If you’re like many of my students, you’ve been using Duolingo, watching YouTube, or learning German through various online tools. You picked up on those little words der, die, das that always come in front of nouns — der Mann, die Frau, das Kind, etc.
But why the difference? Why not just pick one — like our English ‘the’ — and use that?
The answer: all German nouns have gender. Everything from bee to bird to table and chair is either a masculine, feminine, or neuter noun.
Going from English as a genderless language to German as a language with three genders is no easy task! It’s a stretch for our brains to think in this new, ‘gendered noun’ way.
Now the big question. How do you know what gender the noun is? Isn’t that going to be complicated?
Well, what if I tell you that there are actually tips and tricks to help you accurately predict the gender of any noun a good 80% of the time?
You’ve come to the right place. Below is my guide to navigate German noun gender.
I’ll show you:
Even though it might feel a little painful or pointless at first, trust me — you need to learn German genders properly and well if you truly want to speak German.
Every noun is either masculine, feminine, or neuter. I’m going to walk you through how you can more easily figure out a noun’s gender based on … ready for this? … how the word is spelled.
That’s right! The gender of almost any German noun is determined by its form — especially suffixes, which are little endings such as -at, -ion, -ung, -ig, -um, and more.
Learn the gender of various forms as opposed to getting hung up on individual nouns and you’ll master German gender in a fraction of the time.
English uses gendered pronouns — he, she, it, her, him, his, hers, etc. But that’s about it. Not an important aspect of English.
Noun gender, though, is a core part of the German language.
When we talk about noun gender, what do we really mean?
Imagine a multi-tiered cake. The cake is the main part, right? The frosting holds it all together.
With language, the main part is whatever idea you are communicating. Imagine that’s a cake.
Something like noun gender is the ‘grammar frosting’ — it helps hold the ideas together.
German lays the grammar on thick (we scraped our English-language cake pretty bare many centuries ago), but it’s still just glue holding the main ideas together.
For example, I don’t think any German would actually suggest that the qualities of a fork (die Gabel) are feminine, but that of a spoon (der Löffel) are masculine, and that of a knife (das Messer) are neuter.
A language (e.g. English!) can function just fine without so much ‘grammar frosting’, but some might argue that noun gender — in all its intricacies — adds a depth of grammatical character.
In any case, that’s what we’ll tell ourselves to make us feel better as we delve into German noun gender. :p
Heads Up: The intricacies of German don’t end there! German also uses a case system that is crucially important (and very different from how English works).
He is a tall man. She really loves him.
In English, we substitute gendered pronouns when talking about people (male & female) and then ‘it’ when talking about everything else, as in: How was her vacation? It was really nice.
Other than that, English doesn’t have noun gender.
However, German not only uses gendered pronouns for people (like English does), but also for objects — because, remember, ALL nouns (including all objects!) are gendered nouns in German:
Tisch (table): Er ist nagel-neu. Magst du ihn?
(‘He’ [It] is brand-new. Do you like ‘him’ [it]?)
Blume (flower): Sie ist eine Tulpe. Ich findesieschön.
(‘She’ [It] is a tulip. I think ‘she’s’ [it’s] pretty).
Haar (hair): Ihr Haar ist braun. Ich finde es lang und üppig!
(Her hair is brown. I think it’s long and lush!)
BUT the concept of noun gender in German has wider application!
For example, check out this sentence –everything bolded is related to the gender of the nouns.
Die hübsche Frau gibt dem armen Mann das rote Päckchen mit lauter Geldstücke.
(The pretty woman gives the poor man the little red package full of coins.)
So, all German nouns have 1 of 3 genders and the gender of each noun impacts multiple words in a given sentence. As you can see, German noun gender is important!
When learning a noun in German, it’s crucial to attach the noun to its gender. Don’t learn just Tisch, Blume, Haar. Memorize these new words as der Tisch, die Blume, das Haar. For more detailed Study Tips, read below!
Fortunately, whenever we’re dealing with a plural noun, we no longer have to worry about gender. Regardless how you say ‘the’ for the singular noun, ‘the’ just becomes die for all the plural versions (die Hunde, die Katzen, die Pferde).
However, there are 5 different ways to form plurals in German (not counting oddballs) so you’ll want to become well-versed in that, too. Read more on noun plurals here.
As you’re just getting started with German, it’s a good idea to memorize the gender for each isolated noun.
BUT. The average native speaker (of any language) uses upwards of 20,000 — many of which are nouns. Memorizing the gender each and every noun would be mighty-hard to do.
Luckily, we have a few tricks up our sleeves!
Nouns can be lumped together according to:
Read below in the ‘Digging Deeper’ section for many examples (and exceptions) to these noun group & noun form rules!
In this section, we’ll explore various noun groups & noun forms associated with one gender over the others. We’ll also talk about ‘outliers’ nouns such as these:
You’re busy and sometimes German feels like a big bite that you’ve somehow got to chew.
So, how can you learn German genders smarter, not harder?
One answer: by learning the gender of various topics!
There are many topics — weather, numbers, minerals — that are closely associated with just one of the three genders, with limited exceptions.
Below, we’ll look at which topics you can quickly learn to associate with which gender (including examples & common exceptions).
The following topics are filled with largely masculine nouns.
It’s much faster to memorize which categories (e.g. days of the week) are masculine — even noting the handful of exceptions — then to keep memorizing the gender of each individual noun you come across.
Learning the following subjects with masculine nouns builds a big-picture framework that you can attach individual words to (and remember them better!).
In other words, learning these categories of masculine nouns provides you with helpful context.
Listed are the masculine noun subject areas and exceptions (click for examples):
der Bock (billy goat), der Hahn (rooster), der Stier (bull), der Eber (boar)
der BMW, der Skoda, der Ford, der Ferrari, der Audi, der VW, der Mercedes
der Dollar, der Euro, der Cent, der Schilling, der Pfennig, der Franken
die Mark (former German currency), das Pfund (British pound)
der Sonntag (Sunday), der Januar (January), der Winter, der Monat (month), der Abend (evening)
das Jahr (year), die Nacht (night), die Woche (week)
der Norden (north), der Osten (east), der Suden (south), der Westen (west)
der Gin, der Schnaps, der Wein (wine), der Kakao (cocoa), der Saft (juice)
das Bier (beer)
der Mann (man), der Vater (father), der Arzt (doctor), der Italiener (italian man)
der Mount Everest, der Montblanc, der Himalaja, der Taunus, der Balkan
die Eifel, die Haardt, die Rhön, die Sierra Nevada, and mountains / mountain ranges that are actually compound nouns (compound nouns take the gender of the final noun): das Erzgebirge, das Matterhorn, die Zugspitze
der Ganges, der Mississippi, der Nil, der Delaware, der Jordan, der Kongo
non-German rivers ending in -a or -e, e.g.: die Seine, die Themse (Thames), die Wolga
der Diamant, der Granit, der Lehm (clay), der Quarz, der Ton (cement)
das Erz (ore), die Kohle (coal), die Kreide (chalk), das Mineral (mineral)
der Taifun (typhoon), der Wind, der Frost, der Nebel (fog)
die Brise (breeze), das Eis (ice), das Gewitter (thunderstorm), die Graupel(hail), das Wetter (weather), die Witterung (atmospheric conditions)
There are many masculine and neuter noun topics. There are notably fewer feminine noun categories (even easier to memorize!).
Extra Bonus: various means of transportation (ships, motorbikes, etc.) can also be referred to as feminine in English (“Check out my new boat! She’s a real beauty!”), which is one of the rare instances in English that we might use gendered pronouns for anything other than people. So, make the most of that connection!
Listed are the feminine noun subject areas and exceptions (click for examples):
die Boeing, die Cessna, die BMW, die Honda, die “Bismarck”, die “Bremen”
Means of transportation that maintain the gender of the base word, e.g.: der Airbus, der Storch, der “Albatros”, das “Möwchen”
Also general means of transportation: der Zug (train) [but die Bahn (railway/train)!], der Wagen / das Auto (car), das Schiff/Boot (ship/boot), das Fahrrad (bike), das Motorrad (motorcycle)
die Gans (goose), die Kuh (cow), die Sau (sow), die Henne (hen)
die Frau (woman), die Mutter (mother), die Ärztin (doctor), die Italienerin
das Weib (woman, derogatory), das Fräulein (young woman, miss), das Mädchen (girl)
Professions (e.g. der Arzt, doctor) and other persons (e.g. der Bettler, beggar; der Fahrer, driver) are most often transformed into the female version by adding and -in: die Ärztin, die Bettlerin, die Fahrerin). Read more below in the section on feminine noun forms.
die Eins (1), die Zwei (2), die Sechzehn (16), die Million, die Milliarde (billion)
Quantity expressions such as das Dutzend, das Hundert, das Tausend
die Donau, die Elbe, die Havel, die Mosel, die Oder, die Weser
der Inn, der Lech, der Main, der Neckar, der Rhein
die Eiche (oak), die Pflaume (plum), die Tulpe (tulip),
Exceptions: der Ahorn (maple), der Apfel (apple), der Löwenzahn (dandelion)
Like the masculine noun topics, there are many neuter noun categories.
Still, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember to 1) just take it all slowly and gradually and 2) cheer yourself with the truth that this way is still infinitely better when you were memorizing what seemed like purely random gender for each individual noun! Now you have a system!
Listed are the neuter noun subject areas and exceptions (click for examples):
das “A”, das “B”, das “Fis” (F-sharp), das “Des” (D-flat)
das Afrika, das London, das Frankreich (France), das Bayern (Bavaria)
die Arktis (Artic), die Antarktis (Antarctica), die Schweiz (Switzerland) and other provinces or countries, including those that end in -a, -e, -ei, and -ie (e.g. die Türkei) that are gendered feminine with the exception of Afrika and China, which are still neuter; some countries are masculine: der Iran, der Jemen, der Kongo, der Libanon, der Sudan.
das Singen (singing), das Blau (blue), das Spanisch, das Meeting, das Nein (no)
das Marriott, das “Hard-Rock”, das Hilton, das “Grand Rex”
das Gold, das Kobalt (cobalt), das Blei (lead), das Eisen (iron), das Kupfer (copper)
die Bronze (bronze), der Phospor (phosphorus), der Schwefel (sulfur), der Stahl (steel), also metals or chemical elements that are compounds such as der Sauerstoff (oxygen)
das Atom, das Elektron, das Volt, das Watt
Liter and Meter having varying gender. (Read more in the Noun Outliers section.)
das Baby, das Kind (child), das Ferkel (piglet), das Fohlen (foal), das Lamm (lamb)
In addition to noun groups, we can categorize German noun gender according to spelling patterns (generally ‘suffixes’ added on to the end of words).
It’s very useful to learn both noun groups and noun forms, but note that, when in conflict, the following noun form rules overrule noun group rules!
You may find some other words that seem to break the rules for noun forms, but, really, are shortened words that take the gender of the full form, for example:
der Akku (Akkumulator) battery [-or is a masc. ending]
das Labor (Laboratorium) laboratory [-um is a neut. ending]
die Uni (Universität) university [-tät is a fem. ending]
The following are masculine noun suffixes and other forms associated with masculine noun gender (click for examples and exceptions):
Examples: der Konsonant (consonant), der Kontrast (contrast), der Teppich (rug, carpet), der Käfig (cage), der Schwächling (weakling), der Faktor (factor), der Zirkus (circus)
der Betrieb (operation, company, plant), der Biss (bite, from bissen), der Fall (case, instance; drop, from fallen), der Gang (gear; aisle)
das Grab (grave), das Leid (harm, sorrow), das Maß (measurement), das Schloss (castle), das Verbot (ban, prohibition)
der Hafen (harbor), der Flügel (wing), der Schatten (shade), der Fehler (mistake) and all nouns referring to people (most are from verbs), e.g. der Bäcker (baker, from backen), der Fahrer (driver, from fahren), but also der Onkel (uncle), der Vater (father), etc.
all gerunds such as das Essen (the food, eating) or das Fahren (driving); die Butter (butter), die Regel (rule), die Wurzel (root), die Geisel (hostage), das Fieber (fever), das Segel (sail), das Zeichen (sign, symbol)
NOTE: there are no -en nouns that are feminine!
Here are feminine noun suffixes and other forms associated with feminine noun gender (click for examples and common exceptions):
die Pizza, die Dissonanz (dissonance), die Frequenz (frequency), die Konditorei (pastry shop), die Demokratie (democracy), die Dummheit (stupidity), die Möglichkeit (possibility), die Musik (music), die Explosion, die Revolution, die Basis, die Realität (reality), die Prüfung (exam), die Prozedur (procedure), die Freundschaft (friendship)
das Sofa, das Genie (genius) ,der Atlantik, der Katholik, das Mosaik, der Pazifik, das Abitur (university-entrance diploma), das Purpur (purple)
die Studentin (female student), die Kauffrau (businesswoman)
die Blume (flower), die Lampe (lamp), die Katze (cat), die Decke (blanket; ceiling) die Collage, die Marionette
Some common exceptions: der Käse (cheese), das Auge (eye), das Ende (end), das Interesse (interest), most nouns that end with -e but begin with Ge- (e.g. das Genie)
die Ankunft (arrival), die Fahrt (drive), die Macht (power), die Aussicht (view)
der Dienst (service), der Durst (thirst), das Gift (poison)
Finally, here is the (longest of the 3!) list of suffixes and other forms connected with neuter noun gender (click for examples and common exceptions):
das Mädchen (girl), das Fräulein (young woman, miss), das Dickicht (thicket), das Ventil (valve), das Dynamit (dynamite), das Schema (schematic), das Experiment, das Viertel (quarter), das Christentum (christianity), das Museum, das Individuum (individual)
der Profit, der Granit, die Firma (company), der Zement (cement), der Reichtum (wealth), der Irrtum (error)
das Gesetz (law), das Gespräch (conversation), das Gebäude (building)
der Gedanke (thought), der Geschmack (taste), and approx. 20 other masculine and feminine nouns that start with Ge- not counting any Ge- nouns referring to male or female persons (e.g. der Genosse / die Genossin — comrade)
das Bedürfnis (need), das Ereignis (event), das Schicksal (fate)
The remaining 30% of -nis and -sal nouns are feminine and many originate from adjectives or indicate states of mind: die Bitternis (bitterness), die Finsternis (darkness), die Besorgnis (anxiety), die Betrübnis (sadness). Other: die Erkenntnis (perception), die Erlaubnis (permission), die Kenntnis (knowledge, cognition, skills), die Mühsal (hardship)
IF the suffixes -al, -an, -ar, -är, -at, -ent, -ett, -ier, -iv-, -o, -on are used to refer to male persons, they take the masculine: der Student, der Militär (military man), der Kanadier (male Canadian).
Otherwise, these suffixes are generally neuter: das Lineal (ruler), das Organ, das Formular, das Militär (military), das Sekretariat (secretary), das Talent, das Etikett (label, tag), das Papier (paper), das Adjecktiv (adjective), das Büro (office), das Mikrophon
Usually, the final word in a compound noun determines the gender, as in:
der Fahrplan (timetable)
die Bushaltestelle (bus stop)
Note that the gender of acronyms is similarly determined by the base word:
die CDU (die Christlich-Demokratische Union)
However, there are notable exceptions!
We have already seen many oddball nouns that don’t abide by the typical noun group or even noun form rules.
But there are even more outliers!
Keep reading! You’re well on your way to a very thorough understanding of German noun gender including all these special cases!
|Filter||der (techn. das)|
|Foto||das (Sw. die)|
|Keks||der (Au. das)|
|Kompromiss||der (Au. das)|
|Liter & Meter||das (coll., and Sw. der)|
|Match||das (Au./Sw. der)|
|Meteor||der (astronom. das)|
|Mündel||das (legal: der)|
|Radio||das (S.G. der)|
|Taxi||das (Sw. der)|
|Teil||der (das in set phrases)|
|Virus||der (medic. das)|
|das Bund (union; waistband)||das Bund (bundle, bunch)|
|der Gefallen (favor)||das Gefallen (pleasure)|
|der Golf (gulf)||das Golf (golf)|
|der Kiefer (jaw)||die Kiefer (pine)|
|der Laster (lorry, semi-truck)||das Laster (vice)|
|der Leiter (leader)||die Leiter (ladder)|
|der Pack (package)||das Pack (mob, rabble)|
|der Schild (shield)||das Schild (sign, plate)|
|der See (lake)||die See (sea)|
|die Steuer (tax)||das Steuer (steering-wheel)|
|der Tau (dew)||das Tau (rope)|
|der Verdienst (earnings)||das Verdienst (merit, achievement)|
When applicable, English loan words will take whatever gender is associated with the same suffix (or whatever suffix is pronounced the same way, even if spelled differently):
der Computer (-er is generally a masculine ending)
der Rotor (-or is a masculine ending)
die City, die Party, die Lobby, die Story (-ie is a feminine ending; pronounced the same!)
das Ticket, das Pamphlet (-ett is a neuter ending)
das Advertisement, das Treatment (-ment is a neuter ending)
Otherwise, an English loan word might take the gender of the nearest German equivalent word:
der Airbag (der Sack)
die Box (die Büchse)
der Lift (der Aufzug)
das Baby (das Kind)
der Shop (der Laden)
das Handy (das Telefon)
If there are no other indications, monosyllabic loan words (and non-loan words, too, actually) are generally masculine:
der Hit, der Look, der Rock, der Talk, der Lunch, der Spot, der Trend
However, of course, here are some common exceptions: die Bar, die Couch, das Steak, das Team
Note: Loan words that are phrasal verbs or -ing forms are usually neuter: das Handout, das Teach-in, das Check-up, das Meeting, das Blow-up
When you learn a new noun that you find relevant to your life, write it into a mini notebook that’s been split into sections for nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and phrases.
Write the German word (without gender) on one side, the gender abbreviation (M = masculine, F = feminine, and N = neuter) and translation (as necessary; avoid whenever possible) on the other.
Pick three contrasting colors for the masculine, feminine, and neuter. I use red, blue, and green, respectively. In your dictionary, write new nouns in the color of the gender of that noun. For example, write ‘Hund’ (dog) in red, ‘Katze’ (cat) in blue, ‘Pferd’ (horse) in green.
As an alternate idea for your flashcards, write the word color-coded like the examples above and just the translation (or better yet, draw a picture!) on the reverse side.
Example: envision RED (<– for masculine nouns) mountains while you recite some mountain names, der Himalaja, der Taunus, der Mount Everest
Example: envision BLUE (<– for feminine nouns) numbers while you recite die Eins, die Zwei, die Drei, etc.
Example: envision GREEN (<– for neuter nouns) alphabet letters while you recite das A, das B, das C, etc.
You don’t even have to memorize actual vocabulary to make this a useful visualization exercise. You can just imagine the different noun groups (rivers, hotels, transportation, etc.) and see those items as the corresponding gender color. So, for example, imagine walking down a street seeing hotels, cafes, restaurants and movie theaters that are all green because that noun group is neuter.
For each suffix or other noun form, memorize one word (useful to you or for some other reason easier to recall) that represents that noun form. Then, when you come across another word with the same form, it will be easier for you to know which gender to pair with it.
For example, if you memorize das Resultat (result), it’s easier to know that the gender of Konsulat (consulate) is also neuter.
Several examples are already listed above for using pictures as much as possible. Not only do colors ‘stick’ in the memory better, but if you can train yourself to think in pictures (e.g. pairing the new German noun to an image of that person / object in your mind) vs. translating into English, you will be well on your way to true fluency.
Example: when you learn der Tisch, see a RED table in your mind. Even when you learn an abstract noun such as die Freiheit (freedom), you can still think in images — imagine you’ve been freed from prison. You’re just outside the gates (wearing all BLUE, of course), you raise your arms in joyous victory and shout Freiheit!
Thinking in images — whether a still shot or a short movie clip — allows you to attach the German word directly to the concept, bypassing English altogether. By training yourself this way, you will nurture a ‘German brain’ which you’ll be able to switch over to from your ‘English brain’ with the ease of turning a light on or off. As your language capabilities get more and more advanced, you won’t be slowed down by tediously translating in your head before you can produce the desired German. Trust me on this one!
When memorizing noun groups or noun forms according to gender, pick practical (to you!) examples BUT string them all together with wacky, vivid imagery.
For example, you want to memorize all the feminine noun forms. First, you make this list:
Pizza, Eleganz, Krankheit, Seife, Übelkeit, Bücherei, Frequenz, Panik, Hand (a common word that is an exception to the rule — we’d expect ‘Hand’ to be masculine [or maybe neuter] because it’s monosyllabic), Chirurgie, Schlacht, Explosion, Strömung, Elektrizität, Nabelschnur, Skepsis, Halluzination
Then, you create a wild story that you can use to tie the words together (using BLUE as much as possible, too, to represent how these words are all feminine).
Imagine a Pizza with BLUE pepperonis, which you put on your head like a hat. You waltz down the hall with Eleganz, dressed from head-to-toe in outlandish BLUE silks. But you have a shriveling Krankheit (sickness) that makes you shrink and shrivel like a prune (not so much Eleganz anymore!). As you stumble and stagger, suddenly you step on a bar of BLUE Seife (soap) that takes you down the hall on such a wild ride that you start to feel Übelheit (nausea) and start to throw up BLUE books that fly up onto the shelves — you´re in the middle of a Bücherei (bookstore) that you’re creating! The walls with the shelves full of books start pulsing and expanding with ever-increasing Frequenz, pushing in on you so that you start to feel great Panik. You look above to see a BLUE Hand materialize that is going to perform Chirurgie (surgery) on the pulsating walls of your Bücherei. But it becomes an absolute Schlacht (massacre) with BLUE pages flying every which way while the Frequenz of the pulsating bookshelf-walls builds in intensity until BOOM! There is an Explosion! You see a bright BLUE Strömung (stream; current) of Elektrizität shoot up into the sky. You look down to see that the BLUE Strömung of Elektrizität is connected to you like a Nabelschnur (umbilical cord)! You feel a lot of Skepsis over that … You say to yourself, this must be a Halluzination!