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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.

Refugees from Afghanistan practice reading German words at the state library in Potsdam in 2016.

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.

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. 

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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Austrian word of the day: Beisl

This is a spot you might visit at the end of the working day - or Feierabend - particularly in Austria, as Germany has a different word for these establishments. Here's what this Austrian-German word means and how to use it.

Austrian word of the day: Beisl

Why do I need to know Beisl?

Because you may be invited to one or need to find one on the map.

What does it mean?

Das Beisl, which sounds like this, is the name for a pub or inn in Austrian German where people gather to drink beverages. In Germany, it is usually called a Kneipe.

This isn’t a fancy cocktail bar – it’s a neighbourhood watering hole and forms part of the make-up of towns and cities across Austria. It’s usually unpretentious, often small and used to be very smoky before Austria banned smoking indoors.

The term comes from the Czech “pajzl”, which means pub or dive. It’s a diminutive short form of the noun “hampejz” – with meaning such as “dog house” and even “brothel”.

Other possibilities for its origins include the Yiddish bajiss (house) , and the Austrian dialectal diminutive of the word Beiz – which was a low-class pub until the word got a better reputation.

Nowadays, the Beisl are usually friendly and charming and give an insight into life in Austria. So perhaps ask your Austria friends for a tip on a cool Beisl to visit. Just don’t expect the staff to speak English at all – or take credit cards.

If you’re hungry, keep in mind that Beisl usually doesn’t serve food or at least no hot dishes.

How to use it:
Treffen wir uns am Freitag nach Feierabend im Beisl.
Let’s meet in the pub on Friday after work finishes.
Ich gehe mit den Jungs ins Beisl.
I’m going to the pub with the lads.