In case you have ever wondered how singular and plural nouns are formed, congratulations! You just found the answer to your “how” in this article. But first of all you’d probably like to know the definition of a noun.
A noun is the name of a person (Susan, Paul), place (New York, Berlin), country (France, Germany), Nature (Trees, Seas) an animal (Lion,Dog) or an object (Cup, Pen, Table) etc. Nouns are of various categories in German just like English but their method of classification differs. They have common characteristics which are;
- They all have genders
- They all begin with a capital letter
- They are often used with articles
There are two main types of nouns in German;
- Singular nouns
- Plural nouns
Singular nouns means just “one item” of any particular noun. Singular nouns are divided into three categories which is known as “gender”. Incase you asked yourself “what’s this now?”, just smile and say like I did : “it’s only the German way of doing their own thing” 😂. The three genders are;
- Masculine nouns
- Feminine nouns
- Neuter nouns
Masculine Nouns refer to nouns that are “male” in nature. This doesn’t mean that they are all truly male but it is just a way of classification and should be learnt so. Examples of masculine nouns are;
Feminine Nouns connote all nouns that are “female” in nature. Of course in English this may not be true but just like the masculine nouns, it is just a means of classification. Although to some extent, most feminine nouns are those that are usually loved by the female species 😜🤷♀️. Some Examples are;
Neuter Nouns these are nouns that are neither “male” nor “female”. They are simply neutral. Some examples of neuter nouns in German include;
**Note that some nouns are always singular in form. In other words, they have no plural forms. In English, these nouns are called uncountable nouns. Some examples are;
One major challenge that a lot of people face while learning the German language is in the area of knowing what category a noun belongs. I know a lot of German teachers strongly advise that the nouns should be learned together with their definite articles (der, die, das) but I strongly discourage it. The reason is because der, die and das are not the only articles in German. What happens when people learn the nouns with der, die, das is that they become too used to just these three, which makes it difficult to learn the other articles.
Instead, I encourage people to learn the nouns being conscious of the three gender and then the articles differently according to gender as this makes it easier for them to easily switch from one grammatical case to the other with respect to their articles.Although there are certain guidelines that can be followed in order to second guess the gender.
How to know the gender of german singular nouns
- All nouns that end with -ei, -ung, -keit, -heit,-schaft are Feminine.
- All nouns that end with -mus, -tum, -ett, -ier, -nis, -chen, and -lein and -ment are Neuter.
- All nouns that are coined from German verbs are Neuter.
- All nouns that are coined from past or present tense of verbs without the verb ending “-en” are Masculine.
- All seasons, weather, months of the year and days of the week and times of the day except “Nacht” are Masculine.
- All cardinal numbers are Feminine.
- Most nouns that end with -e are Feminine.
- Most nouns that end with -er, -el or -en are Masculine.
- Most nouns that end with -anz are feminine.
- Most nouns that begin with Ge- are neuter.
Plural nouns are the multiple forms (two or more) of all singular nouns. German plural nouns have definite forms just like English. In English, plurals are made by adding “s, es,” or even by changing certain vowels in the word etc. In German, plurals are made by the following rules;
How to form the plural of german nouns
- Add -e to words that end with consonants e.g Hund ↔️ Hunde, Bein ↔️ Beine etc.
- Add -n to words that end with “e” e.g Lampe ↔️ Lampen, Flasche ↔️ Flaschen etc.
- Add -s to foreign words that end with “a”, “i”, “o” and “y” etc. E.g Baby ↔️ Babys, Büro ↔️ Büros, Pizza ↔️ Pizzas, Taxi ↔️ Taxis etc.
- Add -en to words that end with “r”, “t”, “z” or “ng” e.g Elefant ↔️ Elefanten, Tür ↔️ Türen, Wohnung ↔️ Wohnungen etc.
- Add -er to one-syllabic Neuter nouns and change the vowel to Umlaut where possible. E.g Ei ↔️ Eier, Kind ↔️ Kinder, Glas ↔️ Gläser, Haus ↔️ Häuser etc.
- words that end with “el”, “en”, “er” or “lein” sometimes change first-syllabic vowel to the umlaut form where possible but the word endings never change. E.g Lehrer, Onkel, Schlüssel, Fräulein, Vater ↔️ Väter, Bruder ↔️ Brüder etc.
- Change vowels of some one-syllabic words to the umlaut form where possible before adding -e or -er as the ending e.g Hand ↔️ Hände, Wand ↔️ Wände, Mund ↔️ Münder etc.
- Change Latin words ending from “a” to “en” e.g Firma ↔️ Firmen, Thema ↔️ Themen, Media ↔️ Medien etc.
In addition to the plural forms of german nouns, all german plural nouns in the dative case always end with “-n” except those that already end with “-n”. Hence they stay that way.
*Note that, just like singular nouns, certain nouns are naturally plural in nature. That is, they don’t have singular forms. This indicates that they are usually many in number. Examples include;
German nouns can either be simple, compound or complex in form. These compound and complex nouns are often connected to each other with an “-s-” which i call the cement. Simple nouns are just single nouns e.g “Arm” while compound nouns are formed from the combination of two simple nouns e.g “Armband”. Complex nouns on the other hand are formed from the combination of three or more simple nouns e.g “Armbanduhr”. Hence, the longer the word the more complex it becomes with the longest noun in german being Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz which means “the law for the delegation of monitoring beef labeling” in English.
In order to pronounce such long words, you have to systemically pick out every single noun in the combination. Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz broken down will be “Rind-Fleisch-Etikettierung-s-Überwachung-s-Aufgaben-Übertragung-s-Gesetz”
When nouns combine to form complex or compound forms, the overall gender of this combined form becomes the gender of the last noun. For instance; “Armband”, which is a combination of “Arm” and “Band” has its overall gender as that of “Band”. Likewise, the gender of “Armbanduhr” becomes that of “Uhr”.