German/Grammar/Nouns

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What Is a Noun?[edit]

A word that can be used to refer to a person, place, thing, quality, or idea; part of speech. It can serve as the subject or object of a verb. For example a table or a computer. Nouns start with a capital letter in written language.

Plurals[edit]

German, unlike English, has more than one way to make nouns plural, and plural form, like gender, must be memorized with every noun.

There are twelve different ways to form plurals in German. They are formed by affixes at the end of the word, and the umlaut of the vowel of the stem. They are - (changing nothing); -¨; -e; -¨e; -n; -¨n; -en; -¨en; -er; -¨er; -nen (to feminine suffix -in); -s (mainly with English loan-words); adding "foreign" endings (mainly Latin words); and changing suffixes (mainly Latin words).

When German nouns are used in the plural, their gender becomes irrelevant. The plural can almost be thought of as a gender on its own. In the plural, the definite article is always "die" when using the nominative and accusative cases.

When using the dative case, "den" is the definite article of all plurals. All plurals not ending in -n or -s affix an -n.

The definite article of the plural in the genitive case is "der".

Examples

Nominative: Die alten Männer spielen Schach. The old men are playing chess.

Accusative: Ich sah die alten Männer beim Schachspielen. I saw the old men as they played chess.

Dative: Ich spielte mit den alten Männern Schach. I played chess with the old men.

Genitive: Das Schachspiel der alten Männer war nicht sehr spannend. The old men's chess game was not very exciting.

Suffixes[edit]

Although gender and plural form are often arbitrary, there exist certain suffixes whose gender and plural form are regular. They are mainly feminine.

-ung, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -ion, and -tät

These are all feminine endings, which are pluralized by -en.

  • Diskussion(en)
Discussion(s)
  • Universtät(en)
University(ies)

-unft

This endings is feminine and is pluralized by changing the stem vowel and adding -e

  • Unterkunft
Lodging
  • Unterkünfte
Lodgings

-ik

This ending often doesn't have a plural. When it does however, you add '-en

  • Technik(en)
Technique(s)

Other

When verb infinitives transform into nouns, they do not have a plural form.

  • das Sprechen
Language

Many masculine nouns are formed by verbal stems without a suffix. Many of these receive an umlaut in their plural form.

Gender[edit]

German, like many other languages, gives each noun a gender: Masculine, Feminine, and Neuter. Plural nouns also act differently not only with the verb of the sentence, but the article preceding it.

The way any particular word is classified may not be logical.

Examples:

das Mädchen       the girl (neuter)
die Person        the person (feminine - even when talking about a man)

However, not all German Nouns are randomly allocated a gender. The following notes will apply to most nouns but not all.

A note on Mädchen:

This is derived from the diminutive form of Maid (old, rarely used) - Maidchen. Grammatically it is neuter, but when referenced, nowadays the logical feminine gender takes over: Das Mädchen und ihr Hund. (Das Mädchen und sein Hund would be used in German slang but is rare and shouldn't be used.)

Masculine[edit]

There are far more masculine nouns than of either of the other genders. The masculine nominative definite article is der.

Semantic Groups Which Are Masculine[edit]

days              z.B. der Montag
times of the day  z.B. der Morgen
months            z.B. der August
seasons           z.B. der Sommer
male persons*     z.B. der Mann, der König
male animals      z.B. der Löwe, der Hahn, der Ochse
alcohol**         z.B. der Wein, der Likör, der Alkohol, der Champagner
car***            z.B. der Wagen, der Opel, der Mercedes, der BMW

* With, of course, the exception of die Person which remains feminine even when talking about a man.
** However, it is das Bier, die Spirituose(because of the ending "-ose"), das Pils(because it is a beer), das Methanol(because it is a scientific term of a substance)
*** Excepting "das Auto".

Words with Certain Endings[edit]

These rules apply always

-ismus: der Kommunismus, der Anglizismus, der Terrorismus
-ling: der Lehrling (apprentice), der Liebling (darling), der Schmetterling (butterfly)
-or: der Motor
-ant: der Elefant


The following groups of nouns are usually (but not always) masculine

Nouns ending in -el:     der Vogel
Nouns ending in -er:     der Hamster
Nouns ending in -en:     der Kuchen (but not infinitives used as nouns. They are neuter: das Rauchen, das Lachen)
Nouns ending in -aum:

Examples:
Baum, Traum, Schaum, Raum, Saum, Flaum

Nouns ending in -ang:

Examples:
Drang, Fang, Gang, Hang, Klang, Rang, Anfang, Empfang, Gesang, Tang

Nouns ending in -und:

Examples:
Bund, Grund, Schund, Hund, Fund, Schwund, Schlund, Mund

Exceptions:
neuter: Pfund

Nouns ending in -all:

Examples:
Ball, Fall, Krawall, Drall, Hall, Wall, Aufprall, Kristall, Knall, Schall, Zufall, Abfall, Vorfall, Schwall

Exceptions:
neuter: All, Metall, Intervall
feminine: Nachtigall

Feminine[edit]

The feminine Gender article is die. It is used in the nominative and accusative singular case. It is also used to indicate nominative and accusative plural for nouns of any gender.

e.g. die Katze — Feminine

                 —or—
       die Katzen — feminine plural
       die Männer - masculine plural
       die Mädchen - neuter plural

Semantic Groups[edit]

Female persons and animals are usually feminine (very few exceptions).

Examples:

die Frau (woman)
die Schwester (sister)
die Mutter (mother)

To change a male designation to feminine, you often use the ending -in.

der Lehrer - die Lehrerin (teacher)
der Kaiser - die Kaiserin (emperor and empress)
der König - die Königin (king and queen)
der Arzt - die Ärztin (doctor)
der Löwe - die Löwin (lion and lioness)

Exceptions

das Mädchen (girl)
das Kind (child)
das Fräulein (old fashioned for Miss)


A lot of plants and trees are also feminine

Examples:

die Buche (beech)
die Eiche (oak)
die Rose (rose)
die Tulpe (tulip)
die Nelke (carnation)

Exceptions:

das Veilchen (violet), der Farn (fern) ...

Words With Certain Endings[edit]

The following rules always apply.

German words:

-heit: die Gesundheit (health), die Wahrheit (truth)
-keit: die Möglichkeit (possibility)
-schaft: die Wirtschaft, die Freundschaft
-ei: die Türkei, die Mongolei, die Bäckerei*
Words derived from verbs with the ending -ung: 
 die Beobachtung (observation; v: beobachen), die Verfolgung (persecution; v: verfolgen)
Words derived from verbs (mostly irregular verbs), ending in -t:
 die Handschrift (hand writing (n), derived from "schreiben),
 die Fahrt (journey, trip or ride, derived from fahren)

Exceptions

* das Ei (egg) has nothing to do with the ending -ei. 
Das Ei is neuter, including all words derived from: z.B. das Spiegelei, das Rührei, das Vogelei (different types of eggs)

Foreign words: Words with the endings given below are always stressed on the last syllable.

-enz: die Intelligenz (intelligence), die Konsequenz (consequence)
-i.e.: die Philosophie (philosophy), die Melodie (melody)
-ik: die Musik (music), die Politik (politics)
-ion: die Nation, die Qualifikation (qualification)
-ur: die Kultur (culture)
-tät:
Examples:
Universität, Majestät, Lokalität, Pietät, Integrität, Qualität, Aktivität, Priorität, Nationalität, Kapazität
-age:
Examples:
Garage, Montage, Etage, Spionage, Persiflage, Blamage

The following rule applies often.

 -e: die Lampe (lamp), die Karte (card, map)

Exceptions:

semantic reasons: der Junge (boy), der Franzose (French man), der Löwe (Lion)
others: der Käse (cheese)

Neuter[edit]

The neutral Gender article is das for the nominative and accusative case.

Semantic Groups[edit]

names of colors: das Blau, das Rot, das Gelb, das Hellgrün, das Dunkelbraun

Words With Certain Endings[edit]

This rule applies always:

diminutive endings -lein and -chen:
  das Mädchen (girl), das Häuschen (little house), das Büchlein (little book)

This rules apply often:

ending -um if the word has Latin origin: : das Zentrum, das Museum
ending -ment: das Parlament (parliament), das Fundament (base, basis), das Element (element)
Words that end with -em and are stressed on the last syllable:

Examples:
Problem, Theorem, System, Extrem

Foreign words that end with -ett and are stressed on the last syllable:

Examples:
Tablett, Etikett, Korsett, Parkett, Kabarett, Ballett

Words that end with -ma:

Examples:
Thema, Trauma, Drama, Dilemma, Prisma, Schema, Koma, Klima, Komma, Karma, Lama, Dogma, Paradigma

Exceptions:
feminine: Firma

Words that end with -o:

Examples:
Auto, Radio, Video, Kino, Kilo, Büro, Sakko, Solo, Storno, Bistro, Manko, Banjo, Tempo, Motto, Fresko, Embargo, Esperanto, Studio, Ghetto, Foto, Echo, Piano, Cello, Kasino

Exceptions:
masculine: Tango, Fango, Espresso, Embryo

Foreign words that end with -om:

Examples:
Syndrom, Palindrom, Phantom, Polynom, Binom, Monom, Atom, Axiom, Genom, Symptom, Diplom, Kondom, Chromosom

Words With Certain Beginnings[edit]

Nouns that begin with Ge- are often neuter.

Examples: Gedicht, Gericht, Gesicht, Gewicht, Geheimnis, Gebirge, Geschirr, Gedächtnis, Gebiet, Gespenst, Gewissen, Gesetz, Getränk, Gewand, Gewitter, Geschenk, Gespräch, Gebäude, Gehäuse, Gemüse, Geschäft, Getreide, Gerücht, Gewerbe

Exceptions:
masculine: Gedanke, Genuss, Geschmack, Gewinn, Geruch
feminine: Gewalt, Gestalt, Geschichte, Gemeinde, Gefahr

Nouns Derived From Certain Verbclasses[edit]

Verbs used as noun (roughly corresponding to the gerund)
das Rauchen (Smoking), das Lesen (Reading)

Tips For Learning[edit]

As most German articles can not be attributed to certain rule, it is best to always learn the article when learning the noun. You may think of the article as necessary information belonging to every noun. You avoid a lot of looking-up-time that way.

Looking Up Gender in Dictionaries[edit]

Most dictionaries do not give the article. Instead, you find different sets of abbreviations which tell you to which class the noun in question belongs.

The most common sets of abbreviations are:

r, e, and s.
  r: der, masculine; 
  e: die, feminine; 
  s: das, neuter.
The abbreviations of this type are usually given before the noun.
m, f, and n. 
m: masculine; f: feminine; n: neuter. The abbreviations of this type are usually given after the noun.
m, w, and s. 
m: männlich, masculine; w: weiblich, feminine; s: sächlich, neuter. The abbreviations of this type are usually given after the noun.

Contents[edit]


Grammar

75%.svg Adjectives and Adverbs50%.svg Alphabet25%.svg Cases75%.svg Nouns50%.svg Prepositions and Postpositions50%.svg Pronouns75%.svg Sentences75%.svg Verbs

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German Lessons: 50%.svg Level I50%.svg Level II25%.svg Level III00%.svg Level IV00%.svg Level V

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GrammarAppendicesAbout (including print versions) • Q&APlanning