German Gender Hints
When to use der, die, das
Nouns and Gender in German
Most world languages have nouns that are either masculine or feminine. German, besides capitalizing all nouns, goes them one better and adds a third gender: neuter. The masculine definite article (the) is der, feminine is die, and neuter is das. German-speakers just seem to know whether Wagen (car) is der or die or das. (It's der Wagen.) And they also know that the other German word for car is das Auto. But when referring to cars by brand name, it's always der Ford, der VW or der Mercedes.
It's not the actual person, place or thing that has gender in German, but the WORD that stands for the actual thing. That's why a car can be either das Auto (neut.) or der Wagen (masc.).
Forget linking gender to a specific meaning or concept. Although nouns for people often follow natural gender, there are exceptions such as das Mädchen, girl. There are three different German words for "ocean" or "sea"all a different gender: der Ozean, das Meer, die See! And gender does not transfer well from one language to another. The word for "sun" is masculine in Spanish (el sol) but feminine in German (die Sonne). A German moon is masculine (der Mond), while a Spanish moon is feminine (la luna). It's enough to drive an English-speaker crazy!A good general rule for learning German vocabulary is to treat the article of a noun as an integral part of the word. Don't just learn Garten (garden), learn der Garten. Don't just learn Tür (door), learn die Tür. Not knowing a word's gender can lead to all sorts of other problems: das Tor is the gate or portal; der Tor is the fool. Are you meeting someone at the lake (am See) or by the sea (an der See)?
But there are some hints that can help you remember the gender of a German noun. These guidelines work for many noun categories, but certainly not for all. For most nouns you will just have to know the gender. (If you're going to guess, guess der. The highest percentage of German nouns are masculine.) Some of the following hints are a 100 percent sure thing, while others have exceptions.
The German Plural
One easy aspect of German nouns is the article used for noun plurals. All German nouns, regardless of gender, become die in the nominative and accusative plural. (In a later lesson you'll learn more about the four German cases and their plural forms.) So a noun such as das Jahr (year) becomes die Jahre (years) in the plural. Sometimes the only way to recognize the plural form of a German noun is by the article: das Fenster (window) - die Fenster (windows). See Noun Plural Forms in German for more about this topic.
Once you master these gender tips you never have to make a stupid guess. For instance, if you're trying to remember the gender of a river, it's dumb to guess das because all rivers are either masculine or feminineas in der Rhein or die Donau (the Danube). If you know the rule, you have a fifty-fifty chance of being right instead of one in three. Another good hint: most rivers outside of Europe are masculine (except for some ending in -a or -e)der Mississippi, der Nil, der Amazonas. (See World Rivers in German.)
Remember, always learn any new German noun with its gender! But if you happen to forget the gender, you'll find the following hints for German gender helpful...
MORE > German Noun Suffixes and Gender - Rules and exceptions
German Noun Suffixes and Gender
A special glossary of rules and exceptions for common German noun endings (-heit, -ung, -in, etc.).
German Gender Quiz 1
Take our self-scoring quiz to test your mastery of noun genders.
German Gender Quiz 2
Version two of our self-scoring quiz to test your mastery of noun genders.
World Rivers in German
A selection of rivers around the globe in German and English - with genders. From your Guide.
All of our annotated English-German glossaries.
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