nouns & articles in german grammar

 

How to learn German nouns and articles

What is a noun?

Nouns appear everywhere in our writing. But what types of nouns are there in the German language, and how are they used? A noun is a word that names something, such as a person, place, thing or idea. Nouns are easy to recognise in German because they are all capitalised.

Capitalise nouns (1).jpg

In the above sentence, Hund (dog), Park (park), and Angela Merkel, Hamburg, Pferd (horse), Gras (grass), Kinder (children), Himmel (sky) are names/nouns.

Nouns can play the role of subject, direct object, indirect object, subject complement, object complement, appositive or adjective. So there are many ways to use them. 

Nouns can name a person:

Madonna, der Hund, the dog, mein Kind, my child, der Junge, the boy


Nouns can also name a place: 

Meine Heimat, my home, Deutschland, Germany, mein Wohnzimmer, my living room
 

Nouns can also denote things, although sometimes they are intangible things, such as concepts, activities or processes. Some can even be hypothetical or imaginary things.

der Schuh, shoe, die Wolke, cloud, die Freiheit, freedom, der Fußball, football, das Glück, luck

German nouns have different articles - masculine, feminine and neuter

In English, the definite article is "the" and the indefinite article is "a". In German grammar, the articles and gender of nouns play a different role.

In German, the Gender always refers to the word itself!


To indicate the gender of nouns, various gender markers are used. The three gender markers that mean the (singular) in English are der (masculine), die (feminine) and das (neuter) in German. The plural form of the definite article is always die regardless of the gender. In English, there is only one gender marker for the definite article of all nouns: the.

Here are three examples to show the explained above: der Hund, the dog, die Katze, the cat, das Pferd, the horse

Deutsche Artikel (1).jpg

Why should the dog be masculine, the cat feminine and the horse a neuter? How do you know how to form/use genders correctly in German?

  • First of all, remember that gender is an integral part of every noun; it's like a piece of the noun's identity.

  • When you add new German nouns to your vocabulary, always learn the article of each noun at the same time.

  • You cannot use a noun correctly if you do not know its article.

Das Alphabet (1).jpg

You can see from the nouns in the alphabet that the gender of a noun usually has little to do with the properties of the object. This is because the gender of a noun is a grammatical concept that has to do with words and not with physical properties of the things they represent.

For this reason, the same object can be referred to by nouns of different genders. A car can be referred to as das Auto or der Wagen, depending on what the person prefers. A camera is die Kamera or der Fotoapparat. The season spring can be either der Frühling or das Frühjahr.

When a noun refers to a person, the gender of the word usually corresponds to the physical sex of the person: der Mann (man)  is masculine, die Frau (woman) is feminine. However, grammatical gender and physical gender do not always agree; for example, the gender of the word child, das Kind, is a neuter, regardless of whether the child is male or female.

It can be helpful to think of gender as simply categories of nouns to avoid confusion with the concept of physical gender.

How to use the correct German Gender

The genders of many nouns are unpredictable for German students, but there are several types of nouns that belong to a particular gender category. These may be specific groups of nouns that refer to similar things, or they may share common linguistic features.

It is much more efficient to memorize the overarching gender categories of nouns than the gender of each individual German noun. 

The most important part of a noun is the end of the noun, the suffix. There are certain suffixes that are almost exclusively masculine, feminine, and neuter. 


The German language contains numerous compound nouns. These consist of two or more words joined together to form a single word. The compound words can be not only nouns, but also adjectives, adverbs, verb stems and prepositions.

However, the last element of the combination must be a noun. German also allows the invention of new compounds.

 

Important: The last word in the compound always determines the gender and the plural form of the compound noun.
 

The formation of new nouns happens relatively often in the German language. In a compound noun (plural: composita), different words are combined to form a new word. A compound noun consists of at least two words. A noun compound can also consist of many different words. Sometimes a compound noun is made up of four, five, six or more individual words (see examples). In a compound noun, the last noun determines the genus and the numerus. A compound noun can be composed of:

  • Nomen + Nomen

das Haus + die Tür = die Haustür

das Haus + die Tür + der Schlüssel = der Haustürschlüssel

  • Verb + Nomen

schlafen + das Zimmer = das Schlafzimmer

  • Adjektiv + Nomen

alt + das Papier = das Altpapier

  • Adverb + Nomen

rechts + die Kurve = die Rechtskurve

If two nouns are strung together, this happens easily with the majority of these word combinations:

das Auto+ die Tür = die Autotür; das Kind + das Fahrrad = das Kidnerfahrrad
the car+ the door = the car door;  the child + the bicycle = the child's bicycle.

 

In about 30 per cent of the compounds, a so-called "Fugenzeichen" is inserted. A Fugenzeichen is a connecting sound between the two words, usually -e, -(e)s, -(e)n or -er. Unfortunately, there are no fixed rules for the insertion. The " Fugen-s " is relatively common. Mostly it serves the purpose of pronunciation.

Some selected examples:

Fugenzeichen -e (more rarely / often verb (-(e)n from the infinitive is dropped) + noun).
lesen + die Brille = die Lesebrille; baden + das Zimmer = das Badezimmer
schlafen + das Zimmer = das Schlafzimmer; sprechen + die Stunde = die Sprechstunde; der Hund + Hütte = die Hundehütte; die Maus + die Falle = die Mausefalle


Fugenzeichen -(e)s ( more common ) Often found in compounds with words on -tum, -ling, -ion, -tät, -heit, -keit, -schaft, -sicht, and -ung.
die Geburt + der Tag + das Geschenk = das Geburtstagsgeschenk; die Gesundheit + der Minister = der Gesundheitsminister; die Schwangerschaft + der Test = der Schwangerschaftstest


Fugenzeichen  -(e)n (usually the corresponding plural form)
der Student + der Ausweis = der Studentenausweis; die Straße + die Bahn = die Straßenbahn; der Rabe + die Mutter = die Rabenmutter

Some examples of long compounds

  • die Armbrust

  • die Mehrzweckhalle

  • das Mehrzweckkirschentkerngerät

  • die Gemeindegrundsteuerveranlagung

  • die Nummernschildbedruckungsmaschine

  • der Mehrkornroggenvollkornbrotmehlzulieferer

  • der Schifffahrtskapitänsmützenmaterialhersteller

  • die Verkehrsinfrastrukturfinanzierungsgesellschaft

  • die Feuerwehrrettungshubschraubernotlandeplatzaufseherin

  • der Oberpostdirektionsbriefmarkenstempelautomatenmechaniker

  • das Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

  • die Donaudampfschifffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft

Compound nouns.jpg

Compound nouns

Some words require an -n-, -en-, -s- or -es- between the combined words.

Compound nouns (1).jpg

Nouns with multiple genders

There are a handful of German nouns that have more than one gender. 

Nouns with two genders

German nouns.jpg

Nouns with different meanings and genders

Although spelled the same, these nouns have different meanings and are considered unrelated, separate nouns. 

German nouns.png