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Ask a German: Do you ever forget the gender of words?

The Local Austria
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Ask a German: Do you ever forget the gender of words?

Remembering whether a noun is der, die or das can be tricky for non-natives. In the first of our series where we find answers to the burning questions that foreigners want to know, we ask a German: do you ever forget the gender of articles?


For lots of non-natives, speaking German is a bit like a lottery: when you are not 100 percent sure about the article of a German word, you take a guess. And you have a one in three chance of getting it right. 

But knowing whether a singular noun is der (masculine), die (feminine) or das (neutral) is key to developing your language skills in order to construct fuller sentences. Think of it like the foundations: you need to learn the gender of the word as well as the word itself so you can build the rest of your German language house. 

But do native German speakers always know whether a word is der, die or das?

Berlin-based German teacher Seraphine Peries told The Local that although German speakers tend to know intuitively what the article of most nouns are because they learn them while growing up, they "definitely" have doubts. 

"German native speakers make a lot of mistakes when it comes to certain words," said Peries. "For example, the word 'Email' is feminine in German: die Email. But the further you go south of Germany, they use the neutral form: das Email. So there's a bit of a discussion about that, it's a regional thing."

Peries said there are lots of debates on the gender of English words that been transported into German, as well as newer words.

She also said product names provoke discussion. One of the most famous is Nutella. 

"A lot of people say die Nutella because it's like the Italian ella, but others say der Nutella because they think of the German word der Aufstrich, which means 'spread'. And then there are people who say das Nutella because it's a foreign word so they say it must be das."

Although the makers of Nutella have never revealed the gender of the word so perhaps everyone is right in this case.


And then there are the words that change their meaning depending on the article that definitely confuse natives (as well as foreigners, no doubt).

"A few words in German are known as Genuswechsel (gender change)," said Peries. "These are words that change their meaning when they change gender."

Peries highlighted the word der Verdienst, which means earnings or income, and das Verdienst, which means merit or credit. 

So you could say:

Der Verdienst für die Stelle war zu niedrig.

The income for the job was too low


Es ist das Verdienst der Eltern, dass das Kind so gut erzogen ist.

It is to the credit of the parents that the child is so well brought up.


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