Grammatical gender in German
Grammatical gender in German is the way in which German nouns are classified to grammatical genders. All German nouns are included into one of three genders: masculine, feminine or neuter, and gender differences are not relevant in the plural form of nouns.
In German, it is best to memorize nouns with their accompanying definite article in order to know their gender.[note 1] However, the manner a noun and its plural are constructed and its meaning can determine the gender of about 80% of nouns.
Derivational suffixes in particular, together with most noun endings, consistently relate with specific genders, and there are very few frequent exceptions to this (as reflected in the first column from the left). Nevertheless, the details in the second column are not solid rules, and their irregularities should be noted.[note 2]
|Masculine endings||Masculine gender hints|
|-ant, -ast, -ich, -ig, -ismus, -ling, -or, -us||The majority of nouns which come from strong verbs without a suffix (but often with a vowel change).|
|60% of nouns in -el and -er, as well as 80% of those in -en,[A 1] are masculine.[A 2]|
|67% of monosyllabic nouns.[A 3]|
|Feminine endings||Feminine gender hints|
|-a, -anz, -ei, -enz, -heit, -ie,[note 4] -ik,[note 4] -in,[A 4] -keit,||Most nouns ending in -t originating from verbs.|
|The majority (90%) of nouns in -e.[A 5]|
|Neuter endings||Neuter gender hints|
|-chen, -lein, -ma, -ment, -sel, -tel, -tum, -um||90% of the nouns with the prefix Ge-.[A 6]|
|Two-thirds of nouns in -nis and -sal.[A 7]|
|Most nouns ending in -al, -an, -ar, -är, -at, -ent, -ett, -ier, -iv, -o and -on (which are of foreign origin), provided that they designate things.[A 8]|
Notes for the table:
- Since no feminine nouns end in en.
- Nouns with -er arising from verbs are masculine (anyhow, most of them describe male human beings). Four categories which are not masculine:
- Nouns which stem from verb infinitives in -en are neuter (das Kochen);
- Nouns in -sel and -tel are neuter (see the first column);
- Roughly 15% of the other nouns in -el, -en and -er are neuter;
- Circa 25% of those in -el and -er are feminine.
- The rest are 19% neuter and 14% feminine.
- Chemical terms which end in -in (pronounced [iːn]) are neuter (das Benzin, das Protein).
- The main exceptions are:
- A few neuter nouns and der Charme and der Käse;
- Most nouns with the prefix Ge- are neuter, even if they end with an -e (see the chart);
- Nine exceptional masculines: der Buchstabe, der Friede, der Funke, der Gedanke, der Glaube, der Haufe, der Name, der Same, der Wille (these end in -n in the plural and in the accusative and dative singular, but in -ns in the genitive singular);
- The weak masculines which are names of male persons and animals: der Affe, der Bote, der Junge, der Löwe (the weak masculines are a group of nouns, most of which denote male humans or animals, which end in -n or -en in the plural and in all cases besides the nominative).
- The irregularities here are:
- Names of humans (der Gehilfe–die Gehilfin and so forth);
- A large number of feminine and masculine nouns.
- Approximately a third of them is feminine. More specifically, nouns derived from adjectives with the suffix -nis are primarily feminine.
- If they describe persons, they are masculine.
|Masculine meanings||Male human beings and animals.|
|Seasons, months and days of the week.[B 1]|
|Compass points, words about winds and types of weather.|
|Rocks and minerals.|
|Alcoholic and plant-based drinks.|
|Rivers outside Germany.[B 2]|
|Names of currencies.|
|Mountains and mountain ranges.|
|Feminine meanings||Female animals and humans.|
|Planes, ships and motorbikes.[B 3]|
|Native German names of rivers.|
|Names of numerals.|
|Neuter meanings||Young human beings and animals.|
|Metals and chemical elements.|
|Letters and musical notes.[B 4]|
|Different parts of speech used as nouns (most importantly, this category contains
verb infinitives, but also languages, colors and so on).
|Cafés, cinemas, hotels and restaurants.|
|Names of companies with no article.[B 5]|
|Cities, towns, countries, provinces and continents.[B 6]|
Notes for the chart:
- As usual, compounds carry the gender of their second component.
- The nouns who end in either -a or -e are typically feminine.
- Names of planes and ships frequently have the gender of their base words.
- Letters are masculine in Swiss German.
- Less commonly, these names act as feminines.
- Except several feminines, masculines and names ending in -a, -e, -ei or -ie (besides Afrika and China).
Compounds and abbreviations
Many English words adopt the gender of their German equivalent; the gender of other loanwords may be deduced by the word's form or ending (for example, nouns from English -ing forms are neuter). Monosyllabic nouns from verbs are often masculine, and the same goes for monosyllabic words for which there is no other indication, which are mainly masculine. In many cases the gender can vary, either because of regional differences or the fact that the noun's gender is not firmly established.
- While Donaldson (2007) says that it is imperative to do so, Durrell (2017) only mentions that is an ideal method.
- Bear in mind that lists of single exceptions are absent from this paragraph.
- The lists of exceptions here do not necessarily include all of them. Furthermore, the notes referring to the information in the chart are referenced using the pages on its caption.
- Donaldson (2007) asserts that all nouns of French origin ending in -ie, -ik and -ion are feminine.
- Durrell, Martin (2017). Hammer’s German Grammar and Usage (6th ed.). Routledge. ISBN 978-1-138-85371-3.
- Diewald, Gabriele; Steinhauer, Anja (2017). Richtig gendern (in German). Duden. ISBN 978-3-411-74357-5.
- Foster, Wendy; Christensen, Paulina; Fox, Anne (2013). German All-in-One For Dummies. Wiley. pp. 307–311. ISBN 978-1-118-49140-9.