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Nouns, gender and plural

A noun is a word used for a person, thing or idea eg ‘man’, ‘dog’, ‘town’, ‘anger’.

Nouns, gender and capital letters

Nouns are easy to spot in German because they all begin with a capital letter.

This example contains seven nouns:

 

Gestern bin ich in die Stadt gegangen. Ich bin ins Kino gegangen und habe einen Film gesehen. Ich habe Chips und Popcorn gegessen und Cola getrunken. Es hat Spaß gemacht.

 

German nouns have 3 genders:

  • Masculine
  • Feminine
  • Neuter

When you learn a new word, always learn the gender too.

Noun patterns

Masculine noun patterns

Description Example Translation
Things which are actually male der Mann/der Junge/der Vater/der Sohn etc Man/boy/father/son
Jobs (there are also female forms) der Arzt/der Journalist/der Lehrer etc Doctor/journalist/teacher
Nationalities (there are also female forms) der Italiener/der Engländer/der Spanier etc Italian, Englishman, Spaniard
Adjectival nouns (*see section on this below) der Deutsche/der Verwandte/der Erwachsene German, relative, adult
Days, months, seasons der Samstag/der Januar/der Sommer etc Saturday/January/Summer
Weather (mostly) der Regen/der Schnee/der Wind Rain/snow/wind
Nouns ending -er der Hamster/der Fahrer etc Hamster/driver
Nouns ending -ling der Liebling/der Zwilling etc Darling/twin
Nouns ending -ich der Pfirsich/der Teppich etc Peach/carpet
Nouns ending -en der Flughafen/der Kuchen etc Airport/cake
Nouns ending -ismus der Journalismus/der Rassismus etc Journalism/racism

 

Feminine noun patterns

Description Example Translation
Things which are actually female die Frau/die Mutter/die Tochter/die Tante etc Woman/mother/daughter/aunt
Jobs (like male form with -in added) die Ärztin/die Journalistin/die Lehrerin etc Doctor/journalist/teacher
Nationalities (male form with -in added) (die Italienerin/die Engländerin/der Spanierin etc Italian/English woman/Spaniard
Adjectival nouns (*see setion on this below) die Deutsche/die Verwandte/die Erwachsene German/relative/adult
Nouns ending -e (most) die Gruppe/die Woche etc (group/week)
Nouns ending -heit die Gesundheit/die Freiheit etc Health/freedom
Nouns ending -keit die Persönlichkeit etc Personality
Nouns ending -schaft die Landschaft/die Mannschaft etc Landscape/team
Nouns ending -ung die Buchhandling/die Zeitung etc Bookshop/newspaper
Nouns ending -ei die Metzgerei/die Konditorei etc Butchers/cake shop
Nouns ending -ik die Gymnastik/die Musik etc Gymnastics/music
Nouns ending -tät die Kriminalität/die Universität etc Crime/university

 

Neuter noun patterns

Description Example Translation
Nouns ending -chen das Mädchen/das Kaninchen etc Girl/rabbit
Nouns ending -nis das Tischtennis/das Erlebnis etc Table tennis/experience
Adjectives used as nouns das Beste/das Neue/das Richtige The best one/new one/right one
Verbs used as nouns das Fernsehen/das Skilaufen etc Watching TV/skiing
Many towns, countries & colours das Berlin/das Deutschland/das Rot Berlin/Germany/red

Compound noun genders

A compound noun is one made up of more than one bit. For example, Rathaus literally means ‘advice house’ but translates to town hall.

All compound nouns take their gender from the last word in the chain, eg Rathaus is made of der Rat and das Haus. The gender of Rathaus will be das because Haus is the last part.

Zimmer (room) is neuter: das Schlafzimmer/das Wohnzimmer/das Arbeitszimmer/das Esszimmer etc (bedroom, lounge, study, dining room).

Plurals of nouns

A noun in the plural form shows there is more than one, eg cat (singular) and cats (plural).

The German for ‘the’ in the plural form is always die, eg der Hund (the dog) but die Hunde (the dogs).

Always learn the plural of a new word.

There are several possibilities for plural endings.

Findings plurals in dictionaries

If you look a word up in the dictionary, you will find the plural form in brackets.

The bit in the brackets is added to the end of the word. Sometimes you also need to add an umlaut (only on ä, ö and ü).

Nouns in singular and plural forms

Singular Changed to Plural
der Tisch(e) (the table) Add the e from the brackets -> die Tische (the tables)
die Birne(n)

(the pear)

Add the n from the brackets -> die Birnen (the pears)
das Gebäude (the building) Do not add anything -> die Gebäude (the buildings)
der Bahnhof(e) (the station) Add the e, and an umlaut -> die Bahnhöfe (the stations)

Plural patterns

The most common ones add ‘-e’ or ‘-en’. For example, der Hund(e) (dog(s)) and die Zeitschrift(en) (magazine(s)).

Feminine nouns

Almost all feminine nouns add ‘-en’. If they end in ‘-in’, eg Freundin or Lehrerin add ‘-nen’. For example: die Sendung(en) (programme) and die Freundin(nen) (girlfriend(s)).

Masculine and neuter nouns

Possibilities include adding ‘-er’, ‘-e’, an umault or nothing at all. For example: das Geld(er) (money), der Film(e) (film(s)), der Vater(“) (father(s)) and der Onkel(-) (uncle(s)).

Foreign nouns

Words that have been taken from another language, eg baby/radio, add ‘-s’.

Adjectives used as nouns

You can take an adjective and turn it into a noun.

The gender depends on the kind of adjective you use (see example). If it’s a noun designating a person it will be masculine or feminine (der/die) depending on the person’s sex. If it’s something more abstract, it’s usually neuter (das).

  1. Add an -e to the end of the adjective
  2. Change its first letter to a capital
  3. Put der/die/das in front

Masculine and feminine nouns as adjectives

Noun Masculine Feminine
angestellt (employed) der Angestellte (male employee) die Angestellte (female employee)
deutsch (German) der Deutsche (male German) die Deutsche (female German)
verwandt (related) der Verwandte (male relation) die Verwandte (female relation)

For masculine nouns there is an important exception. If you use ‘ein‘ instead of ‘der‘, you have to add ‘-er’, for example:

  • der Angestelltebecomesein Angestellter

Adjective to noun

Adjective Noun
best (best) das Beste (the best thing)
ganz (whole) das Ganze (the whole)
wichtig (important) das Wichtige (that which is important)

 

Examples of adjective to noun use

Sentences that use adjectives as nouns

Adjective to noun Translation
Meine Verwandte aus Berlin ist Lehrerin. My relative from Berlin is a teacher.
Ein Erwachsener kostet €10 An adult costs €10.
Das Beste ist, daß ich mehr verdiene. The best thing is that I earn more.

Verbs used as nouns

In German, you can take a verb and turn it into a noun:

  • Take the verb (infinitive) and change its first letter to a capital

Verb to noun

Verb Noun
lesen (to read) dasLesen (reading)
einkaufen (to shop) dasEinkaufen (shopping)
lachen (to laugh) dasLachen
schwimmen (to swim) dasSchwimmen (swimming)

 

Verb to noun used in a sentence

Verb to noun Translation
Lesen finde ich entspannend I find reading relaxing
Lachen tut gut Laughing does you good

Notice that Germans leave out the definite article (the) when used in a sentence in English.

Weak nouns

Weak nouns are a group of masculine nouns which behave slightly differently to other nouns.

You have to add ‘-n’ or ‘-en’ to them at all times except when they are in the nominative singular.

Common weak nouns

Noun Translation
der Name name
der Junge boy
der Brite British (man)
der Schotte Scottish (man)
der Student student
der Polizist policeman
der Nachbar neighbour
der Mensch person
der Herr sir/Mr

 

Common weak nouns in use

Masculine noun in use Translation
Ein Schotte wohnt in diesem Haus. (A Scotsman lives in this house)
Ich sitze neben einem Schotten. (I’m sitting next to a Scotsman)
Der Junge heisst Paul. (The boy is called Paul)
Gib dem Jungen ein Eis. (Give the boy an ice cream)

 

Common mistakes made by English speakers

  • Not learning genders
  • Forming the plural using ‘-s’ (like in English)

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