Masculine or Feminine?

How you tell if a German word (i.e. specifically a noun) is masculine or feminine (or a 3rd option: neuter) is a matter of recognizing various noun endings and noun groups that are associated with one gender over the other two.

Rather than attempting to memorize a seemingly random der, die, or das paired with each German noun (there are thousands!!), memorizing a much much shorter list of noun endings and noun groups will be more effective and infinitely less frustrating.

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Written by Laura Bennett
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German Noun Endings

There are certain German noun endings that are connected exclusively to either masculine, feminine, or neuter gender, for example: 

  • masculine ending: -ling, -ast, -ich 
  • feminine endings: -ung, heit, -anz
  • neuter endings: -chen, il, -ing

This means that it would be… 

  • der Schmetterling (butterfly) , der Palast (palace) , and der Teppich (carpet).
  • die Wohnung (apartment), die Krankheit (illness), and die Eleganz (elegance)
  • das Mädchen (girl), das Fossil (fossil), and das Meeting (meeting).

German Noun Gender is typically NOT Intuitive!

Notice that the gender of the noun has nothing to do with some quality of the noun itself –is a carpet a masculine object?! is there something feminine about illness?! why would a girl be neuter?!

The gender of these noun examples is determined simply –exclusively!– by how these nouns are spelled, i.e. what ‘endings’ (e.g. -ling, -heit, -chen) they have.

But this is just scratching the surface! There are many more endings (with varying degrees of ‘ironclad’-ness) that you can learn more about here

German Noun Groups

There are certain German noun groups that are largely associated with either masculine, feminine, or neuter gender, for example: 

  • masculine groups: animals, plants, geography
  • feminine endings: fruits, numerals used as nouns
  • neuter endings: metals, scientific units, gerunds

This means that it would be… 

  • der Tukan (toucan), der Efeu (ivy), der Berg (mountain)
  • die Ananas (pineapple), die Zwei (the ‘two’)
  • das Zinn (tin), das Atom (atom), das Fahren (driving)

How to Work with German Noun Groups

Wait a second … One can quickly think of plenty of animals and plants that AREN’T masculine ( der ) or fruits that AREN’T feminine ( die ). If there are so many exceptions, are groups even worth learning?

The key to reaping benefits from learning German Noun Groups is that you have to know where they belong in my Noun Gender Hierarchy.

Some ‘endings’ (see above) are stronger than others. And some ‘groups’ are stronger than certain endings (and then weaker than others). 

Knowing how the various endings & groups stack up against each other –i.e. which are stronger / weaker relative to other endings / groups– allows us to accurately predict the gender of the maximum number of German nouns.

Are there still true exceptions that exist outside of every available principle and pattern that fuels my trademarked Noun Gender Hierarchy? YES. But much much fewer than absolutely any other way you can learn German noun gender.