Gender of the German Noun

The first and most important rule about German nouns is: all German nouns are written with a capital first letter.  This applies not only to proper names but to all nouns.

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In English we say:

the man, the woman, the child.

However in German we say:

der Mann, die Frau, das Kind.

As can be seen the definite article (“the”) is expressed here by three different words: der, die, das. This means that German nouns belong to three groups. Which group a noun belongs to is shown by the article.

The names of the three groups are called masculine (der), feminine (die) and neuter (das). These denominations refer to the natural gender (der Mann – masculine, die Frau – feminine, das Kind – for a child its gender is not important, so it is neuter) but nouns that do not have a natural gender also belong to one of the groups. E.g.:

der Tisch (the table), die Lampe (the lamp), das Hotel (the hotel).

Furthermore, some nouns that have a natural gender do not belong to the expected group, e.g. das Mädchen (the girl)

So, which noun belongs to which group? What is the rule? Well, it is hard to define a perfect rule that helps to categorise all German nouns. In part the natural gender of the noun (if it has one) can help. But what about nouns that do not have a natural gender? The situation is that the gender of a noun has to be learnt together with the noun itself. It is not enough to learn that “table” in German is Tisch but you rather have to learn der Tisch. Dictionaries usually represent the gender by showing not the whole definite article but only its last letter, e.g.:

r Tisch
e Lampe
s Hotel

It is important to know the article (gender) of a noun as it can sometimes make a difference in the meaning. E.g. if you say der See, it means “lake”, “pond”. But, if you say die See, it means “sea”. Der Morgen means “morning”, die Morgen means “tomorrow”. Die Steuer is “tax”, das Steuer is “steering wheel”, “government”.

Most determiners and article-like words refer to the gender of the nouns and take the last letter of the definite article, e.g. dieser, diese, dieses (this); jener, jene, jenes (that). So you say:

dieser Tisch (this table)
diese Lampe (this lamp)
dieses Hotel (this hotel)

jener Tisch (that table)
jene Lampe (that lamp)
jenes Hotel (that hotel)

The determiners like der, die, das or dieser, diese, dieses or jener, jene, jenes are called three-form determiners as they have three forms to make distinction between the three genders.

There are two-form determiners, which have the same form for the masculine and neutral form; only the feminine is different. Such determiners are the indefinite article (ein, eine, ein) and possessive adjectives like mein, meine, mein (my). You say:

ein Tisch (a table)
eine Lampe (a lamp)
ein Hotel (a hotel)

mein Tisch (my table)
meine Lampe (my lamp)
mein Hotel (my hotel)

In summary it is very important to know the gender (the definite article) of nouns, as their gender can appear in many ways in a German sentence.

There are some rules that help us to classify German nouns. Either their meaning or their ending can often determine the gender.

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Classification by meaning

Masculine:

1. all the names of seasons, days of the week and months:

der Frühling, der Sommer, der Herbst, der Winter

der Montag, der Dienstag, der Mittwoch, der Donnerstag, der Freitag, der Samstag (der Sonnabend), der Sonntag; der Tag (day)

der Januar, der Februar, der März, der April, der Mai, der Juni, der Juli, der August, der September, der Oktober, der November, der Dezember; der Monat (month)

2. Points of the compass, winds and precipitations:

der Nord(en), der Süd(en), der Ost(en), der West(en)

der Monsun, der Passat; der Wind

der Regen (rain), der Schnee (snow), der Nebel (fog), der Tau (dew), der Hagel (hail) der Schneefall (snowfall), der Donner (thunder), der Niederschlag (precipitation)

3. Lakes and mountains: der Plattensee (der Balaton), der Bodensee, der Harz, der Baikal, der Ätna, der Himalaja

4. Cars and trains: der Wartburg, der Orient Express

Feminine:

1. the cardinal numbers: die Zwei (two), die Fünf (five), die Hundert (hundred), die Tausend (thousand)

2. ships and airplanes: die Titanic, die TU-104

3. names of countries and territories with the ending -ei, -ie, -e, -a: die Slowakei, die Normandie, die Sahara

Note: In sophisticated English ships are sometimes likewise called “she”, however it sounds a bit archaic. (E.g. The Titanic was a ship. She sank.)

Neuter:

1. names of young animals: das Küken (chicken)

2. names of letters and musical notes: das grosse A; das Cis

3. names of fractional number: das Viertel (quarter)

4. names of hotels, cafés, cinemas

5. Other parts of speech that became nouns: das Heute (today), das Ich (me), involving the adjectives denoting abstract concepts (not persons): das Gute (the good – something that is good), das Schöne (the beautiful – something that is beautiful)

6. names of most countries, with some exceptions. Countries which are neuter do not have an article except when used with an attribute: England, Deutschland (Germany), Frankreich (France) – but: das schöne England (beautiful England), das grosse Deutschland (large Germany), das neue Frankreich (new France).

The exceptions are always used with definite article: der Iran, der Irak, der Libanon, der Jemen, der Sudan; die Schweiz, die Türkei, die Slowakei, die Mongolei; die Niederlande (plural!), die Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika (plural!)

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Classification by ending

It is hard to classify nouns precisely. However, some rules can be defined in general, though there are almost always one or more exceptions. One reason for the exceptions can be traced back to the origin of the word. E.g., most nouns of German origin ending in  -el  are masculine but the word das Hotel is neuter, which is due to its foreign origin. Therefore you have to take into consideration whether the word in question is of German or foreign origin.

Nouns of German origin

Masculine

-er: der Hunger, der Wecker, der Keller (cellar), der Fehler (mistake), der Koffer (suitcase); foreign origin, too: der Computer, der Dezember, der Liter

exceptions:

feminine: die Nummer (number), die Butter, die Leiter (ladder), die Mauer (wall)

neuter: das Alter (age), das Fenster (window), das Feuer (fire), das Fieber (fever), das Tier (animal), das Ufer (shore), das Wetter (weather), das Wasser (water, das Wunder (miracle), das Zimmer (room)

-el: der Himmel (sky), der Mantel (coat), der Apfel (apple), der Sessel (armchair), der Schlüssel (key), der Titel (title), der Vogel (bird), der Zirkel (circle), der Zettel (sheet of paper), der Zweifel (doubt)

exceptions:

feminine: die Schüssel (pot), die Gabel (fork), die Tafel (blackboard)

neuter: das Rätsel (crossword puzzle), das Mittel (means), das Lebensmittel (food)

-ich, -ig, -ling, -s: der Teppich (rug, carpet), der König (king), der Pfennig; der Flüchtling (refugee), der Fremdling (stranger), der Frühling (spring); der Schlips (tie), der Bus, der Preis (price, prize)

Feminine

-e: die Adresse, die Brücke (bridge), die Blume (flower), die Kälte (coldness), die Frage (question), die Freude (joy), die Gabe (gift), die Schwalbe (swallow), die Taube (dove), die Behörde (authority), die Fee (fairy), die Kirche (church), die Platte (plate), die Reise (journey, trip), die Straße (street), die Blase (bubble), die Geschichte (story, history), die Woche (week), die Wolle (wool)

exceptions:

Masculine: der Käse (cheese), der Kaffee (coffee), der Tee (tea), der See (lake)

Many nouns belong to a specific declension class (so-called weak nouns) and are masculine: e.g. der Junge (boy), der Hase (rabbit), der Name, der Friede (peace), der Gedanke(n) (thought), der Wille (will), der Buchstabe (letter)

Neuter: das Auge (eye), das Ende (end), das Interesse (interest), and some nouns beginning with ge-, e.g.: das Gebäude (building), das Gemälde (painting as a picture)

-ei: die Backerei (bakery), die Konditorei (confectionery), die Malerei (painting, as a kind of art), die Polizei (police), die Türkei (Turkey), die Mongolei; die Zwei (two), die Drei (three)

exceptions: das Ei (egg) (and, der Papagei, though it is not of German origin)

-in: die Löwin (lioness), die Schülerin (schoolgirl), die Studentin (female student)

-heit, -keit: die Angelegenheit (matter, affair, concern), die Freiheit (freedom), die Gelegenheit (opportunity, facility), die Gesundheit (health), die Krankheit (illness), die Schwierigkeit (difficulty), die Ehrlichkeit (sincerity)

-schaft: die Gesellschaft (company), die Landwirtschaft (agriculture), die Meisterschaft (championship), die Mannschaft (team), die Wirtschaft (economy), die Wissenschaft (science)

-t: die Art (sort, kind), die Angst (fear), die Antwort (answer), die Arbeit (work), die Aussicht (view, outlook), die Auskunft (a piece of information), die Diät (diet), die Fahrt (journey), die Gestalt (shape, figure), die Heimat (home), die Kunst (art), die Luft (air), die Macht (power), die Nachricht (news), die Nacht (night), die Pflicht (obligation), die Stadt (town, city), die Umwelt (environment), die Welt (world), die Zeit (time)

exceptions:

masculine: der Unterricht (instruction, teaching), der Verdacht (suspicion), der Punkt (point, dot), der Rat (advice)

neuter: das Wort (word); some nouns beginning with ge-: das Gedicht (poem), das Gebiet (area), das Gerät (device, instrument, tool, gadget)

-ung: die Bewegung (moving, movement), die Einladung (invitation), die Hoffnung (hope), die Lautung (articulation), die Lösung (solution), die Meinung (opinion), die Überraschung (surprise), die Übung (exercise), die Wirkung (effect), die Wohnung (flat), die Zeitung (newspaper)

one exception: der Sprung (jump)

Neuter

-chen, -lein: das Mädchen (girl), das Häuschen (little house), das Zeichen (sign); das Fräulein (miss, spinster, signorina), das Kindlein (little child)

-nis: das Verständnis (understanding), das Ergebnis (result), das Erkenntnis (knowledge, realisation), das Erlebnis (experience), das Bündnis (alliance), das Bildnis (portrait), das Ereignis (result), das Geheimnis (secret), das Gefängnis (prison)

exceptions: die Erlaubnis (permission), die Finsternis (darkness), die Kenntnis (knowledge, information)

-tum: das Altertum (antiquity), das Christentum (Christianity), das Eigentum (property), das Heidentum (paganism, pagandom)

two exceptions: der Irrtum (mistake, fallacy), der Reichtum (abundance)

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Nouns of foreign origin

Masculine

-ant: der Konsonant (consonant), der Diamant (diamond)

-ar,-är: der Dollar, der Kommissar, der Januar, der Februar, der Parlamentär, der Militär, der Funktionär

-at, -et: der Adressat (addressee), der Soldat (soldier), der Planet, der Komet (comet)

-ast: der Kontrast

-eur: der Kontrolleur, der Regisseur

-ier, -iker: der Offizier, der Bankier (!); der Kritiker, der Musiker (musician), der Politiker (politician), der Graphiker (graphic artist/designer)

-ismus: der Kapitalismus, der Sozialismus, der Tourismus

-ist: der Komponist (composer), der Tourist

-or: der Direktor, der Motor, der Professor, der Rektor, der Humor, der Rumor (noise)

exception: das Labor (from Latin “laboratorium”)

Feminine

-a: die Kamera, die Aula (auditorium), die Pasta

-anz, -enz: die Bilanz (balance), die Existenz, die Kompetenz, die Konferenz, die Tendenz (tendency), die Konsequenz

-ie: die Akademie, die Energie, die Industrie, die Technologie, die Ideologie, die Familie, die Melodie, die Historie

-ik: die Politik, die Republik, die Klinik, die Kritik (criticism), die Mathematik, die Musik, die Gymnastik, die Technik

-ion: die Diskussion, die Funktion, die Information, die Nation, die Portion, die Region, die Religion, die Rezeption, die Situation, die Tradition, die Operation (Latin origin)

the only exception: das Stadion (stadium)

-sis,-itis: die Basis (base), die Gastritis

-tät: die Aktivität, die Flexibilität, die Priorität, die Qualität, die Solidarität, die Universität (Latin origin)

-ur: die Figur, die Kultur, die Literatur, die Natur, die Struktur, die Temperatur

exception: das Futur (from Latin “futurum”)

-e: die Apotheke (pharmacy), die Atmosphäre, die Ballade, die Broschüre, die Fontäne, die Garage, die Idee, die Kulisse, die Neurose, die Offensive, die Pinzette, die Renaissance, die Rakete, die Souffleuse, die Vitrine, die Zitadelle

Neuter

-ett: das Sonett, das Kabinett

-in: das Benzin (petrol)

-ma: das Komma, das Drama, das Klima (climate), das Thema, das Panorama (Greek origin)

-ment: das Pigment, das Dokument, das Parlament, das Moment (momentum, element), das Instrument

-um: das Datum (date), das Album, das Forum, das Museum, das Gymnasium (grammar school), das Kriterium, das Studium (studies), das Zentrum (Latin origin)

-o (in most cases): das Foto, das Kino (cinema), das Radio, das Auto, das Konto (account), das Büro (office), das Motto (slogan), das Video

-x, -y: das Fax, das Hobby, das Handy, das Eishockey

exceptions: die Party, die Lobby, die Jury

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Miscellaneous

The three main items of cutlery all have different genders: der Löffel (spoon), die Gabel (fork), das Messer (knife).

Names of the parts of the human body have various and unpredictable genders: die Hand, das Auge (eye), das Ohr (ear), der Kopf (head), der Bauch (stomach), das Bein (leg), der Fuß (foot).

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