If you ask anyone who is learning German, what their hate the most about this language, I can bet that many will answer “the gender of the nouns”. Why is “the book” neutral, “the table” masculine and “the lamp” feminine? How are you supposed to remember all this? I know that German grammatical gender is not an easy grammar topic. The bad news is, you still need to learn the genders of the nouns by heart if you want to speak German properly. The good news is, there are some cases when you can determine the gender of the noun by looking at its ending or meaning without having to memorize it all.
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Following these hints, you can determine whether the noun is der, die or das correctly in most cases. I say in most cases because there are always some exceptions, but you can ignore them for now.
All German nouns are one of three genders: masculine, feminine or neutral.
Nouns which are masculine
- male people and animals: der Professor(professor), der Student(student), der Lehrer(teacher), der Großvater(grandfather), der Löwe(lion), der Kater(male cat)
- days, month and seasons: der Montag(Monday), der Januar(January), der Frühling(spring)
- points of the compass: der Süden(south), der Nordwesten(northwest)
- nouns that are made of the stem of a verb (by removing the ending -en) are usually masculine: schlafen(to sleep) – der Schlaf(sleep), laufen(to run) – der Lauf(run), kämpfen( to fight) – der Kampf(fight), aussteigen(to exit) – der Ausstieg(exit)
The nouns with the following endings are usually masculine:
- -ig : der Honig(honey), der König(king), der Essig(vinegar)
- -ling : der Feigling(coward), der Säugling(infant), der Schmetterling(butterfly)
- -ismus : der Kommunismus(communism), der Journalismus(journalism), der Kapitalismus(capitalism)
- -ist : der Journalist(journalist), der Extremist(extremist)
- -ner : der Rentner(pensioner), der Schaffner(conductor)
- -ich : der Teppich(carpet), der Pfirsich(peach)
- -or : der Motor(engine), der Autor(author), der Sponsor(sponsor)
Nouns which are feminine
- female people and animals: die Frau(woman), die Lehrerin(female teacher), die Ärztin(female doctor), die Schwester(sister), die Kuh(cow), die Löwin(lioness)
The nouns with the following endings are usually feminine:
- -ei : die Partei(political party), die Brauerei (brewery)
- -heit/-keit : die Schwierigkeit(difficulty), die Freiheit(freedom), die Ähnlichkeit(similarity)
- -in (when it is used to express the female person or occupation) : die Freundin(female friend), die Verkäuferin(female seller)
- -schaft : die Freundschaft(friendship), die Wirtschaft(economy), die Wissenschaft(science)
- -ung : die Übung(exercise), die Zeitung(newspaper), die Bedeutung(meaning)
- -tät : die Universität(university), die Aktivität (activity)
- -ion : die Situation(situation), die Nation(nation)
- -ik : die Musik(music), die Logik(logic), die Panik(panic)
- -ie : die Therapie(therapy), die Philosophie(philosophy)
- -ur : die Kultur(culture), die Natur(nature)
- most nouns ending in -e: die Grenze(border), die Seite(page), die Zeile(line). But: der Käse(cheese), der Kunde(customer), das Ende(end). Note that this rule has quite many exceptions, so I wouldn’t rely on it too much.
Nouns which are neutral
- human and animal babies: das Kind(child), das Kalb(calf), das Lamm(lamb)
- infinitives turned into nouns: lesen(to read) – das Lesen(reading), leben(to live) – das Leben(life), essen(to eat) – das Essen(food)
The nouns with the following endings are usually neutral:
- diminutive suffixes -chen, -lein : das Mädchen(girl), das Kaninchen(rabbit), das Männlein(little man)
- -ment : das Experiment(experiment), das Element(element)
- -um : das Christentum(Christianity), das Museum(museum)
Now time to practice!
Download the exercise to practice guessing the gender of German nouns
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