German noun plurals is a tricky topic! Making matters worse, there is a lack of consensus on even how many different plural forms there are (5? 6? 9?).
To write this guide for you, I ended up nerding out on a major German noun plurals rabbit hole.
And — would you believe it? — some of the BEST resources on German plurals that I found were written in 1914 and 1882. 😮 The German in these books was in old script and everything!
Turns out, there are lots of predictable patterns to German noun plurals (just like for German noun gender!).
In this guide, we will talk about the categories of German noun plurals, tips & tricks for how to best learn (or guess) the correct plurals, and various key exceptions.
Are you ready to accurately predict a German noun’s plural nearly all the time? Let’s do it!
What You Need To Know
Whenever we learn a language — whether our 1st or our 10th — we usually start by learning nouns so that we can label things: table, floor, glass, plate, man, child, dog, tree.
Of course, to get anywhere with a language, you can’t just talk about one table, floor, glass, plate, etc. We need to be able to talk about any number of men, children, trees, dogs and more!
A plural noun is what we use to talk about 2 or more people, places, things, concepts, etc.
Bad News: German noun plurals are a bit trickier than in English (rats!).
Good News: In this guide, you’ll discover some shortcuts that make German noun plurals much more manageable!
How Plural Nouns Work in English
Most English noun plurals are formed just by adding an -(e)s: table → tables, glass → glasses.
Sometimes we have to change letters, such as ‘y’ to ‘i’ as in baby → babies before adding on the -(e)s plural. Some (but not all — just to keep us on our toes) ‘f’s also change to ‘v’s: wife → wives, wolf → wolves.
Then, of course, we have some plurals that are actually quite different, such as child → children, goose → geese, mouse → mice, tooth → teeth, person → people.
Some English plurals that actually don’t change at all: 1 fish → 2 fish, 1 deer → 100 deer.
We also have collective nouns that don’t even have plurals (e.g. information or knowledge).
Finally, we also have funky plurals for foreign (-origin) words: alumnus → alumni, phenomenon → phenomena, analysis → analyses.
Whoa! I said that German noun plurals were tricky, but as it turns out … so are English ones. Maybe we have a leg up on German plurals after all. You can’t intimidate us, German nouns!
How Plural Nouns Work in German
Most German noun plurals are formed based on how the singular noun sounds.
This can be a matter of …
- spelling (i.e. which suffix the noun has)
- which syllable is emphasized/accented
- how long the noun is (e.g. single syllable vs. multi-syllable)
- most nouns ending in -el, -en, or -er don’t change in their plural forms
- most nouns that have accented final syllables will be take an -e plural
- most single-syllable nouns will take an -e + umlaut plural
It’s possible to calculate the categories of German noun plurals differently, but for our purposes, we’ll say there are these 6 regular categories because these cover the majority of nouns.
- no change
- add -e
- add -e + umlaut
- add -s
- add -er + umlaut
- add -(e)n
We’ll cover important exceptions, foreign-word plurals, and the oddballs later!
If you memorize a smattering of rules/guidelines and some short lists of key exceptions, you can be a master of German plurals!
- 80% masculine and 75% neuter nouns take the -e plural
- 90% feminine nouns take the -(e)n plural.
- Know the noun’s gender and you’ll know the correct plural form ~80% of the time!
Certain suffixes (i.e. endings) always* take the same plural, regardless of noun gender. Here are some examples:
My favorite way to work on German noun plurals is with a flowchart-esque hierarchical rules system (explained in detail below!).
One of the benefits of this system are that you simultaneously work with various aspects of nouns, whether gender, spelling, or number of syllables.
Working with my set of plurals rules also in many instances allows you to work backwards and figure out the gender of the singular noun if you know the plural version!
Read the Digging Deeper section below more info on my plurals rule hierarchy; for specific masculine, feminine, and neuter plurals examples (& common exceptions); and for more details on German noun plurals hacks!
Important Sidenote: If your plural noun is the subject of the sentence, it will have to be paired with a conjugated verb that ‘agrees’ with it –learn more about German Verb Conjugations here.
In this section, we’ll look at noun plurals arranged according to category, gender, and rules AND also delve into the oddballs:
- nouns without a plural form
- nouns that exist only as plurals
- nouns with multiple plurals that mean different things
- plural nouns that don’t have English equivalents
- foreign-word plurals
German Plurals According to Category
We can examine German noun plurals several different ways (and we will), but one of them is to break things down according to plural type. Which nouns typically take which plural forms?
As I mentioned earlier, the number of German noun plurals categories can be interpreted differently. For our purposes here, I will list 6 categories and some exceptions.
For example, the ‘no change’ category has an important list of exceptions (with the only change being the adding of an umlaut). There are only about 24 of these nouns at all, and only about half of them so common they’re worth memorizing (jump to the exceptions list (1A) list here).
- only masculine and neuter nouns
- all nouns ending with -chen, -lein
- Ge…e neuter nouns
- about 60% of nouns ending with -el, -er, -en (feminine -el & -er take -n plural)
Exceptions: add umlaut
- ~20 masculine: e.g. Vater (father), Bruder (brother)
- 2 feminine: Mutter (mother) and Tochter (daughter)
- 2 neuter: Kloster (cloister) and Wasser (water)
- almost all masculine and neuter nouns
- feminine/neuter nouns ending with -nis or -sal
- all masculine nouns with the endings -eur, -ich, -ier, -ig, -ling, -ör
- many masculine nouns with the endings (often stressed) -är, -ar, -ig, -an, -al, -or, -on
add -e + umlaut
- many monosyllabic masculine
- about 30 feminine
- 1 neuter: Floß (raft)
- most feminine nouns
- limited masculine and neuter (jump to the monosyllable exception list here)
add -er + umlaut
- about 12 masculine
- many monosyllabic neuter
- no feminines!
(often foreign-origin) nouns ending with -a, -i, -o, -u, or -y
Don’t understand what I mean by masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns? Read my der, die, das guide here!
Plurals According to Gender
Another way to look at German noun plurals is through the lens of each gender. It’s the same information, just organized differently.
NOTE: I will exclude the add -s category from this analysis and talk about it later HERE.
Masculine Noun Plurals
no change: most nouns ending with -er, -el, or -en
der Sessel (armchair)→ die Sessel
der Fahrer (driver) → die Fahrer
der Onkel (uncle)→ die Onkel
der Computer → die Computer
der Vetter (male cousin) → die Vettern
der Stachel (thorn)→ die Stacheln
der Charakter (character)→ die Charaktere
der Muskel (muscle)→ die Muskeln
add umlaut: ~20 nouns ending with -er, -el, or -en
der Garten (garden) → die Gärten
der Mantel (coat) → die Mäntel
der Vater (father) → die Väter
der Apfel (apple) → Äpfel
add -e: most masculine nouns belong in this category!
der Tisch (table) → die Tische
der Arm (arm) → die Arme
der Hund (dog) → die Hunde
der Versuch (attempt)→ die Versuche
add -e + umlaut: ~ ½ (generally monosyllabic) masculine nouns that could be umlauted
der Bach (creek) → die Bäche
der Stuhl (chair) → die Stühle
der Fuß (foot) → die Füße
der Bart (beard) → die Bärte
add -(e)n: all masculine nouns that end with -e and a handful of others
All so-called ‘weak’ masculine nouns referring to male people & animals, e.g.
der Affe (monkey) → die Affen
der Student (male student) → die Studenten
6 other -e outliers
der Buchstabe (letter of the alphabet) → Buchstaben
der Friede (peace) → Frieden
der Funke (spark) → Funken
der Gedanke (thought) → Gedanken
der Name → Namen
der Same (seed) → Samen
a handful of others, e.g.
der Fleck (spot, stain) → die Flecken
der Schmerz (pain) → die Schmerzen
add -er + umlaut: only ~12 masculine nouns
der Gott (God) → die Götter
der Mann (man) → die Männer
der Wald (forest) → die Wälder
der Irrtum (error) → die Irrtümer
Feminine Noun Plurals
Feminine noun plurals are the most straightforward of the 3 genders.
There are 2 plural forms that feminine nouns don’t use at all and over 90% of all feminine nouns use the same plural form.
no change: NO feminine nouns take this plural form!
Nothing to see here!
add umlaut: just 2 feminine nouns!
Die Mutter (mother) → die Mütter
die Tochter (daughter) → die Töchter
add -e: just those feminine nouns that end with -nis or -sal
die Erlaubnis (permission) → die Erlaubnisse
die Mühsal (hardship) → die Mühsale
die Finsternis (darkness) → die Finsternisse
TIP: 70% of nouns that end with -nis or -sal are neuter, but they also take an -e plural!
NOTE the doubled ‘s’: die Erkenntnis (insight) → die Erkenntnisse
add -e + umlaut: ~30 feminine monosyllables with ‘a’ or ‘u’ (& about ⅔ end with a -t sound)
die Kuh (cow) → die Kühe
die Nacht (night) → die Nächte
die Hand (hand) → die Hände
die Nuss (nut)→ die Nüsse
NOTE: also compound nouns ending with -brunst, -flucht, and -kunft (<– note the ‘u’ vowels and the ‘t’ endings!) take this e + umlaut plural form, too!
add -(e)n: over 90% of all feminine nouns!
nouns with any of the feminine suffixes (e.g. -ung, -schaft, -tät, -ur)
~25% of all nouns ending in -er or -el (just the -n, though, without the extra -e)
Remember: the bulk of -er and -el nouns are masculine or neuter and take the no change plural form with very few exceptions.
NOTE that feminine persons with the -in ending in the singular double that ‘n’ before adding on the -en plural ending, e.g. die Freundin (female friend; girlfriend) → die Freundinnen
Add -er + umlaut: NO feminine nouns take this plural form!
Nothing to see here!
Neuter Noun Plurals
There are three categories of neuter noun plurals were we find the bulk of neuter nouns and just a smattering of additional neuter nouns spread over the other three plural form groups.
no change: all neuter nouns ending with -er, -el, -en, -chen, or -lein except TWO
das Fenster (window) → die Fenster
das Kissen (pillow) → die Kissen
das Mädchen (girl) → die Mädchen
das Büchlein (little book) → die Büchlein
add umlaut: just the TWO neuter nouns referenced above!
Das Kloster (cloister) → die Klöster
das Wasser (water) → die Wässer
add -e: ~ ¾ of all neuter nouns, incl. most polysyllabic ones
das Bein (leg) → die Beine
das Jahr (year) → die Jahre
das Verbot (prohibition) → die Verbote
das Zeugnis (witness) → die Zeugnisse
NOTE: just as for feminine nouns ending in -nis, the ‘s’ must be doubled before the -e.
add -e + umlaut: just ONE neuter noun!
Das Floß (raft) → die Flöße
add -(e)n: only ~12 neuter nouns
- Some of the few singular neuter nouns ending with -e take this plural form, e.g. das Auge (eye) → die Augen, das Interesse (interest)→ die Interessen.
- Scientific terms ending with -on in the singular also take this plural form, e.g. das Elektron → die Elektronen.
- Other nouns taking this plural form include das Bett (bed) → die Betten and das Herz (heart) → die Herzen
add -er + umlaut: ~ ¼ of (mostly monosyllabic) neuter nouns
das Bild (picture) → die Bilder
das Buch (book) → die Bücher
das Kleid (dress) → die Kleider
das Kind (child) → die Kinder
Notes: an umlaut is added in the plural wherever possible (so, on any a, o, or u).
Plurals According to Hierarchical Rules
This is my favorite way to think about plurals because, here, we lump nouns together functionally, which crosses gender lines.
Here are the fewest number of rules that still cover the vast majority of plurals (if you memorize the short lists of common exceptions, too, we’d be getting pretty darn close to 100%!).
Think of these rules as being ‘train stops’. You pull out of the station and go through the train stops in sequence (train stop #1 – #5).
At each ‘train stop’, you have to ask yourself a question or two about the noun in question to know whether it needs to ‘get off the train’ at that stop OR if it needs to keep traveling.
Train Stop #1: does the noun have one of the listed noun endings (“suffixes”)?
For instance, Elefant would get off here and take the -en plural. Feigling would get off and take the -e plural. Onkel would get off and take the no change plural.
An extra-cool aspect of working with noun endings here at Train Stop #1 is that you can know the correct plural form you need even if you don’t know the noun’s gender!
(Of course, however, most noun endings are clearly associated with one gender over the other two, so you can read about that here.)
NOTE: there are more noun endings, but they either don’t consistently take the same plural form OR they are covered by another rule down the pipeline.
For example, the masculine noun ending -or sometimes takes the -e plural, sometimes the -en plural; so we treat that as a special case.
Of course, there are many feminine noun endings, but they are lumped together with the rest of feminine nouns (i.e. feminine monosyllables) at Train Stop #2 for simplicity’s sake (i.e. so that we don’t have to list out all the many feminine noun endings under Train Stop #1).
Train Stop#2: is it a feminine noun OR another ‘weak’ noun?
The -(e)n plural ending is considered German’s ‘weak’ plural ending because there’s a lot of gravity toward using it. The so-called ‘strong’ endings (e.g. -er & umlaut, -e & umlaut) have to fight against falling into the comfortable ease of the weak -(e)n plural.
So, all feminine nouns are ‘weak’ in the sense that they take the ‘weak’ -(e)n plural ending. And all feminine nouns — whether monosyllables or nouns that end with one of the 15 most common feminine suffixes — get off at this 2nd Train Stop!
The other ‘weak’ nouns that get off here fall into 3 categories:
- Male persons who haven’t already gotten off at Train Stop #1.
- A handful of exceptional masculine & neuter monosyllables that ‘get off early’
- All (but a small number) of exceptional masculine & neuter nouns that end with the -e suffix (which is 90% feminine).
More on Weak Nouns, Group 1:
For instance, males such as Vater, Onkel, Opa and Feigling would have already gotten off at Train Stop #1 because of their -er, -el, -a, and -ling endings.
But males such as Professor, Held (hero), Diplomat, Polizist (police officer), and Narr (fool) would get off here at Train Stop #2.
Notice, then, that the males getting off at Train Stop #2 include monosyllables and also a lot of nouns of foreign origin.
My favorite part of all remaining male person nouns getting off here is that this plurals rule spares you the necessity of memorizing approximately another dozen masculine noun endings used almost exclusively for people (e.g. –ist from Polizist).
More on Weak Nouns, Group 2:
All-in-all, there are only about 12 common masculine & neuter monosyllables that break away from their usual plural forms (see Train Stop #4!) and get off here instead.
Some of the masculine monosyllables that take this weak -(e)n plural include Schmerz (pain), Fleck (stain), Nerv (nerve), and Zeh (toe).
Some of the neuter monosyllables that get off here, too, include Bett (bed), Hemd (shirt), and Ohr (ear).
More on Weak Nouns, Group 3:
There is another very small exception list of masculine & neuter nouns ending with the [typically feminine] suffix -e that get off the train here, e.g.: das Auge (eye), das Interesse (interest), der Buchstabe (alphabet letter), der Funke (spark).
If your noun in question doesn’t fit the bill for Train Stop #2, then you keep riding to Train Stop #3.
Train Stop #3: does the noun both LOOK and SOUND English?
If so, get off here and put on the -s plural!
This rule applies to monosyllables such as Steak, Team, and Park. But NOT to monosyllables such as Bad, Kind, and Boot because they look but don’t sound English.
Polysyllables get off here, too, e.g. Management, Handout, Meeting, Ticket.
But those polysyllables that look English (but don’t sound English) must keep traveling, e.g. Problem, Talent, Experiment.
Then, there are also a lot of nouns that look ‘English-ish’, e.g. Mikrophon (microphone), Formular (form), that have to keep traveling, too.
Train Stop #4: is the noun a masc. or neut. monosyllable?
Some masculine and neuter monosyllables got off the train at Train Stop #2 (along with all feminine monosyllables) and more just got off at Train Stop #3 because they were English loanwords.
Now, all the remaining masculine monosyllables get off and take the -e & umlaut plural. All remaining neuter monosyllables get off and take the -er & umlaut plural.
TIP: Because we can work with the plurals hierarchy graphic, we don’t have to spend so much time memorizing the plural for each individual German noun (just like working with noun endings, i.e. ‘suffixes’ saves us from needing to memorize a der, die, das in front of each isolated singular noun).
BUT!!! One instance that it IS very recommendable to memorize the gender and/or plural of each individual noun is if that noun is a monosyllable.
This way, you can either hopefully recall the gender of the monosyllable (and so pick the correct plural ending) OR — if you can remember the correct plural form of the noun — you can actually work backwards to know the gender of the singular form of the noun!
For example, if you can remember that it’s DAS Licht (light), then you can correctly know that that noun needs to get off here at Train Stop #4 and take the -er & umlaut plural ending: Lichter (lights). [Notice that the umlaut happens to not be present simply because it’s not possible to umlaut an ‘i’ in German.]
BUT if you couldn’t remember the gender of Licht, but you do recall that the plural is Lichter, you can then still know that this monosyllable must get off at this Train Stop and that — if you work backwards — it must be a neuter monosyllable because neuter monosyllables take the -er & umlaut [whenever possible] plural.
Train Stop #5: Default Stop! All nouns must get off!
At this point in our process, any noun that didn’t meet the criteria to get off the train at the previous stops #1-4 must get off here!
In practice, then, what we are left with is largely a bunch of masculine and neuter polysyllables, which furthermore divide pretty neatly into these categories:
- masculine polysyllables that are very ‘German’ looking, e.g.:
Verlust (loss, deficit)
Verlag (publishing house)
- neuter polysyllables that are ‘English-ish’ looking OR totally English-looking (but not English-sounding because of which syllable is accented), e.g.:
NOTE: Almost all of the masculine & neuter polysyllabic nouns getting off at this final Train Stop and taking the default -e plural ending have their final syllable accented!
Working with this graphic of hierarchical plurals rules in the form of ‘Train Stops’ is more effective than working strictly with the gender of the singular noun or any other isolated principle.
This graphic alone successfully covers the bulk of German nouns; but if you combine it with memorizing short exception lists (there are some exceptions to every rule, of course!), you’ve got your bases covered except for the fewest and most uncommon of nouns!
NOTE that the exception lists ^^ are not exhaustive, but are examples of the most important nouns. So. A good place to start!
If you memorize the short lists of these common exceptions (note: there are more, but you really don’t need to worry about them!) to our broad, overarching rules, there will be scarcely a noun left that you wouldn’t be able to properly pluralize!
1. Suffixes (A) – Ends with -chen, -lein, -en, -er, -el → no change
Exceptions: these 12 nouns (almost all masculine*) do take an umlaut
*Apfel (apple) → Äpfel
*Bruder (brother) → Brüder
*Garten (garden) → Gärten
*Graben (ditch) → Gräben
*Kasten (box) → Kästen
*Laden (store) → Läden
*Mantel (coat) → Mäntel
die Mutter (mother) → Mütter
*Schaden (damage) → Schäden
*Schwager (brother-in-law) → Schwäger
die Tochter (daughter) → Töchter
*Vater (father) → Väter
*Vogel (bird) → Vögel
2. Suffixes (B) – Ends with -a, -i, -o, -u, -y → add -s
Exceptions: some common foreign-origin words ending with -a take an -en plural:
das Drama → Dramen, Thema (topic) → Themen, die Firma (company) → Firmen
Exception: neuter Ge…e nouns, e.g. das Gebäude → die Gebäude
5. All feminine nouns & nouns referring to male people
Exception: ~45 feminine monosyllables (and compound nouns that end with –brunst, -flucht, -kunft) take the -e + umlaut plural.
16 of the most common [all monosyllables] examples:
- Angst (fear) → Ängste
- Bank (bench) → Bänke
- Brust (breast / chest) → Brüste
- Faust (fist) → Fäuste
- Frucht (fruit) → Früchte
- Gans (goose) → Gänse
- Hand → Hände
- Kraft (strength) → Kräfte
- Kuh (cow) → Kühe
- Macht (power) → Mächte
- Maus (mouse) → Mäuse
- Nacht (night) → Nächte
- Nuss (nut) → Nüsse
- Stadt (city) → Städte
- Wand (wall) → Wände
- Wurst (sausage) → Würste
There are admittedly a lot of exceptions to this rule, but you’re still ahead of the game if you use it & work on committing the exceptions to memory!
- 10 masculine* & neuter nouns take the -(e)n plural:
Bett (bed) → Betten
Fakt (fact) → Fakten
*Fleck (spot, stain) → Flecken
Hemd (shirt) → Hemden
Herz (heart) → Herzen
*Nerv (nerve) → Nerven
Ohr (ear) → Ohren
*Staat (state) → Staaten
*Zeh (toe) → Zehen
- 30 masculine* & neuter nouns take the -er (+ umlaut) plural
Bad (bath) → Bäder
Blatt (page, leaf) → Blätter
Bild (picture) → Bilder
Brett (board) → Bretter
Buch (book) → Bücher
Dach (roof) → Dächer
Dorf (village) → Dörfer
Fach (subject; compartment) → Fächer
*Geist (spirit) → Geister
Glas (glass) → Gläser
*Gott (god) → Götter
Haus (house) → Häuser
Holz (wood) → Hölzer
Horn (horn) → Hörner
Kind (child) → Kinder
Kleid (dress) → Kleider
Kraut (herb) → Kräuter
Licht (light) → Lichter
Lied (song) → Lieder
Loch (hole) → Löcher
*Mann (man) → Männer
*Mund (mouth) → Münder
Nest (nest) → Nester
Rad (wheel) → Räder
*Rand (edge) → Ränder
Schild (sign) → Schilder
Tal (valley) → Täler
*Wald (forest) → Wälder
Wort (word) → Wörter
*Wurm (worm) → Würmer
- These *masculine & neuter monosyllables are examples of ones that take the -e plural form but NO umlaut even though, in some cases, they could take an umlaut (on ‘a’, ‘o’, or ‘u’ → ä, ö, ü):
*Arm (arm) → Arme
*Hund (dog)→ Hunde
*Punkt (point) → Punkte
Schaf (sheep) → Schafe
Jahr (year) → Jahre
- these common masculine* and neuter nouns take -(e)n
*Diamant (diamond) → Diamanten
*Elefant (elephant) → Elefanten
*Hydrant → Hydranten
das Insekt (insect) → Insekten
*Komet (comet) → Kometen
*Konsonant (consonant) → Konsonanten
*Magnet → Magneten
*Planet → Planeten
Since you clearly want to master German noun plurals, let’s cover some other special situations and you will be SET!
In the following sections, you’ll learn about
- foreign word plurals
- countable vs. uncountable nouns
- when German vs. English prefers the singular or plural version of a given noun
- what happens in English & German when no regular singular and/or plural forms exist.
- nouns with multiple plurals (and different meanings!)
Foreign-loan word plurals
There are many foreign-loan words that take and ‘s’ in the plural, just like in English — how nice!
Even if you don’t know for sure if the word is necessarily “foreign” or not, in general, if the noun ends with i, o, u, or y, its plural form takes an ‘s’.
Otherwise, there are also loan words from classical languages or Italian that tend to take -(i)en in the plural.
Plurals with -s
Many recent loan words from French and English take an -s in the plural, including after a y. Note that nouns ending in -o, -i, and -u take an ‘s’ plural.
In contrast, nouns that end with -e (or -ie), take an -n as per regular plural rules. And nouns that end with -a sometimes take an ‘s’ plural, sometimes an ‘en’ plural (read more below).
das Auto → die Autos
das Baby → die Babys
das Büro (office) → die Büros
der Chef → die Chefs
das Detail → die Details (note: French pronunciation!)
das Handy (cell phone) → die Handys
das Hotel → die Hotels
die Kamera (video recorder)→ die Kameras
der Opa (grandpa) → die Opas
der Ossi (resident of former East Germany) → die Ossis
der Park → die Parks
die Party → die Partys
das Sofa → die Sofas
der Tunnel → die Tunnels
der Uhu (type of owl) → die Uhus
The -s plural is also used after family names, colloquially, and with acronyms and abbreviations.
die Schmidts (the Smiths)
die Kumpels (pals, buddies, coll.; standard plural is die Kumpel)
der LKW (semi-truck) → die LKWs
die Lok (locamotive) → die Loks
For loan words from classical languages or Italian, -o endings will change to -i OR -en in formal contexts (e.g. das Cello → die Celli, das Konto (account) → die Konten), but frequently take a simple -s plural in colloquial German (e.g. das Cello → die Cellos, das Konto → die Kontos).
der Espresso → die Espressos
das Risiko (risk) → die Risikos
der Solo → die Solos
der Tempo → die Tempos
Plurals with -(i)en
Some of the foreign loan-word nouns that I’ll list here with -en plurals do have other, formal plurals that are still used in academic literature, etc.
But for your purposes and mine — to speak everyday German with everyday Germans — it’s best to learn these versions (so we don’t sound hoity-toity).
Bonus: now we have fewer plural endings to learn! YAY.
der Rhythmus (rhythm) → die Rhythmen
das Museum → die Museen
das Zentrum (center) → die Zentren
das Album → die Alben (or Albums)
Exceptions: there are some nouns that have adopted native plurals, e.g.: der Bus → die Busse, der Bonus → die Bonusse.
das Dogma → die Dogmen
die Firma (company) → die Firmen
die Pizza → die Pizzen (or Pizzas)
das Thema (topic) → die Themen
die Veranda → die Veranden
die Villa → die Villen
Exceptions: some nouns ending with -a take an -s plural in colloquial speech instead: das Dilemma → die Dilemmas, das Komma → die Kommas.
Many other nouns (listed in the previous section) that end with -a take an ‘s’ — in fact, you can think of the -a words going 50/50 either way.
Nouns with -os, -is, -ip, -eg, -il, -al
das Epos (epoch) → die Epen
der Mythos (myth) → die Mythen
die Basis → die Basen
die Praxis (practice) → die Praxen
das Prinzip (principle) → die Prinzipien
das Privileg (privilege) → die Privilegien
das Material → die Materialien
das Utensil → die Utensilien
Uncountable nouns are generally materials (e.g. water, tea, rice, sugar, air, wool) or abstract concepts (e.g. love, hatred, anger, fear, intelligence, beauty, safety).
German and English have very similar lists of uncountable nouns (hooray!).
However, even when a noun is technically countable, oftentimes both German and English will prefer the uncountable version.
For example, both English and German prefer to use people (Leute) over the countable person(s) (Menschen):
Many people [not persons] travel to Germany each year.
(Viele Leute reisen jedes Jahr nach Deutschland.)
Nouns used in the plural
There are some nouns that German prefers to use in the plural, whereas in English those same nouns are used in the singular form.
Check out this example with die Flitterwochen (honeymoon).
Our honeymoon was [singular noun-verb agreement] in France.
Unsere Flitterwochen waren [plural noun-verb agreement] in Frankreich.
Here are some other nouns that German uses in the plural, but English uses in the singular:
die Immobilien (real estate)
die Lebensmittel (food)
die Wirren (turmoil)
die Zinsen (interest, as on a loan)
Nouns used in the singular
Of course, now we have the opposite scenario: nouns in German that are used in their singular form that have English equivalents in the plural.
For example, das Archiv in German is a singular noun that means archives in English, as in:
I checked the office archives for her hire date.
(Ich habe nach ihrem Einstellungsdatum im Archiv gesucht.)
If you were to use the plural in German — die Archiven — that would mean multiple buildings of archives. See the difference?
Likewise, here are some other nouns used in their singular form in German, but plural form in English. Note that there isn’t necessarily a plural version in German at all! Some of these nouns exist only in singular form:
der Besitz — possessions
die Brille — eyeglasses
die Hose — pants
der Lohn — wages
die Politik — politics
der Pyjama — pyjamas
die Zange — tongs
No Regular German or English Plural
Some singular nouns don’t take a regular plural form, so another word (that does have regular singular and plural forms) is added.
For example, what is the plural of lightning?
In English, lightning is a noun that doesn’t have a standard, regular plural. We don’t say ‘wow! I saw many lightnings!’
The clever way around this problem is to use another noun that we can count, e.g. flash → flashes. Wow! I saw many flashes of lightning!” is an acceptable phrase in English.
In English, we can’t say advice → advices, either, for example. Rather, we say pieces of advice. And in German, is the same: der Rat (advice) → die Ratschläge(pieces of advice)
Similarly, der Schmuck (jewellery) → die Schmuckstücke (pieces of jewellery)
Regular English Plurals With No German Equivalent
In most instances, English and German use plural forms (e.g. die Ferien for holidays) in the same way. But some German nouns don’t have regular plurals like our English equivalents do.
These plurals in German have to be formed in a ‘roundabout’ way, using other nouns that can be counted, e.g. Stufen – degrees/levels/stages.
das Alter (age) → die Altersstufen (ages)
der Atem (breath) → die Atemzüge(breaths)
der Käse (cheese) → die Käsesorten (cheeses)
der Kohl (cabbage) → die Kohlköpfe(cabbages)
der Kummer (anxiety) → die Kümmernisse(anxieties)
der Luxus (luxury) → die Luxusartikeln(luxuries)
der Rasen (lawn) → die Rasenflächen(lawns)
der Sport (sport) → die Sportarten(sports)
der Streit (quarrel) → die Streitereien(quarrels)
der Tod (death) → die Todesfälle(deaths)
Regular German Singular Nouns With No English Equivalent
In these examples, English has a regular plural form only. But in German, a distinction is drawn between one and multiple.
In English, these singular versions are formed in a ‘roundabout’ way using countable nouns, e.g. piece.
die Auskunft ([piece of] information) → die Auskünfte (information)
die Hausaufgabe ([piece of] homework) → die Hausaufgaben (homework)
die Information ([piece of] information) → die Informationen (information)
die Kenntnis ([piece of] knowledge) → die Kenntnisse (knowledge)
die Nachricht ([piece of] news) → die Nachrichten (news)
Learn about how declensions (a.k.a. ‘endings’) change based on whether the noun is singular or plural.
Nouns with multiple plurals that mean different things
Similarly to those words that have double genders (e.g. der Leiter — leader, but die Leiter — ladder), there is a small group of words that have the same gender in the singular (so, the meaning is ambiguous) but then different plural forms.
For example, der Strauß means either ostrich OR bouquet, but the plurals are die Strauße (ostriches) and die Straüße (bouquet).
die Bank — die Banken (banks), die Bänke (benches)
der Effekt — die Effekte (results), die Effekten (valuables)
die Mutter — die Mütter (mothers), die Muttern (nuts, for bolts)
das Wort — die Wörter (countable words, as in ‘there are many words in this article’), die Worte (collection of words, as in a saying or the phrase ‘thank you for your kind words’)
- There are 6 main types German plurals: -e, -(e)n, -er, -e + umlaut, -s, and no change.
- If you know the gender of the singular noun, you can accurately predict the correct plural about 80% of the time (<-- very good reason to learn nouns with their genders!)
- Most masculine & neuter nouns take the -e plural (masculine nouns also take an umlaut about 50% of the time).
- Most feminine nouns take the -(e)n plural (a good 90% of the time).
- Certain suffixes (<-- always on polysyllabic nouns) always* take the same plural, regardless of the noun’s gender:
- -nis, -ling, ig, -ich:-e plural
- –tum: -er + umlaut plural
- -chen, -lein: no change
- -er*, -el*, -en: no change OR ‘no change’ plus an umlaut only
- -e -(e)n plural (but without doubling the ‘e’, of course)
*feminine nouns ending with -er, or -el DO take the -(e)n plural (<– with no ‘e’)
- With these 4 hierarchical rules, you’ll have German plurals wrapped up!
- Suffixes are king! Most suffixes take the same plural regardless of what gender the singular nouns with those suffixes may have (see graphic above in Plurals According to Hierarchical Rules).
- If your noun doesn’t have a suffix you recognize, do you know if it’s a feminine noun or in reference to a male person? Then, give your noun the -(e)n plural!
- That doesn’t apply? Is your noun a monosyllable? Monosyllables default to the -e + umlaut plural. If you know the gender of your monosyllable and/or if it’s one on a list of monosyllables exceptions, you will have greater accuracy in picking the right plural form.
- Still not finding a match? Well, then default to putting the -e plural on your noun and you’ll probably be right! 😀
German Noun Plurals Study Tips
Of course, a lot of study tips have broad application regardless of the German grammar topic. So, you will see some overlap in my recommendations when you read multiple guides on my website.
To break it down for you for plurals specifically, here you go:
- Always learn not only the gender of each new noun, but also the plural.
However, the smarter-not-harder way is to relate the gender AND plural form to the hard-and-fast rules (or, in some cases, guidelines) that I’ve spelled out for you here.
If you can better understand WHY the plural form is what it is, it will be easier to commit that information to memory.
For example, if you learn the word die Blume (flower) and its plural, die Blumen, you can reinforce either that the vast majority of feminine nouns take the -(e)n plural AND/OR the principle that polysyllabic nouns (regardless of gender) tend to take the -(e)n plural.
- Think in colorful images for better retention.
Sticking with the same die Blume(n) example, when you practice this vocabulary word, invision purely BLUE flower(s) — even the usually green parts of the plant. This can help you more easily remember that the gender of Blume is feminine.
NOTE: I say BLUE just because that is the color that I randomly chose for myself when I first started learning German at age 14. Of course, you can pick whatever color for whatever gender that suits you!
- Expose yourself to lots of authentic German materials.
The simplest way to learn a language is organically, by osmosis, without even realizing that you’re learning! That’s how we learned English as our native language, right?
So, watch German shows / movies (preferably undubbed, since it is confusing to hear sounds that don’t perfectly line up with the talking mouths), listen to German music, read German books (at your level, no matter how simple!).
Do this and you’ll be naturally exposed to German noun genders and plurals (since the two concepts are pretty intertwined, I mention both). You’ll pick up on proper forms without knowing it, without really trying to. It’s a nice way to learn!
As a fringe benefit, you’ll also be improving your pronunciation and/or accent (just by listening to authentic spoken German) and otherwise building a subconscious framework for proper German usage. Learn language within context is huge!
- Create your own German dictionary.
Keep a little notebook in which you record new German words. You can devise your own methods for regularly reviewing and practicing (or read my other study tips! I get into details elsewhere!)
Beyond including basic categories for parts of speech –nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. — consider breaking things down into subcategories.
For nouns, specifically, then, I recommend you reserve several pages of your nouns section for each of the 6 regular plural forms and a 7th for the -s plural form. View the 6 regular forms again here.
Then, using a different colored pen (for whatever color you’re associating with each of the 3 genders), record each new noun under the plural form that it takes.
For example, check out which plural form sections these nouns would be recorded:
Hund → -e plural form
Katze → -(e)n plural form
Sofa → -s plural form
Bonus: if you color-code your noun entries, you don’t need to write der, die, or das each time. Gender info is included in the color — handy!