German Nouns

All German nouns start with a capital letter. A noun can be a name of any living or non-living thing, idea/ideology, or thought. A noun can be a subject or an object in a sentence or a clause.

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Genders of German nouns

Nouns (die Nomen) in German language are divided into three genders (das Genus Pl. die Genera):
1. masculine nouns (das Maskulinum)
2. feminine nouns (das Femininum)
3. and neuter nouns (das Neutrum).

Three genders of nouns are recognized by their definite articles:

German definite articles "der", "das" and "die" decline according to grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive) and numerous (singular or plural).

Declension of "der", "das", "die"

Kasus Maskulin Neutral Feminin Plural
Nominativ der Mann das Kind die Frau die Männer
Akkusativ den Mann das Kind die Frau die Männer
Dativ dem Mann dem Kind der Frau den Männern
Genitiv des Kindes des Mannes der Frau der Männer

Similarly, indefinite articles (ein, eine) also declines according to grammatical cases and numerous. Please see the page German Articles for more details.

Natural gender and grammatical gender

Gender of a noun can naturally exist, like in case of living things (der Mann, die Frau) or it is just there due to grammatical necessity (das Haus, die Hand). Human genders are natural i.e. der Arzt, die Ärztin, der Professor, die Professorin. However, there are two exceptions, das Mädchen and das Kind.

Animal genders normally represent the whole species and not an individual animal, like die Kuh, das Rind, or their offsprings, like das Entchen, das Kalb.

Genders of non-living things are a grammatical necessity. There are no hard and fast rules to fix the genders of such nouns. However, there are some hints which are discussed below. That's why it is always recommended to learn German nouns along with their genders i.e. das Auto, das Motorrad.

  1. If a noun ends in -er, -ig, -ling, -mus, -or, mostly it is masculine. For example,
  2. der Jäger (the hunter), der Körper (the body), der Bäcker (the baker),

    der Honig (the honey), der König (the king),

    der Frühling (the spring), der Flüchtling (the refugee), der Zwilling (the twin),

    der Algorithmus (the algorithm), der Tourismus (the tourism), der Materialismus (the materialism),

    der Doktor (the doctor), der Motor (the motor), der Professor (the professor).

  3. Words with endings -in, -ion, -ung, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -ei, -ik, -tät, -enz, -ie are normally faminine. For example,
  4. die Professorin (female professor), die Doktorin (the ladydoctor),

    die Station (the station), die Information (the information),

    die Änderung (the change), die Forschung (the research),

    die Gesundheit (the health), die Schönheit (the beauty),

    die Geschwindigkeit (the speed), die Süßigkeit (the sweetness),

    die Wirtschaft (the economy), die Botschaft (the embassy, the message) , die deutsche Botschaft in London (The German Embassy in London),

    die Bäckerei (the bakery), die Datei (the data),

    die Klinik (the clinic), die Physik (the physics),

    die Universität (the university), die Spezialität (the speciality),

    die Differenz (the difference), die Intelligenz (the intelligence),

    die Allergie (the allergy), die Biologie (the biology), die Chemie (the chemistry).

  5. Nouns that end in -ment and -nis are normally neuter. For example,
  6. das Medikament (the medicine), das Dokument (the document), das Instrument (the instrument),

    das Zeugnis (the certificate, report), das Geheimnis (the secret).

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German compound nouns

Compound nouns (Zusammengesetzte Nomen) in German can be formed by combinations of:
a noun & a noun,
a noun & an adjective,
or a noun & a verb.

The meaning of compound noun can be completely out of context from the two original words i.e. schwer + die Kraft = die Schwerkraft.

Noun + Noun = Compound Noun
das Fahrrad
(bicycle)
+ der Weg
(path)
= der Fahrradweg
(bicycle path)
Adjective + Noun = Compound Noun
schwer
(heavy)
+ die Kraft
(force)
= die Schwerkraft
(gravity)
Verb + Noun = Compound Noun
liegen
(to lie)
+ der Stuhl
(chair)
= der Liegestuhl
(deck chair)

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German noun declension

Declension of nouns in German language contains following topics:

  1. Nouns in genitive case
  2. Nouns in dative case
  3. N-declension

Genitive declension

Declension of masculine & neuter singular nouns in genitive case

Kasus Maskulin Neutral Feminin
Nominativ der Mann das Buch die Universität
Akkusativ den Mann das Buch die Universität
Dativ dem Mann dem Buch der Universität
Genitiv des Mannes des Buches der Universität

Masculine and neuter nouns in the genitive case (possessive case) add "-s" or "-es" endings. A noun that consists of a single syllable receives the ending "-es" in the genitive case, while a nouns that consists of more than one syllables receives "-s" ending.

Examples of single syllable:
der Mann → des Mannes
das Buch → des Buches
das Kind → des Kindes

Examples of multiple syllables:
der Vater → des Vaters
der Bruder → des Bruders
der Garten → des Gartens

Das Buch meines Bruders hat viele Bilder. (My brother's book has many pictures.)
Der Vater des Kindes ist ein alter Mann. (The child's father is an old man.)
Die erste Seite des Buches ist grün. (The first page of the book is green.)

An exception to this rule is the genitive case of borrowed nouns from foreign languages that end in letters "-us".
der Statusdes Status
der Globusdes Globus

Another exception is demonstrated by the nouns that show n-declension. These noun don't receive "-s" or "-es" endings, rather they decline according to n-declension rules.

Nouns, that end in "-nis" endings, take an extra "s" before "-es" in the genitive case.
das Ergebnisdes Ergebnisses
das Zeugnisdes Zeugnisses
das Geheimnisdes Geheimnisses

Feminine nouns and plural nouns remain unchanged in the genitive case.

Das Buch meiner Frau hat viele Bilder. (My wife's book has a lot of pictures.)
Die ersten Seiten der Bücher sind grün. (The first pages of the books are green.)

All personal names get "-s" ending in the possessive case (der Genitiv) regardless of single or multiple syllables. This is similar to the English language but there is no apostrophe character in German.
Peters Buch hat viele Bilder. (Peter's book has many pictures.)
Sebastians Auto ist rot. (Sebastian's car is red.)

If the personal name ends in "-s", "-x" or "-z", an apostrophe character is added to the name.
Hans' Auto ist rot.

Declension of masculine and neuter nouns in the genitive case can be avoided by the introduction of the preposition "von + Dativ". This approach is more common in spoken German, but in written language, this is considered less formal.

Das Buch von meinem Bruder hat viele Bilder.
Der Vater vom Kind ist ein alter Mann.
Die erste Seite von dem Buch ist grün.

Dative declension

In the dative case, "-n" ending is added to all plural nouns. Exceptions are the plural nouns that end in letters "-s" or "-n".

Declension of plural nouns in dative case

Kasus der Mann die Frau das Kind
Nominativ die Männer die Frauen die Kinder
Akkusativ die Männer die Frauen die Kinder
Dativ den Männern den Frauen den Kindern
Genitiv der Männer der Frauen der Kinder

As stated above, plural nouns that end in endings "-s" or have already an "-n" don't take "-n" ending in the dative case.
Dative case of die Autosden Autos
Dative case of die Frauenden Frauen

N-declension (Weak nouns in German)

N-declension (n-Deklination) group includes only a few masculine nouns. Nouns in this group are also known as weak nouns (schwache Nomen). These nouns add "-n" ending in their accusative, dative, and genitive cases, both in the singular as well as in plural forms.

N-declension of weak nouns

Kasus Singular Plural
Nominativ der Brite die Briten
Akkusativ den Briten die Briten
Dativ dem Briten den Briten
Genitiv des Briten der Briten

In the above example, a weak noun "der Brite" (Brit/a British national) shows n-declension in all cases except in nominative singular. The grammatical case of a weak noun can only be recognized via declined article.

There are three common points about weak German nouns. There are few exceptions to these points which will be discussed later.

  1. All of these nouns are masculine.
  2. They are names of animals or related to persons (nationality / specialty / profession etc).
  3. Their plural forms end in letter "-n".

Following are the identifications of weak nouns in German.

1. Most these nouns end in the letter "-e", like:
names of nationalitiesder Deutsche (German), der Franzose (Frenchman), der Russe (Russian), der Pole (Pole), der Türke (Turk), der Kurde (Kurd), der Chinese (Chinese),
names of animalsder Affe (monkey), der Schimpanse. (chimpanzee), der Löwe (lion), der Hase (rabbit, hare), der Bulle (bull),
other people related nounsder Sklave (slave), der Kunde (customer), der Junge (boy), der Kollege (colleague), der Neffe (nephew), der Zeuge (witness),

2. Nouns related to persons with endig "-ist" and "-oge". Normally they show type of work (profession, job or speciality) performed by a person.
-istder Polizist (police officer), der Tourist (tourist), der Kommunist (communist), der Kapitalist (capitalist).
-ogeder Biologe (biologist), der Geologe (geologist), der Gynäkologe (gynecologist).

3. Nouns related to people and animals that end in letters "-at", "-ad", "-and", "-ent".
-atder Diplomat (diplomat), der Kandidat (candidate)
-adder Kamerad (comrade),
-andder Doktorand (Ph.D. student)
-entder Konsument (consumer), der Präsident (president), der Produzent (producer).

4. Nouns with ending "-ant", which may or may not be related to people or animals.
-antder Emigrant (emigrant), der Elefant (elephant), der Diamant (diamond), der Hydrant (hydrant), der Konsonant (consonant).

5. There are a few nouns that show both n-declension and genitive s-declension, like der Name (name), der Glaube (faith, belief, trust), der Gedanke (thought, idea).

Exceptions
Some nouns don't have any of the above-mentioned characteristics but still show n-declension.
das Herz (heart), der Automat (automat, machine), der Planet (planet).

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Plural nouns in German

German plural rules are discussed in detail in German for beginners (level A1). The below summary is extracted from the page plural of level A1.

German has many forms of plural nouns.

  1. Nouns that do not change in their plural forms
  2. Nouns that add umlaut in their plural forms
  3. Nouns that add an ending -e and/or an umlaut to their plural forms
  4. Nouns that form plural by adding endings -n and -en
  5. Nouns that form plural by adding endings -er
  6. Nouns that add ending "-s" to their plural forms
  7. Nouns that double the last word
  8. Foreign nouns and their plural forms
  9. Nouns that are used only in singular form
  10. Nouns that are used only in plural forms

Nouns that do not change in their plural forms

Masculine and neuter nouns with the endings -el, -er, -en, -lein do not change in their plural forms.

Singular Plural
das Fenster (window) die Fenster
das Mädchen (girl) die Mädchen
der Löffel (spoon) die Löffel

Nouns that add umlaut in their plural forms

Some Masculine nouns with endings -er and -el add an umlaut to their vowel to form plural nouns.

Singular Plural
der Vater (father) die Väter
der Vogel (bird) die Vögel
der Apfel (apple) die Äpfel

Nouns that add an ending -e and/or an umlaut to their plural forms

These are variety of nouns with no specific endings. Some just add ending "-e" and some also add an umlaut along with the ending "-e".

Singular Plural
die Hand (hand) die Hände
der Ball (ball) die Bälle
der Beruf (profession / job) die Berufe
der Tag (day) die Tage

Nouns that form plural by adding endings -n and -en

Masculine and neuter nouns with the word endings -ant, -e, -ent, -or and -ist often form their plurals by adding an ending "-n" or "-en". The plural form in this group is almost always formed without adding an umlaut.

Singular Plural
der Junge (boy) die Jungen
der Löwe (lion) die Löwen
der Student (student) die Studenten

Feminine nouns with endings -au, -e, -heit, -in, -ion, -ik, -keit, -schaft, -tät and -ung form their plurals by adding endings "-n" and "-en".

Singular Plural
die Frau (woman / wife) die Frauen
die Frage (question) die Fragen
die Idee (idea) die Ideen

Nouns that form plural by adding ending -er

Most neutral nouns as well as some masculine nouns form their plurals by adding the suffix "-er". If there is a vowel that can have umlaut form (a, o and u), often an "umlaut is added" to it.

Feminine nouns do not form plurals with ending -er.

Singular Plural
das Bild (picture) die Bilder
das Lied (song) die Lieder
das Tuch (cloth) die Tücher

Nouns that add ending -s to their plural forms

Nouns that end in vowels a, i, o, u and borrowed nouns from English language, form their plurals by adding "-s" in the end of the noun.

Singular Plural
das Auto (car) die Autos
das Taxi (taxi) die Taxis
das Foto (photo) die Fotos

Nouns that double the last word

Neuter nouns with the ending -nis and feminine nouns with ending -in double the last word.

Singular Plural
das Geheimnis (secret) die Geheimnisse
das Ergebnis (result) die Ergebnisse
die Ärztin (lady doctor) die Ärztinnen

Foreign nouns and their plural forms

Some Foreign nouns keep plural endings from their native languages and some add German plural ending "-en".

Singular Plural
die Agenda (agenda) die Agenden
das Forum (froum) die Foren
die Firma (firm) die Firmen

Examples of foreign nouns which have brought their native plural endings:

Singular Plural
das Praktikum (internship) die Praktika
das Lexikon (lexicon) die Lexika
das Visum (visa) die Visa

Nouns that are used only in their singular forms

As in any other language, German also has some nouns that are used only in their singular or plural forms.

Singular Plural
das Alter (age) -
das Geld (money) -
das Gepäck (luggage) -
das Geflügel (poultry) -
die Gesundheit (health) -
die Hitze (heat) -
der Lärm (noise) -
das Obst (fruit) -
die Zeit (time) -

Nouns that are used only in plural forms

Some German nouns are used only in their plural forms and have no singular forms.

Singular Plural
- die Eltern (parents)
- die Leute (people)
- die Geschwister (siblings)
- die Möbel (furniture)
- die Lebensmittel (food)
Some country names are also used as plural
- die USA
- die Niederlande
- die Philippinen

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Nominalization

Nominalization (Nominalisierung) means some German verbs and adjectives can change into nouns. These nominalized verbs and adjectives always get neutral gender (das).

Nominalization of verbs

lernen → das Lernen
betreten → das Betreten
backen → das Backen
rennen → das Rennen
vergessen → das Vergessen
tanzen → das Tanzen

Beim Tanzen musst du aufpassen. (You have to be careful when dancing.)
Beim Betreten eines Kreisverkehrs muss man die Vorfahrt gewähren. (Upon entering a roundabout one must yield.)
Jana lernt das Backen. (Jana is learning to bake.)

Nominalization of adjectives

When nominalized, adjectives are also capitalized and take the neutral article (das).

schön → Das Schönste des Lebens ist die Kindheit. (The most beautiful (part) of life is the childhood.)

klein → Das ist mein Kleiner. (This is my little one/kid.)

All colors can be nominalized.
Ist das dein Auto? (Is that your car?)
Nein, dieses Rotes ist meines. (No, this red is mine.)

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