Hello students, and welcome to our talk on gender identity. German noun genders, that is. Yes, that’s right, the German language has gender! In fact, just like in modern society, the gender identity of a word doesn’t have to match its sex (or lack of one).

Before we get started, though, we should stop for a minute and watch check out our video on the topic.


That covers the basics, but we’re here for all the gritty details, so let’s get into it!


How can words have genders?

All German nouns have one of three possible genders: Feminine, masculine, or neuter. Those determine what kinds of articles (der, die, or das) go with the noun. At a glance, it looks pretty simple:

  • die Frau (the woman)
  • der Mann (the man)
  • das Auto (the car)


In these examples, the noun gender matches the “sex” of the word. Frau (woman) is feminine, Mann (man) is masculine, and Auto (car) is neuter. Some languages always do this, and we grammar nerds call that “natural gender”.

Of course, we’re not here to learn those languages. No, we’re here to learn German, and that means we also have this:

  • das Mädchen (the girl)
  • der Baum (the tree)
  • die Straße (the street)


This kind of system is called “grammatical gender”, and it doesn’t always match the sex of a word. That makes things a little more complicated—how are we supposed to know which gender a word is supposed to have? Not to worry, my friend, that’s what we’re here to learn.

The simple (and probably easiest) answer is: Always memorize the gender along with any new noun you learn! But… who really wants to do that if there’s another option?

memorizing German grammar rules


Now you’re speaking my language—of course there are rules! Lots and lots of rules with plenty of exceptions. Let’s get started!


Using endings to tell German noun genders

An "easy" way to tell the gender of a noun is to check if it has a gendered ending. Some word-endings (almost) always go with a certain gender. Why they work is a long story, but what’s important here is that we can use them… most of the time. 😉


Masculine endings

-ant

  • Der Praktikant arbeitet. (The intern works.)
  • Der Elefant frisst Gras. (The elephant is eating grass.)


-ast

  • Der Gymnast turnt. (The gymnast does gymnastics.)
  • Der Palast glänzt. (The palace glitters.)


-ich

  • Der Bereich wächst. (The area is growing.)
  • Der Teppich ist dick. (The carpet is thick.)


-ig

  • Der König regiert. (The king rules.)
  • Der Honig ist süß. (The honey is sweet.)


-ismus

  • Der Sozialismus ist eine Ideologie. (Socialism is an ideology.)
  • Der Idealismus ist eine Denkweise. (Idealism is a way of thinking.)


-ling

  • Der Flüchtling entkommt. (The refugee escapes.)
  • Der Zwilling ist nicht alleine. (The twin ist not alone.)


-or

  • Der Humor ist hier sarkastisch. (The humor is sarcastic here.)
  • Der Senator fährt in den Urlaub. (The senator goes on vacation.)


-us

  • Der Zirkus kommt. (The circus is coming.)
  • Der Radius ist 1 Meter. (The radius is 1 meter.)


Always keep in mind that there are lots of sneaky exceptions to watch out for. Quite a few words that have these masculine endings are actually neuter:

  • Das Restaurant (the restaurant)
  • Das Labor (the laboratory)
  • Das Genus (the gender)
  • Das Reich (the empire)


Feminine Endings

-a

  • Die Mafia ist berühmt. (The mafia is famous.)
  • Die Villa ist sehr groß (The villa is very big.)


-anz/enz

  • Die Substanz ist wässrig. (The substance is watery.)
  • Die Konferenz fängt bald an. (The conference starts soon.)


-ei

  • Die Bäckerei hat geöffnet. (The bakery is open.)
  • Die Bücherei hat alte Bücher. (The library has old books.)


-heit/keit

  • Die Flüssigkeit ist wässrig. (The liquid is watery.)
  • Die Krankheit ist ansteckend . (The sickness is contagious.)


-ie

  • Die Batterie ist geladen. (The battery is charged.)
  • Die Familie ist klein. (The family is small.)


-ik

  • Die Technik hat sich bewährt. (The technology has proven itself.)
  • Die Musik ist laut. (The music is loud.)


-in

  • Die Lehrerin arbeitet dauernd. (The teacher is constantly working.)
  • Die Bürgerin geht wählen. (The citizen goes to vote.)


-schaft

  • Die Gewerkschaft hat viel Macht. (The labor union has a lot of power.)
  • Die Botschaft ist angekommen. (The message has arrived.)


-sion/tion

  • Die Illusion sieht echt aus. (The illusion looks real.)
  • Die Isolation ist einsam. (The isolation is lonely.)


-tät

  • Er hat die Autorität, das Konto zu löschen. (He has the authority to delete the account.)
  • Die Universität ist sehr alt. (The university is very old.)


-ung

  • Die Umgebung ist schön ruhig. (The surrounding area is very quiet.)
  • Die Lüftung funktioniert nicht. (The ventilation doesn’t work.)


-ur

  • Die Struktur ist sehr komplex. (The structure is very complex.)
  • Die Kultur ist mir fremd. (The culture is foreign to me.)


Exceptions with feminine endings are often short words with just a single syllable, like these:

  • Das Knie (the knee)
  • Der Schrei (the scream)
  • Der Flur (the hallway)
  • Der Sprung (the jump)


Neuter Endings

-chen

  • Das Mädchen geht in die Schule. (The girl goes to school.)
  • Das Kätzchen schläft. (The kitten sleeps.)


-lein

  • Er findet das Häuslein am See. (He finds the little house by the lake.)
  • Das Vöglein sitzt auf dem Baum. (The little bird is sitting in the tree.)


-ma

  • Das Klima ist angenehm. (The climate is comfortable.)
  • Das Aroma ist süß. (The aroma is sweet.)


-tel

  • Das erste Kapitel ist ziemlich kurz. (The first chapter is pretty short.)
  • Das Spülmittel ist leer. (The dish soap is empty.)


-tum

  • Das Eigentum der Familie wurde verkauft. (The property of the family was sold.)
  • Auf der Urkunde steht das Datum. (The date is on the certificate.)


-um

  • Das Album ist voller Bilder. (The album is full of pictures.)
  • Das Museum ist für Kinder langweilig. (The museum is boring for children.)


Here are a few exceptions to watch out for with neuter endings:

  • Der Titel (the title)
  • Der Reichtum (the wealth)
  • Der Konsum (the consumption)
  • Der Drachen (the kite)
  • Die Firma (the firm)


Using meanings to guess the right gender for German nouns

Word endings can help us guess the right genders for words, but it’s not enough to be sure. The ending might not fit just one gender and there are a lot of exceptions to worry about. Luckily, German nouns give us lots of other hints to keep us from misgendering them. One important way to do that is to look at their meanings.

Masculine categories

1. Male people and animals

  • Der Mann sitzt auf dem Boden. (The man is sitting on the floor.)
  • Der Kater jagt die Maus. (The male cat is hunting the mouse.)


2. Specific seasons, months, and days of the week                       

  • Der Mai ist im Frühling der beste Monat. (May is the best month in spring.)
  • Der zweite Dienstag dieses Monats ist ein Feiertag. (The second Tuesday of this month is a holiday.)


Here it’s important to note that the more general time-related words are not necessarily masculine. For example: 

  • die Woche (the week) and
  • das Jahr (the year)


These words can also be feminine and neuter.

3. Cardinal points

  • Der Norden ist relativ kalt. (The north is relatively cold.)
  • Der amerikanische Westen ist trocken. (The American west is dry.)


4. Words describing wind and weather

  • Der Orkan hat den Strand weggespült. (The hurricane swept away the beach.)
  • Der Regen hört seit Tagen nicht mehr auf. (The rain hasn’t stopped in days.)


5. Rocks and minerals

  • Der Granit ist schwer und stabil. (Granite is heavy and durable.)
  • Der Ring ist mit einem Rubin verziert. (The ring is adorned with a ruby.)


6. Natural and alcoholic drinks (except water)

  • Der Whiskey ist gut gereift. (The whiskey is well-aged.)
  • Der Saft ist zu süß. (The juice is too sweet.)


7. Mountains and rivers

  • Der Rhein ist ein großer Fluss. (The Rhine is a big river.)
  • Der Vesuv ist ein Vulkan in Italien. (Vesuvius is a volcano in Italy.)


Note here that most rivers and many mountains inside Germany (and Austria and Switzerland) are not masculine, for example:

  • Die Donau (the Danube)
  • Die Elbe (The Elbe)


While some of these exceptions are just proper names that you have to memorize, others have a different gender because they are compound nouns.

  • Die Zugspitze (The Zugspitze)
  • Das Harzgebirge (The Harz mountain range)


We'll talk about those in a moment.


Feminine categories

1.)Female people and animals

  • Die Katze schläft auf dem Sofa. (The cat sleeps on the sofa.)
  • Die Frau fährt in den Urlaub. (The woman goes on vacation.)


2. Ships and Airplanes

  • Die Cessna fliegt über das Feld. (The Cessna flies over the field.)
  • Die RMS Titanic ist vor 100 Jahren gesunken. (The RMS Titanic sank 100 years ago.)


3. German names for rivers

  • Die Oder liegt an der Grenze. (The Oder is on the border.)
  • Die Donau geht bis zum Schwarzen Meer. (The Danube reaches the Black Sea.)


A few major rivers, such as “der Rhein” (the Rhine) and “der Neckar” (the Neckar) are exceptions here.

4. Names for numbers

  • Die Eins ist auf dem Handy abgenutzt. (The one on the cellphone is worn off.)
  • Er wählt die Vier auf dem Ziffernblock. (He selects the four on the number pad.)


Neuter categories

1. Children and young animals

  • Das Kind spielt mit dem Ball. (The child plays with the ball.)
  • Das Baby weint. (The baby cries.)


2. Metals, chemicals, and scientific units

  • Das Blei in der Batterie ist sehr schwer. (The lead in the battery is very heavy.)
  • Das Kohlendioxid in der Atmosphäre nimmt zu. (The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing.)


3. Letters

  • Das A wird hier groß geschrieben. (The A is capitalized here.)
  • Das Z kommt am Ende des Alphabets. (The Z comes at the end of the alphabet.)


4. Other parts of speech used as nouns

  • Das Meeting ist vorbei. (The meeting is over.)
  • Das Innere des Hauses ist schöner als das Äußere. (The inside of the house is nicer than the outside).


5. Hospitality venues

  • Das Restaurant ist sehr teuer. (The restaurant is very expensive.)
  • Das Hotel hat 3 Sterne. (The hotel has 3 stars.)


Most countries and continents are also neuter, but we usually use them without an article.

  • Deutschland ist mein Heimatland. (Germany is my home country.)


BUT in some cases we would use them with an article, e.g. when using the country with an adjective: 

  • Das schöne Italien ist mein Lieblingsland. (Beautiful Italy is my favorite country.)


Also note that there are many countries like Switzerland (die Schweiz), the USA (die USA) or Iran (der Iran) that have a specific article that we do have to use: 

  • Die Schweiz ist ein schönes Land. (Switzerland is a beautiful country.)


How to adjust German noun genders for people and animals

When we talk about an unknown person or animal, we tend to just use the grammatical gender of the word. 

  • Der Bäcker arbeitet früh am Morgen. (The baker works early in the morning.)
  • Der Kameramann hat die Kamera vergessen. (The cameraman forgot the camera.)
  • Die Gans isst das Brot. (The goose eats the bread.)

That can feel a bit awkward, though, when we’re talking about a specific person or animal whose gender we know. 

Because of this, we can adjust the gender to match that person or animal’s sex. There are a few ways to do this, depending on the type of word. The most commonly used forms involve making a masculine noun feminine.

Use the -in ending to make professions, nationalities, and similar nouns (which are mostly masculine) feminine:

  • Der Bäcker (the baker) - Die Bäckerin arbeitet früh am Morgen. (The baker [fem.] works early in the morning.)
  • Der Franzose (the Frenchman) - Die Französin fährt nach Deutschland. (The Frenchwoman travels to Germany.)
  • Der Friseur (the hairdresser) - Die Friseurin wäscht dem Kunden die Haare. (The hairdresser [fem.] washes the customer’s hair.)


Change the ending -mann to -frau* to make a masculine noun feminine:

  • Der Kameramann (the cameraman) - Die Kamerafrau hat die Kamera vergessen. (The camerawoman forgot the camera.)
  • Der Kaufmann (the salesman) - Die Kauffrau ist sehr erfolgreich. (The saleswoman is very successful.)
  • Der Feuerwehrmann (the fireman) - Die Feuerwehrfrau ist auf dem Weg. (The firefighter [fem.] is on the way.)


*These are usually older terms for professions that are slowly being replaced by gender-neutral versions. However, they’re still commonly used in casual conversation, especially among older Germans.


Feminine nouns with alternate masculine forms

Most nouns that we use to describe or categorize people (like professions) are masculine by default, so the alternative forms are meant to make them feminine. But some nouns for people and animals have default forms that are feminine. Here we can use masculine endings like -er and -erich

  • Die Gans (the goose) - Der Gänserich frisst das Brot. (The gander [male goose] eats the bread.)
  • Die Katze (the cat) - Der Kater schläft auf dem Sofa. (The male cat sleeps on the sofa.)
  • Die Witwe (the widow) - Der Witwer lebt alleine. (The widower lives alone.)


Sometimes, especially with farm animals, we instead use a unique masculine form to show when we’re talking about a male animal.

  • Die Henne (the hen) - Der Hahn kräht. (The rooster crows.)
  • Die Kuh (the cow) - Der Stier ist auf der Weide. (The bull is on the pasture.)
  • Die Ziege (the goat) - Der Bock frisst das Unkraut. (The ram eats the weeds.)


These types of gender-specific nouns are often unique, just like in English (think of words like rooster, ewe, or sow). That means there’s no rules to learn here – it’s best to just learn both at the same time. 


Genders for German compounds nouns and abbreviations

In business meetings and politics, the most important person always arrives last. The same is true for German compound words and abbreviations. The last word in a compound or an abbreviation tells us what the gender is. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Das Matterhorn ist ein schöner Berg. (The Matterhorn is a beautiful mountain.)
  • Die EU (Europäische Union) hat 27 Mitglieder. (The EU has 27 members.)
  • Der Lastwagen fährt langsam. (The truck drives slowly.)


Here we can see that “Matterhorn” is neuter, even though mountains are normally masculine. That’s because “Horn” (horn), at the end of the name, is neuter. EU is feminine because “Union” (union) is feminine. Similarly, “Wagen” (car) is masculine, which means that “Lastwagen” (truck) also has to be masculine.


Words with multiple Genders

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering, “How can German-speakers keep track of all of this?” 

That’s a good question, and the answer is that we don’t always agree on which gender is right. Some words can be either masculine or neuter, usually depending on where the speaker is from or if there is a technical or academic context. They’re genderfluid words! 

  • das/der Virus (the virus)
  • das/der Fakt (the fact)
  • das/der Filter (the filter)


Words with different genders and meanings

Besides words that just have multiple genders, there are also words that have different genders and different meanings, but they sound the same. Let’s looks at a few examples:

Kiefer

  • Gogo tut der Kiefer weh. (Gogo’s jaw hurts.)
  • Die Kiefer ist schon 100 Jahre alt. (The pine tree is already 100 years old.)


Erbe

  • Das Erbe wird aufgeteilt. (The inheritance is split.)
  • Der Erbe bekommt das Vermögen. (The heir gets the estate.)


Band

  • Der Band ist sehr alt. (The volume [book] is very old.)
  • Das Band ist verknotet. (The ribbon is knotted up.)
  • Die Band geht auf Tour. (The band is going on tour.)


Genders for loan words

Last but not least, we need to talk about loan words. You may already have noticed that many of our words are guests from abroad, borrowed from English, French, Latin, Arabic and many other languages. So… what genders do they get?

genders for German loan words meme


The answer is a little bit complicated, but normally people just sort of agree on a “most correct” gender over time. In the end, the gender is normally based on either the closest German translation or the word’s ending. What does that look like? Let’s do a few examples:

The gender of the closest German translation

Das Baby (the baby)  - Das Kind (the child)

  • Das Baby ist zwei Monate alt. (The baby is two months old.)


Das Handy (the cellphone) - Das Telefon (the telephone)

  • Das Handy ist brandneu. (The cellphone is brand new.)


Der Shop (the shop) - Der Laden (the store)

  • Der Shop verkauft keine Getränke. (The shop doesn’t sell any drinks.)


The ending of the word

Die Party (the party) - The endings sounds like the feminine “-ie”

  • Die Party fängt erst um Mitternacht an. (The party only starts at midnight.)


Der Computer (the computer) - uses the masculine ending “-er”

  • Der Computer ist abgestürzt. (The computer crashed.)


Die Animation (the animation) - uses the feminine ending “-tion”

  • Die Animation sieht gut aus. (The animation looks good.)


Other ways to guess word genders

These are the most consistent rules to know, but of course there are other indicators and rules to be aware of as well:

1. Nouns that are made from adjectives are neuter

  • Katie will das Beste. (Katie wants the best.)
  • Gogo achtet eher auf das Äußere. (Gogo mostly pays attention to appearance.)
  • Sie nimmt das Rote. (She takes the red one.)


2. Nouns borrowed from English gerunds (nouns that end in -ing) are neuter

  • Das Training ist sehr anstrengend. (The training is very strenuous.)
  • Das Rennen hat gestartet. (The race has started.)
  • Das Brainstorming war hilfreich. (The brainstorming was helpful.)


3. Verbs that are being used as nouns are neuter

  • Gogo geht es nur um das Feiern. (For Gogo it’s all about partying.)
  • Das Essen ist fertig. (The meal is ready.)
  • Sie hört das Rauschen des Windes. (She hears the roar of the wind.)


4. Collective nouns with that start with “ge-” are neuter

  • Das Geräusch ist laut. (The noise is loud.)
  • Das Gebirge ist riesig. (The mountain range is huge.)
  • Das Gebäude ist alt. (The building is old.)


5. Nouns that are made from verbs that end in -en are often masculine

  • Der Sitz ist nicht bequem. (The seat is not comfortable.)
  • Der Kauf wurde abgeschlossen. (The purchase was completed.)
  • Er hört nicht auf den Rat seiner Mutter. (He doesn’t listen to his mother’s advice.)


Of course, there are still more ways to help us guess the gender of different nouns. Many of these just aren’t as reliable, so they’re not as useful to learn. There’s still something to be said for just memorizing the genders of nouns as you learn them. 

Hurray, you’ve reached the end of the lesson! 

Loved this? Spread the word

Subscribe to my Newsletter & Get your FREE German Essential Kit including:

  • The 12 most common German mistakes and how to avoid them (+ with sample sentences)
  • A list of the 30 most important dative verbs you must know!
  • A list of the most important German irregular verbs and an easy explanation of the past tenses
  • The picture of "Anja's house" with all the verbs that use "sein" in the perfect tense (high quality to print!)
  • When you sign up, you will become part of our worldwide community of German learners and receive the best tips and tricks for learning German!

PS: Don’t worry, I hate spam too! You can unsubscribe at anytime.


Related posts

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
>