouns with the following endings tend to be neuter when they refer to things: –al, –an, –ar, –är, –at, –ent, –ett, –ier, –iv, –o.
Are there any tips that you have found useful for learning German noun genders?
Resources consulted: Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage; Ralph W. Ewton, Jr. and Richard V. Teschner, “Gender Analysis of a German Teaching Vocabulary”, Die Unterrichtspraxis 19.1 (1986): 27-33.
When I started to learn German I really thought it would be easier than learning Spanish or French, but once you get into the complexity of the language it really is a struggle. This post has helped enormously, thanks.
Generally foreign words are neuter as well.
You really can’t make the generalization that foreign words are neuter. Borrowed words very often adopt the gender of a native word that is closely related, for instance:
der Computer (because Rechner is also masculine)
der Sneaker (because Schuh is masculine)
die E-Mail (because Post is feminine)
das T-Shirt (because Hemd is neuter)
das Internet (because Netz is neuter)
But the reason for gender choice may also have to do with specific origin or a specific feature of the word itself. For instance:
das Auto, das Video, das Radio – Nouns ending in -o (often from Latin) are almost always neuter.
der Cheerleader, der Hacker, der Babysitter, der Gangster – Presumably all masculine because they end in -er and denote people (analog to der Arbeiter, der Krankenpfleger, der Klempner)
And occasionally not everyone agrees on the gender: das/die Cola, das/der Liter, das/der Virus.
Die Erklärung ist sehr interessant und deutlich! Vielen Dank Lehrerin!
Not everyone agrees? Our teacher said it was der Virus. She never offered another option, never said there WAS another option. She said it was der and so did the book.
I’m taking formal classes bc unlike with Spanish, which I was able to learn teaching myself, I can’t do it with German. And I know German better than Spanish now, even tho I’m only in the beginning of A1.2 German lessons.
Ich lerne Deutsch weil möchte den USA verlassen.
No, not everyone agrees. Maybe your teacher and the authors of your book prefer “der”. It is not true for all German speakers.
It sounds like your German learning is progressing nicely. Viel Spaß dabei!
die Verben als Nomen bezeichnen immer neutrum ausser “der Schaden”, oder?
Es gibt der Schaden und das Schaden — sie haben verschiedene Bedeutungen.
Hallo, guten Tag!
Ich kenne das gut, wenn man ein Verb als Nomen benutzen moechten, dann es ist immer so mit “das”.
Z.B essen > das Essen .
schlfen > das Schlafen .
i want to learn german grammer and artikal
I want to learn German grammar. I see you have an interesting work here
Thank you soo much who prepared this lesson more more times I say you thanks
Verbstämme (roots of verbs) sind auch oft männlich : befehlen –> der Befehl; auch indirekt: verstehen –> der Verstand; gehen –> der Gang
Nomen vom Verb + t (nouns derived froùm verbs ending in “t”) sind oft weiblich: fahren –> die Fahrt; ankommen –> dia Ankunft; sehen –> die Sicht; antworten –> die Antwort
*Fast alle Früchte sind feminin (Ausnahmen: der Apfel, der Pfirsich, der Kürbis, vielleicht noch 1-2 mehr) aber die Gurke, die Tomate, die Aubergine, Melone, die Kiwi, und fast alle anderen Früchte man sagt sogar “eine Zucchini”, obwohl es eigentlich ein italienischer Plural ist.
*Getränke, besonders alkoholische, sind meistens maskulin.
Die meisten Musikinstrumente sind feminin, eine kleine Gruppe neutral (vor allem -phone) und nur ganz wenige sind maskulin.
*Wenn aus einem Verb ein Nomen mit -er (statt -en) gebildet wird, ist es IMMER maskulin! :-)
Es beschreibt dann meistens Personen oder Dinge mit einer Funktion, z.B. der Staubsauger (saugen), der Kugelschreiber (schreiben) usw. Auch einige oben genannte Nomen (Hacker (“hacken”) und Babysitter (“sitten”) leiten sich von eingedeutschten Verben ab.
This was really helpful. Danke scheon.
Great site, thanks! I’m happy to read that there is some rules as to which words are which gender, so far it seemed almost totally random.
When i was learning French genders for words, i compiled an imaginary picture wordbook in my mind, taking a stereotypically masculin or feminine representation of the word or object. (Is it pink or blue, rough or fine, memory connected to a male or female i know, anything that makes a strong memory.) I think i will try the same in German. Need to figure out how represent the neuter though!
I try to have an example of words with all the different endings, so that when i meet a new word, i can find the ending (word with the same ending) in my picture gallery and check the gender.
I am looking for a good list of about 1000 nouns with genders.
I know of no such list, but you could compile your own from a frequency dictionary such as Randall Jones & Erwin Tschirner’s A Frequency Dictionary of German or the word list put out by the Institut für Deutsche Sprache Mannheim (IDS). Jones/Tschirner’s book is more fleshed out than the free IDS list, but you may find that either serves your purpose to some degree.
That was very helpful, thanks.
I was an English teacher. Although I am French, learning a foreign language like German can be very tricky. For instance in French we say la chaise (feminine) and in German we say der Stuhl (masculine). I think that learning this kind of list can be difficult to memorize. What to do then ? Answer :”pratice German everyday by any means (listening, reading, watching) just to repeat things. It Will slowly but steadily sink into your mind and stay. Übung macht den Meister
Thank you very much for the good job, of course exceptions always are there…well done!