Unit 1: Basics

2. Noun Gender and the Nominative Case

German nouns have gender, i.e., they are masculine, feminine or neuter, but memorizing the gender of every noun is not particularly important for reading German. What is of significance is that the definite articles (the words for “the”) differ according to gender and undergo changes according to the role the word plays in a sentence. (More on this later.)

For example, in the nominative case (used when nouns are sentence subjects), the articles are:

Masculine: der Tisch (the table)
Feminine: die Feder (the feather, quill pen)
Neuter: das Bett (the bed)

We recommend that, as you learn the nouns you choose to memorize, you learn each noun with its definite article, because there are only a few cases when you can determine what the gender is by simply looking at the noun.

Some of these exceptions are:

  1. Nouns that end in chen or lein are neuter. These suffixes denote diminutives, e.g. das Städtchen (little town).
  2. Humans and animals that are obviously male or female usually have the equivalent gender. For example,
    der Mann (the man) die Frau (the woman)
    der Bulle (the bull) die Kuh (the cow)
    der Vater (the father) die Mutter (the mother)
  3. All nouns that end in ei, –heit, –ie, –in, –keit, –schaft, –tät, –ung are feminine. For example:

    die Bäckerei (bakery)
    die Tragödie (tragedy)
    die Gesundheit (health)
    die Lehrerin (woman teacher)
    die Freundlichkeit (friendliness)
    die Landschaft (landscape)
    die Zeitung (the newspaper)
    die Universität (university)


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