Nouns

Nouns are people, places and things. They can be abstract or concrete, singular or plural, or even collective (singular in form, plural in meaning).

In German, every noun has a gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), which may or may not correspond to its natural gender (boys are masculine, but girls are neuter because the word for girl is the diminutive of maid, and all diminutives are neuter) After all, what gender should a rock, a star, or freedom have?

Nouns can be the subjects and objects of verbs, as well as the objects of prepositions.

German nouns are determined according to three categories: gender, number and case. They are always written with a capital letter which is also the case with all nominal words:

Biological vs grammatical Gender

There are three grammatical genders in German language: masculine, feminine and neuter. These genders are expressed by the articles der, die and das accordingly.

The grammatical gender of nouns meaning male or female beings is usually in accordance with the natural gender:

der Mann
man

die Frau
woman
der Vater
father

die Mutter
mother
der Sohn
son

die Tochter
daughter
der Lehrer
male teacher

die Lehrerin
female teacher
der Schüler
male student

die Schülerin
female student

Exceptions are:

das Weib
woman
das Fräulein
miss/madam
das Mädchen
girl
das Mitglied
member of society

To monolingual speakers of English the concept of noun gender may seem somewhat strange. After all, in English nouns are simply nouns; prefaced with either the or a/an on occasion.

In many languages, however, nouns have what is called gender. For example, in French and other Romance languages nouns can be either masculine or feminine. In German nouns can be one of three different genders: masculine (m), feminine (f) or neuter (nt). Although a challenge, mastering German noun gender is important to the learning of German.

Noun gender actually has little to do with biological gender. Many nouns, which would logically have either masculine or feminine gender in real life, have neuter grammatical gender. For example, the German word for girl - Mädchen has neuter gender. The reason for this is clear, as the word Mädchen is a combination of Magd (maid) and the diminutive suffix -chen (little), so that a girl is a little maid in German. Furthermore, all words ending in -chen are neuter, so Mädchen is neuter.

Finally, all nouns have gender in German, even though there is nothing particularly gendered about the concept. Why should cheese be masculine and a leg neuter?

Gender is not universal across languages, either. Some words which are feminine in English are neuter or masculine in German, and some words which are masculine in German are feminine in other European languages. Let us consider the following examples:

das Schiff the ship - notice that we often refer to ships as feminine objects in English.
die Sonne the sun - note that the sun is often masculine in other European languages, such as the Romance languages.
der Mond the moon - the sun is feminine, and the moon is masculine in German, which is just the opposite of many European languages.

For this reason, one must memorize the gender of each noun when learning that noun. Certain categories of nouns all have the same gender. For example, all nouns made from verb infinitives are neuter; all nouns ending in -heit, keit or -ung are feminine, etc.

Finally, in a compound noun, the final part of the compound determines noun gender. So, since Haus is neuter, Rathaus,Kaufhaus, and Krankenhaus are also neuter.

Noun article

Each noun in German can take either a definite article, an indefinite article, or no article at all, depending on the situation. Such articles must agree with the noun in case, gender and number. The cases are nominative, accusative, dative and genitive.

Definite articles refer to a specific noun: the dog, the cat, the bird, the snakes. The definite article must agree in gender with the noun to which it belongs.

der Hund
dog
die Katze
cat
das Eichhhörnchen
squirrel
die Schlangen
snakes

In the nominative case, the masculine definite article is der, the feminine is die and the neuter is das. The plural article is die, which looks like the feminine article. Do not confuse them, as they change depending on their grammatical case.

The indefinite article refers to an indefinite or unspecified item: a dog, a cat, a bird. There is no indefinite article for plural nouns. In such cases, no article is provided, and the noun appears alone: snakes, referring to snakes in general.

ein Hund
dog
eine Katze
cat
ein Eichhhörnchen
squirrel
Schlangen
snakes

In the nominative case, the masculine indefinite article is ein, the feminine is eine, and the neuter is ein. The masculine and neuter articles are the same in the nominative, dative and genitive, but differ in the accusative. Do not confuse them.

Masculine gender

The four seasons

der Frühling
spring
der Sommer
summer
der Herbst
autumn
der Winter
winter

Note: it is der Frühling/spring, but das Frühjahr/spring because of the noun das Jahr/year (both words meaning spring)

Days of the week

der Montag
Monday
der Dienstag
Tuesday
der Mittwoch
Wednesday
der Donnerstag
Thursday
der Freitag
Friday
der Samstag
Saturday
der Sonntag
Sunday

Months of the year

der Januar
January
der Februar
February
der März
March
der April
April
der Mai
May
der Juni
June
der Juli
July
der August
August
der September
September
der Oktober
October
der November
November
der Dezember
December

Cardinal directions or cardinal points

der Norden
north
der Westen
west
der Süden
south
der Osten
east

Precipitation

der Regen
rain
der Schnee
snow
der Nebel
fog
der Hagel
hail

Car and train names

der VW
der Skoda
der Fiat
der ICE

Nouns ending in -ismus

der Journalismus
journalism
der Kommnismus
communism
der Optimismus
optimism
der Pazifismus
pacifism

Feminine gender

Nouns ending in -ei, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -ung

die Malerei
(art of) painting
die Partei
(political) party
die Gelegenheit
opportunity
die Krankheit
disease
die Kleinigkeit
minor detail
die Fähigkeit
ability, capability
die Gesellschaft
society
die Wirtschaft
economy
die Heizung
heating
die Zeitung
newspaper
die Werbung
advertising

Nouns of foreign origin ending in -age, -ät, -anz, -ie, -ik, -ion, -ur, -enz

die Etage
floor
die Qualität
quality
die Toleranz
tolerance
die Kopie
copy
die Kritik
criticism
die Version
version
die Frisur
hairstyle
die Effizienz
efficiency

Nouns derived from numbers

die Eins
number one
die Acht
eight
die Million
million

Neuter gender

Nouns expressing letters, music notes, colours and languages

das A, das B
letter A, letter B
das Cis
music note
das Blau, das Rot
blue, red
das Englische
English language

Collective nouns with the prefix Ge-

das Gebirge
mountains
das Getreide
grain, corn
das Gerede
idle talk

Infinitives functioning as nouns

das Essen
meal
das Sprechen
talk, speaking
das Lesen
reading

Adjectives functioning as nouns

das Gute
good
das Schlechte
bad
das Neue
novelty

Nouns of foreign origin ending in -(i)um and -(m)ent

das Datum
date (calendar)
das Zentrum
centre
das Museum
museum
das Studium
study
das Gymnasium
high school
das Dokument
document
das Argument
argument

Names of cities, continents and most countries

das alte Nürnberg
old Nuremberg
das tropische Afrika
tropical Africa
das schöne Polen
beautiful Poland

Nouns with two genders

Nouns expressing letters, music notes, colours and languages

der Band
issue, volume

das Band
ribbon
der Erbe
heir

das Erbe
heritage
der Leiter
leader, manager

die Leiter
ladder
der See
lake

die See
sea
das Steuer
steering wheel

die Steuer
tax
der Tau
dew

das Tau
rope, cord
der Tor
fool

das Tor
goal

German singular - English plural

die Asche - ashes
Seine Asche liegt in London.
(His ashes lie in London.)

der Balkan - the Balkans
auf dem Balkan
(in the Balkans)

die Brille - glasses
Meine Brille ist neu.
(My glasses are new.)

der Dank - thanks
Er hat unseren Dank.
(He has our thanks.)

die Dynamik - dynamics
Die Dynamik fehlte.
(The dynamics were missing.)

der Export, Import - exports, imports
Der Import sollte den Export nicht übersteigen.
(Imports should not exceed exports.)

das Feuerwerk - fireworks
Das Feuerwerk war sehr schön.
(The fireworks were gorgeous.)

das Gemüse - vegetables
Frisches Gemüse schmeckt am besten.
(Fresh vegetables taste the best.)

der Hafer - oats
Der Hafer ist reif.
(The oats are ripe.)

die Hose - trousers
Seine Hose ist grau.
(His trousers are greý.)

der Inhalt - contents
Der Inhalt ging verloren.
(The contents were lost.)

die Kaserne - the barracks
Die Kaserne ist sehr alt.
(The barracks are very old.)

der Klerus - clergy
Der Klerus ist heilig.
(The clergy are holy.)

das Mittelalter - the Middle Ages
Mittelalter war eine schwere Zeit.
(The Middle Ages were difficult times.)

die Polizei - police
Die Polizei kommt.
(The police are coming.)

das Quartier - quarters
Das Quartier ist nicht fertig.
(The quarters are not ready.)

die Schere - scissors
Die Schere ist scharf.
(The scissors are sharp.)

die Statistik - statistics
Die Statistik lügt nicht.
(Statistics don't lie.)

die Treppe - stairs/steps
Die Treppe ist steil.
(The steps are steep.)

die Umgebung - surroundings
Die Umgebung ist schmutzig.
(The surroundings are dirty.)

das Unkraut - weeds
Das Unkraut war hoch.
(The weeds were high.)

das Vieh - cattle
Das Vieh weidet.
(The cattle are grazing.)

das Volk - people
Wir sind das Volk.
(We are the people.)

die Zange - tongs
Die Zange ist dort.
(The tongs are there.)

German plural - English singular

die Depressionen - depression (illness)
Er hatte Depressionen.
(He was suffering from depression.)

die Haare - hair
Meine Haare sind zu lang.
(My hair is too long.)

die Informationen/Infos - information
Die Infos kamen zu spät.
(The info came too late.)

die Möbel - furniture
Die Möbel waren ganz neu.
(The furniture was quite new.)

die Ovationen - ovation
Der Vorstand wurde mit stehenden Ovationen empfangen.
(The board was received with a standing ovation.)

die USA - USA
Die USA sind ein großes Land.
(The USA is a large country.)

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