Grammatical gender in German
Grammatical gender in German refers to the division of German nouns into three grammatical genders. All German nouns are included in one of three genders: masculine, feminine or neuter. However the gender is not relevant to the plural forms of nouns.
In German, it is useful to memorize nouns with their accompanying definite article in order to remember their gender.[note 1] However, for about 80% of nouns, the grammatical gender can be deduced from their singular and plural forms[does this mean the nominative forms?] and their meaning.
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). Nevertheless, the details in the second column are not solid rules, and their irregularities should be noted.
|Masculine endings[Nf 1]||Masculine gender indications|
|-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).[Nf 2]|
|60% of nouns in -el and -er, as well as 80% of those in -en,[Nf 3] are masculine.[Nf 4]|
|67% of monosyllabic nouns.[Nf 5]|
|Feminine endings[Nf 6]||Feminine gender indications|
|-a, -anz, -ei, -enz, -heit, -ie,[note 3] -ik,[note 3] -in,[Nf 7] -keit,||Most nouns ending in -t originating from verbs.[Nf 8]|
|90% of nouns in -e.[Nf 9]|
|Neuter endings[Nf 10]||Neuter gender indications|
|-chen, -lein, -ma, -ment, -sel, -tel, -tum, -um||90% of the nouns with the prefix Ge-.[Nf 11]|
|Two-thirds of nouns in -nis and -sal.[Nf 12]|
|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.[Nf 13]|
Notes: exceptions and irregularities
- Except das Labor, das Genus (gender), das Tempus (tense), das Korpus (collection of texts).
- But: das Grab, das Lied, das Maß, das Schloss, das Verbot.
- 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.
- Apart from das Sofa, das Genie, der Atlantik, der Pazifik, das Mosiak, das Abitur, das Futur, das Purpur.
- Chemical terms which end in -in (pronounced [iːn]) are neuter (das Benzin, das Protein).
- Except for: der Dienst, der Durst, der Frost, der Verdienst, der Verlust, das Gift.
- The main exceptions are:
- A few neuter nouns, the most common of which are: das Auge, das Ende, das Erbe (when it means ‘inheritance’ or ‘heritage’), das Finale, das Image, das Interesse, das Prestige, das Regime.
- 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).
- Excluding die Firma, der Streusel, der Irrtum, der Reichtum, der Konsum.
- The irregularities here are:
- Categories of humans (der Gehilfe–die Gehilfin ‘assistant’ etc);
- A large number of feminine and masculine nouns:
- die Gebärde, die Gebühr, die Geburt, die Geduld, die Gefahr, die Gemeinde, die Geschichte, die Geschwulst, die Gestalt, die Gewähr, die Gewalt;
- der Gebrauch, der Gedanke, der Gefallen (favour), der Gehalt (content), der Gehorsam, der Genuss, der Geruch, der Gesang, der Geschmack, der Gestank, der Gewinn (Gefallen and Gehalt are neuter when they mean ‘pleasure’ and ‘salary’, respectively.).
- About a third of them are feminine. More specifically, nouns derived from adjectives with the suffix -nis are primarily feminine.
- If they describe persons, they are masculine. Irregularities: der Altar, der Apparat, der Automat, der Kanal, der Kanton, der Kommentar, die Manier, die Moral, die Person, der Salat, der Senat, der Skandal.
|Masculine||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||Female animals and humans.|
|Planes, ships and motorbikes.[B 3]|
|Names of numerals.|
|Neuter||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, colours 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
Compound words usually carry the gender of their last element. Moreover, the gender of abbreviations is decided by the base word[clarification needed], and shortened words act as[clarification needed] the gender of the full word.
Many loanwords from English adopt the gender of their native 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 because 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.
- 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.