Before trying to master the gender of words in German, it’s important to remember that in German there are three genders: feminine, masculine and neutral. This can, no doubt, be tricky for those English speakers who are used to only two genders for pronouns!

In a nutshell, basic articles for genders in German are:

 

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Telling the Difference Between German Feminine Masculine Neutral Nouns

In general, when accumulating German vocabulary, it’s important to learn the gender with it. Make it a habit to include them on your flashcards and vocabulary lists. This, however, is not always possible when learning German through the highly effective method of language immersion, which includes listening, reading, and speaking.

While some genders in German are without any noticeable logic, certain collections of words or particular suffixes consistently take the same gender. Below are guidelines on how to recognise the gender of a German noun.

General German Masculine and Feminine Rules 

When it comes to the gender of words in German, masculine words comprise the points of direction on the compass and most words that relate to the calendar (months, seasons, and days of the week). Masculine words also include those that end with the following:

  • “-er” (”der Bäcker”) which means “the baker”
  • “-ich” (”der Teppich”) which means “the rug”
  • “-eich” (”der Bereich”) which means “the area”
  • “-ismus” (”Optimismus”) which means “for example”

Here are easy ways to remember the gender of words in German and to tell if a German word is feminine.

Feminine words in German comprise the cardinal numerals and the names of many plants and trees. The following word endings indicate that the German word is feminine.

  • “-heit” (”die Freiheit”) which means “freedom”
  • “-enz” (”die Existenz”) which means “existence”
  • “-schaft” (”die Gesellschaft”) which means “society”
  • “-ung” (”die Bildung”) which means “education”

Genders in German are something you just cannot get away from. Let’s continue by taking a look at German neuter nouns.

What About German Neuter Nouns?   

German neuter nouns apply to chemical elements and any word formed from an infinitive (”das Lesen”, “das Schneiden”). Additionally, bear in mind that German neuter nouns will have the following endings.

  • “-heit” (”die Freiheit”) which means “freedom”
  • “-enz” (”die Existenz”) which means “existence”
  • “-schaft” (”die Gesellschaft”) which means “society”
  • “-ung” (”die Bildung”) which means “education”

Genders in German can affect case, pronouns and articles too!

Take a look at these German masculine and feminine rules.

teacher and students in classroom
Learning German starts with learning how to recognise the genders of German nouns. - Source: Pexels

The Uses of the Nominative Case in German

The nominative case is also the default case. It is the case you will learn when you learn German vocabulary, but also conjugation.

Check out German Word Genders for  Pronouns and Articles in the Nominative

Articles

 

MasculineFeminineNeuterPluralDefinite/Indefinite
DerDieDasDieDefinite
EinEineEin-Indefinite

 

Pronouns

  • Singular
    1st Person2nd Person3rd Person Masculine3rd Person Feminine3rd Person Neuter
    IchDuErSieEs

 

  • Plural
    1st Person2nd Person3rd Person Masculine
    WirIrSie

 


The nominative is the case that is used for:

The subject in a sentence

I’m listening to music becomes:  Ich höre Musik.

The man’s learning German becomes:  Der Mann lernt Deutsch

We’re going shopping becomes:  Wir gehen einkaufen

The modifying noun in a sentence with “sein” (to be):

I am from Berlin becomes Ich bin ein Berliner

This horse is a unicorn becomes Dieses Pferd ist ein Einhorn

I’m the princess becomes Die Prinzessin bin ich


Using Accusative Case in German

If you thought that the accusative case had something to do with courtrooms or accusing somebody of a crime, you are not completely wrong. Among other things, the accusative is used when there is a direct object in sentences such as:

I accuse the lion Scar of killing Mustafa.

Ask yourself, who are you accusing? The lion named Scar. This means that “The lion Scar” is the direct object and would then need to take the accusative in German:

“Ich beschuldige den Löwen Scar, Mustafa getötet zu haben.”

German Word Genders and Accusative Pronouns and Articles

MasculineFeminineNeuterPluralDefinite/Indefinite
DenDieDasDieDefinite
EinenEineEin-Indefinite
  • Singular
    1st Person2nd Person3rd Person Masculine3rd Person Feminine3rd Person Neuter
    michdichihnsiees
  • Plural
    1st Person2nd Person3rd Person Masculine
    unseuchsie

The Accusative Object and German Word Genders

The direct object or accusative is in fact the object of the verb’s action. Ask yourself, who or what is being verbed?

Ich kaufe einen Brot.” I am buying a bread. Ask yourself, what am I buying? You are buying “brot” which is the direct or accusative object.

But here is something to remember: there is no accusative indefinite plural article in German. In English you would say “I am buying bread” if you are buying more than one loaf, this is the same in German when you say: “Ich kaufe brot.”

Ich hole Severin ab.” This means, I’m picking Severin up.

Ask yourself who you are picking up. Severin!

He’s bringing us to the train station.  This means, "Er bringt uns zum Bahnhof."

German Prepositions That Use the Accusative

In German, nouns that follow prepositions use different cases depending on the preposition. Here are main prepositions that take the accusative in German.

  • Though, means, Durch
  • For, means, Für
  • Against, means, Gegen
  • Without, means, Ohne
  • So as to, means Um

Locational Prepositions: When to Use the Accusative

If you are using prepositions to indicate location such as, in, auf, unter, then by using the accusative you indicate movement.

  Ie setzt das letzte Teil in den reparierten Motor ein.

In this example, the act of “placing” or “running” indicates a movement, therefore German grammar requires that the accusative is used.

Using the Accusative for Indicating Time, Except When It Comes to “üBer" and "Auf"

  Jeden Tag ist was neues am Raumschiff kaputt.
Something new breaks daily in the spaceship.

Using the Accusative for Units of Measure

Ihr Schraubschlüssel war einen Meter lang.
Her wrench was a metre long.

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Understand the Dative Case

Dative articles and pronouns

MaculineFeminineNeuterPlural
DemDerDemDen
EinemEinerEinem-
  • Singular
FeminineNeuter1st Person2nd Person 3rd Person Neuter
ihrihmmirdirihm

 

  • Plural
    1st Person2nd Person3rd Person
    unseuchihr

The plurals of German nouns in the dative case

While, in general, the noun is not declined in German grammar, plurals take an “-n” at the end in the dative case, unless the plural is formed with “-s” or “-n”.

  Diese Raumschiffe sind leicht zu reparieren.
These spaceships are easy to repair.

Die Mechanikerin gibt den Raumschiffen viel Aufmerksamkeit.
The mechanic gives the spaceships a lot of attention.

The Dative or Indirect Object

In German sentences, the indirect object points to who the action is done for:

Der Pilot bringt der Mechanikerin ein belegtes Brot.
The pilot takes the mechanic his sandwich.

To whom does the pilot take the sandwich? The mechanic. Therefore, the mechanic becomes the indirect object and must take the dative case.

Prepositions That Take the Dative Case in German

Here’s a list worth remember of prepositions that require the dative case:

  • Bei
  • Aus
  • Nach
  • Mit
  • Von
  • Seit
  • Zu
  • Außer
  • Gegenüber

When to Use Locational Prepositions With the Dative

In German, remember that the accusative is used to indicate motion or activity, but the dative is used when a location is fixed.

  Er setzt den neuen Hyparantrieb in das Raumschiff.
Her puts the new drive in the spaceship.

Because the act of “putting” is a motion, the preposition “in” takes the accusative.

However:
  Der Pilot sitzt in seinem Sitz.
The pilot sat in his seat.

Here, the pilot is not moving, so the preposition “in” requires the dative.

Also, remember that the dative case in German indicates the time with prepositions other than “auf” or “über”.

German Verbs That Take the Dative

sheets of colourful paper, sticky notes and pens on desk
With some revision, you can make sense of German noun genders. - Source: Pexels

There are some German verbs that take the dative when an English speaking person might expect the accusative.

Some of these include:

  • gehören
  • Danken
  • Ähneln
  • Einfallen
  • schmecken

Ich danke dir, which means, I thank you.

Das gehört ihm, this belongs to him.

Sie ähnelt ihrer Mutter, which means, she looks liked her mother.

Der Text fällt mir nicht ein, which means I don’t remember the text.

Bohnen schmecken ihr nicht, which means, beans aren’t tasty to her.

In German, some verbs have already built in the dative- like verbs with prefixes “bei”, “nach” and “zu” (notice that these are the same as the prepositions that take the dative). Then, there are also those with the inseparable prefix “ent-”:

  • Das Kind läuft seiner Mutter nach, which means that, the child is following its mother.
  • Er trat dem Schützenverein bei, which means that, he joined the rifle club.
  • Sie schaut dem Spiel zu, which means that, she’s watching the game.
  • Er konnte dem Schicksal nicht entkommen, which means that destiny couldn’t escape him.

The German Language and the Genitive Case

The gender of words in German, or the genitive, is the only case in where the noun is declined. This happens for most masculine and neuter words, by simply adding an “s”.

  Der Hyperantrieb des Raumschiffes.
The spaceship’s drive.

  Die Werkzeuge der Mechanikerin.
The (woman) mechanic’s tools.

As you can tell, the German feminine masculine neutral all have bearing on the use of cases. Here you can see those feminine nouns aren’t declined in the genitive, only the article.

German Feminine Masculine Neutral Pronouns 

MasculineFeminineNeuterPlural
DesDerDesDen
EinesEinerEines-

Singular

FeminineNeuter1st Person2nd Person3rd Person Masculine
ihrerseinermeinerdeinerseiner

Plural

1st Person2nd Person3rd Person
unsereurerihrer

Genders in German and the Possessive Case

The most predominant use German word genders are to indicate the possessive. When the possessing word is a proper noun, it must come before the word which is possessed, however, normal nouns are usually positioned after the possessed article. Placing it before is possible, but this is very old-fashioned language style.

The pilot's spaceship:
  Des Pilots Raumschiff. (old fashioned)
  Das Raumschiff des Pilots.

German Word Genders and Prepositions 

Most of the prepositions that use the genitive are mostly for use in very formal speech and less so in daily life. Actually, those prepositions that are frequently used are increasingly used with the dative instead. Take a look at some of these common ones:

Wegen, which means because
  Wegen der Reparaturen kann das Raumschiff nicht abheben.
Because of repairs, the spaceship cannot launch.

Während, which means during
  Während des Fliegens konnten die Reparaturen nicht gemacht werden.
The repairs couldn’t be undertaken during the flight.

Trotz, which means, despite
  Trotz seiner vielen Macken liebt der Pilot sein Raumschiff.
Despite its faults, the pilot adores his spaceship.

German Word Genders Using Verbs  

Once again, German verbs constructed with the genitive are rare, however, this group does include more commonly-used German verbs such as “adn”, “erfreun”and “helfen”.

In this article, you may have noticed that the use of declension of demonstrative pronouns, as well as possessive articles have not been covered, however you can look out for that in another post.

At the end of the day, as you can see German grammar, particularly when it comes to the complexities around the German feminine masculine neutral, German neuter nouns and all kinds of German masculine and feminine rules can be very complicated. So while there are many ways to learn German grammar as a foreigner, even though the use of free online sources, there is absolutely no doubt that the benefits of working with a private tutor are undisputed.

Take a German language course today. In South Africa, you could try the Superprof website which is host to hundreds of German tutors offering a wide range of experience to suit any level. Amongst the benefits, is that you can opt for face-to-face or online learning at a time, place and pace that suits both you, and the level of German that you are at.

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Interested in reading related articles? Check some of our articles below:

German Grammar rules - where to start

Correct sentence structure in German

Understanding German grammar verb tenses

Learning German grammar rules

Learn German using German books for beginners

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Niki

Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.