Welcome back to our series on German nouns! What we’re going to talk about today is German noun declensions. Those are all of the ways that we change nouns depending on their case, gender, and number. For nouns, a lot of that information is in the articles, though.
To review that, you can check out our video below.
What is a “declension” anyway?
Before we get into the complicated details, we should review what a declension is.
Definition: A "declension" is a variation of a word that depends on its case, gender, and number.
In German, the article already does most of the work. Because of that, the nouns themselves only have special declensions for a few specific combinations of case, number, and gender. To learn more exactly what articles do, you can check out our post about German cases and their articles here, the one about all of the different articles over here.
German noun declensions in the Dative and Genitive
Most of the time, nouns will be either in their basic singular, or their plural form. The only types of nouns that get different kinds of endings are plural nouns in the Dative case, and masculine and neuter nouns in the Genitive case. So, let’s dive in and take a closer look at these extra special nouns!
-n is used for Dative plural nouns, as long as they don’t already end in n or s.
- Gogo will mit seinen Mitbewohnern feiern. (Gogo wants to party with his roommates.)
- Er hat etwas mit Kartoffeln gekocht. (He cooked something with potatoes.) .
- Sie schauen aus den Fenstern. (They look out of the windows.)
-s or -es marks singular masculine and neuter nouns in the Genitive case. The -es ending is always used when a neuter or masculine Genitive noun ends in -s, -ß, -x, or -z. It’s also common when the noun ends in -sch, -st, or -zt.
- Der Lack des Autos ist verkratzt. (The paint of the car is scratched.)
- Katie genießt den Geruch des Kaffees. (Katie savors the smell of the coffee.)
- Bobbi mag die Farbe des Hauses nicht. (Bobbi doesn’t like the color of the house.)
The important thing to keep in mind here is that feminine and plural nouns do not have any special ending in the Genitive case unless they are proper nouns.
Different rules for “weak” masculine nouns
Weak masculine nouns don’t follow the same rules as regular nouns. They’re not actually weak, of course. No, they just like to keep things simple. This group is mostly made up of words for people and living things, and often (but not always) have one of the following identifying features:
- The ending -e in the Nominative singular form
- Foreign borrowings that end in -ant, -and, -aph, -arch, -at, -et, -ent, -ist, -krat, -log, -on or -nom.
Let’s stop for a moment and check out our Youtube video on this topic:
Unlike regular masculine nouns, these words always end in -n or -en, except in the Nominative singular form. It looks like this:
- Der Affe (the monkey) - Sie hat die Banane eines Affen geklaut. (She stole a monkey’s banana.)
- Der Konkurrent (the competitor) - Das Geschäft hat die Mitarbeiter des Konkurrenten abgeworben. (The business poached the employees of the competitor.)
- Der Komet (the comet) - Man sieht den Schweif des Kometen auf dem Bild. (You can see the tail of the comet in the picture.)
Dative singular -e
Long ago, German nouns had more and much clearer noun declensions. For Dative singular nouns, that used to be the ending -e. Then, they slowly started to disappear.
“Ok…” you might say, “but why do I need a history lesson?”
Well, my insightful student, history has a way of awkwardly sticking around. Today, this ending is still used with some Dative nouns, especially in specific phrases. Let’s look at some the most common examples:
- Ich gehe nach Hause. (I’m going home.)
- Er wohnt auf dem Lande. (He lives out in the country.)
- Im Grunde genommen geht es immer um Geld. (Basically, it’s always about money.)
- In diesem Sinne kann ich es verstehen. (In that sense I can understand it.)
Alright, that’s it for most normal nouns that you’re going to deal with. Easy, right?
Oh right, we still need to talk about how to deal with names…
How to decline proper nouns
Proper nouns don’t work the same way as regular nouns. These kinds of nouns include the specific names of people, places or things, and are usually declined with the ending -s:
- Bobbis Auto ist neu. (Bobbi’s car is new.)
- Die Einwohner Berlins haben gewählt. (The residents of Berlin have voted.)
- Katies Koala kommt aus Australien. (Katie’s koala comes from Australia.)
If the word already ends in a sound that has an “s” sound, such as -s, -ß, -x, or -z, we just add an apostrophe to show that the word is in the Genitive case.
- Max’ Kaffee ist kalt geworden. (Max’s coffee got cold.)
Proper nouns with articles
Sometimes, a proper noun might be used together with an article in the Genitive case. In this case, it usually will not have any ending, since the article is already doing most of the work. For example:
- Das Dorf liegt am Ufer des Mississippi. (The village is at the banks of the Mississippi.)
- Die Mutter hält die Hand der kleinen Sophie. (The mom holds little Sophie’s hand.)
Keep in mind here that there are always exceptions. Some geographical names (especially places in Germany) will still have the -s ending, or the ending might be optional. Sometimes we might also choose to use the Dative case instead. Like this:
- Das Dorf liegt am Ufer vom Mississippi. (The village is on the banks of the Mississippi.)
In the end, language rules are always more like guidelines.
Speaking of exceptions, there are a few more that we should look at when it comes to more conventional nouns. You’re almost there!
Irregular masculine nouns
Six common masculine and neuter nouns have banded together as rebels. Alright, it’s not really that dramatic. They have the irregular ending -ens in their Genitive singular form. They are:
- das Herz (the heart)
- der Name (the name)
- der Glaube (the belief)
- der Buchstabe (the letter)
- der Wille (the will)
- der Gedanke (the thought)
How does that work? Let’s look at a few examples:
- Bobbi glaubt an die Kraft des Willens. (Bobbi believes in the power of the will.)
- Katie ist von der Aussprache des Namens verwirrt. (Katie is confused by the pronunciation of the name.)
- Das Medikament soll die Funktion des Herzens verbessern. (The medication is supposed to improve the function of the heart.)
Some nouns have no special endings in the singular Genitive form
Feminine nouns don’t have special Genitive endings unless they are names, but there are also some special masculine and neuter nouns that don’t have any ending in this form.
- When the noun comes after a prepositions without an article or adjective
- Acronyms and abbreviations (Like Lkw or Kfz)
Showing works better than telling, so let’s look at a few examples sentences:
- Die Ladung des Lkw ist zu schwer. (The semi-truck’s load is too heavy.)
- Das Geschäft bleibt trotz Geldmangel offen. (The business is staying open despite losses.)
- Laut Vertrag sollte Bobbi eigentlich mehr verdienen. (According to (the) contract, Bobbi should earn more.)
See, no special endings required!
Congratulations, that’s all you need to know to use German noun declensions!