All German nouns have a gender (der, die, das), and accurate knowledge of the noun genders allows you to properly conjugate definite and indefinite articles, adjectives, possessive constructions, and much more.
If your native language is English or Chinese and you haven’t learned a foreign language before, you might be asking yourself what the heck a noun gender even is. English has biological genders, so for example males are “he”, females are “she”, and inanimate objects (and some living things such as flowers and trees) are “it”. In Chinese, the word (pinyin) ‘tā’ can be used for he, she, and it. Languages such as French, Spanish, and German decided to complicate matters by assigning genders to nouns, but fear not, because I am going to provide some clarity on these mysterious changing articles in the following paragraphs.
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There are three noun genders in German: der (masculine), die (feminine), and das (neuter). These genders represent the definite article “the”. In English, we could simply say “the man”, “the flower”, and “the house”, but in German, each of these nouns has a gender, so it would be “der Mann”, “die Blume”, and “das Haus”.
There is some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that most of the genders have been more or less arbitrarily assigned, meaning you have to simply learn the gender that goes with each noun “auswendig” (by heart). The good news is that there are some tricks you can use to make an educated guess if you can’t remember exactly what the gender of each noun is. Check out the links below to learn some of the groups that frequently use certain genders.
Okay, so now you have a basic understanding of what exactly the noun genders are, but why are they so important? Won’t people understand you even if you use the wrong article? The answer is probably, but the noun genders affect more than just the definite article “the''. They also affect the indefinite article “a/an”. Let’s look at some examples. In English, we would say “a table”, “a woman”, and “a window”; however, in German - at least in the nominative case - this becomes “ein Tisch”, “eine Frau”, and “ein Fenster”. Woah, slow down! What is the nominative case? For now, you can think of it as the “subject” of the sentence. Here are some more examples. The italicized words represent the subject of the sentence and therefore take the nominative case in German.
Der Hund ist groß. | The dog is big.
Die Blume ist schön. | The flower is beautiful.
Das Haus ist klein. | The house is small.
Ein Hund schläft. | A dog is sleeping.
Eine Blume ist billig. | A flower is cheap.
Ein Haus ist teuer. | A house is expensive.
Notice how the indefinite article “Ein” became “Eine” for “Die Blume”, but it stayed as “Ein” for both the masculine and the neuter noun. That’s the pattern here for the nominative case - feminine nouns get an “-e” added to the end of the article. No problem right?
We aren’t going to get into the accusative, dative, or genitive cases today, but you should be aware that the articles change in different ways depending on which case is being used. This means that in order to speak or write in grammatically correct German, you must know the genders of the nouns you are speaking or writing about.
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Outside of the tricks mentioned in the links above, most of the genders need to be learned by heart alongside each noun. We highly recommend that you try to learn each noun with it’s gender, but forgetting and relearning is a big part of language learning, so don’t be discouraged if they don’t all stick at once.
We found that color coding nouns by gender allowed us to more easily remember them. We used blue to represent masculine nouns, pink to represent feminine nouns, and green to represent neuter nouns. This is demonstrated in the examples below.
In addition to our own experience, the use of visual materials has been shown to improve one's ability to remember new vocabulary in a number of academic studies. If you want to read more of our thoughts on language learning check out our Mission.
To briefly summarize the above, all German nouns have a gender: der (male), die (female), or das (neuter). Accurate knowledge of the noun genders allows you to properly conjugate definite and indefinite articles, adjectives, possessive constructions, and much more.
Don’t worry though, because if you use the wrong article there is a good chance that you will still be understood. Regardless, try your best to learn each noun with its gender to save yourself a future headache. Good luck with your language learning!
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