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German language For Members

How to remember the gender of German words

Sarah Magill
Sarah Magill - [email protected]
How to remember the gender of German words

One of the biggest problems that German language learners face is figuring out whether a noun is masculine, feminine or neuter. We spoke to an expert and put together some useful tips to help you remember.

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Is it der, die, or das? This question is the bane of many German-language learners' lives, as learning the gender of words can feel like an endless, uphill struggle.

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Berlin-based German teacher and German language specialist, Dirk Nordhoff told The Local: "It's difficult as there are always three possibilities for nouns. I recommend my learners to always learn new nouns with articles."

But there are some rules that can help you remember the gender of German words.

Masculine words

In German, masculine words are preceded by the article der in the nominative case (becoming den, dem and des in the other cases), and there are certain categories of German words that are always masculine. These are:

- Male people e.g. der Mann (man), der Vater (father), der Arzt (male doctor)

- Days of the week, e.g. der Montag (Monday), der Dienstag (Tuesday)

- Months of the year, e.g. der Januar (January), der Februar (February)

- Seasons, e.g. der Sommer (summer), der Frühling (spring), der Herbst (autumn)

A woman takes a selfie in front of tulips blossoming at Karlsplatz in Vienna
Spring season or der Frühling (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

- Types of precipitation, e.g. der Regen (rain), der Schnee (snow), der Hagel (hail)

There are also certain word endings that indicate that the word needs a der. These are:

- Nouns which come from a verb and don't end in -en e.g. der Lauf (race/course), der Sitz (seat/domicile)

- Words ending in -ig or -ich e.g. der Teppich (rug), der Honig (honey) 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get free vouchers to learn German in Vienna

Feminine nouns

Feminine nouns in German take the article die in the nominative and accusative cases and der in the dative and genitive cases. The following categories of words are always feminine:

- Names of female people, e.g. die Mutter (mother), die Ärztin (the female doctor), die Lehrerin (female teacher)

- Numbers used as nouns e.g. die Eins, die Zwei, die Drei

- Nouns which come from verbs ending in -t, e.g. die Fahrt (the trip), die Hast (the rush)

Language teacher Dirk gave us a tip of his - if in doubt, use the feminine article. "Statistically die is the most common article", he said.

With feminine nouns the word ending can often give a clue that a word belongs to this category, as the following endings are always feminine:

- Words ending in -ness, -keit, -ik, -schaft, -ur, -ität, -ung, e.g., die Freiheit (freedom), die Möglichkeit (possibility), die Kritik (criticism), die Gesellschaft (community), die Zensur (censorship), die Identität (identity), die Hoffnung (hope)

Words ending in -e, -ei, -enz, -ie, -ion, -anz, are also often feminine. Some examples are, die Lampe (lamp), die Partei (party), die Intelligenz (intelligence), die Kopie (copy), die Religion (religion), and die Arroganz (arrogance). There are numerous exceptions to this rule, however, but if you're not sure - try with the feminine. 

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Neuter nouns

In German, the neuter gender takes the article das in the accusative and nominative and dem and des in the other cases. The following categories of words are always neuter in German:

- Diminutives (words ending in -chen and -lein), e.g., das Mädchen (girl), das Büchlein (booklet)

- Colours, e.g. das Rot (red), das Gelb (yellow), das Blau (blue)

- Nouns taken from the infinitive which have the same spelling, e.g. das Essen (food), das Leben (life) 

- Nouns that come from adjectives, e.g., das Gute (good), das Böse (evil)

READ ALSO: Kätzchen and Büchlein: How to make German words smaller

The following words are usually neuter:

- Words taken from other languages, e.g., das Baby (baby), das Niveau (the level)

Photo: Pixabay

- Names of metals and chemical elements, e.g. das Gold (gold), das Eisen (iron), das Aluminium (aluminium)

Word endings can also be helpful when detecting neuter nouns. The following endings usually indicate this gender:

- Words ending in -ment, -nis, -o, -um, -tum, e.g. das Instrument (instrument), das Gedächtnis (memory), das Auto (car), das Museum (museum), das Eigentum (property), though again, there are of course exceptions. 

With the gender of words, it never hurts to try - and don't feel embarrassed if you don't get it right. 

Dirk told us: "German native speakers don't perceive it as stupid when foreigners make a mistake with the gender of words. We notice it, but if the pronunciation and vocabulary are good, it's not a big deal for me and many others."

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