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The gender of German nouns is often related to the word ending

Grammatical gender is one of the difficult aspects of learning the German language, which has not just two —but three different genders.

In German, for instance, “der Löffel” (spoon) is masculine, “die Gabel” (fork) is feminine, and “das Messer” (knife) is neuter.

At first sight, German grammatical gender seems completely random.

However, there are some heuristic rules, or patterns which can help predict the grammatical gender of German nouns based on their endings.

Basically, by looking at the ending of a German word, it is possible to determine if the word is more likely to be masculine, feminine, or neuter.

The feminine grammatical gender

The following word endings are in most cases found in nouns that have the feminine gender:

-ie

Nouns ending in “-ie”

In German, nouns that end in “-ie” are often feminine, and many of them are derived from Ancient Greek words ending in “logos” (which means “science”).

German English
die Philosophie philosophy
die Biologie biology
die Psychologie psychology
die Ideologie ideology
die Ökologie ecology
die Astronomie astronomy
die Theorie theory
die Utopie utopia

Exceptions include “das Knie” (knee) which does not derive from Ancient Greek.

-heit

Nouns ending in “-heit”

In German, nouns that are created by combining an adjective with the suffix “-heit” typically take the feminine gender. These nouns usually represent abstract concepts rather than concrete objects. Below are a few examples:

Noun Adjective English
die Freiheit frei freedom
die Schönheit schön beauty
die Sicherheit sicher security
die Wahrheit wahr truth
die Klugheit klug wisdom
die Reinheit rein purity
die Fähigkeit fähig ability
die Gleichheit gleich equality
die Ehrlichkeit ehrlich honesty
die Einsamkeit einsam loneliness

Although most German nouns ending in “-scheit” follow the pattern of forming an abstract noun by adding the suffix “-heit” to an adjective, there is an exception with “das Holzscheit” (log of wood). This word has a different etymology, as it is a compound noun formed by combining “das Holz” (wood) with the noun “das Scheit” (log). Additionally, it refers to a concrete object, rather than an abstract concept.

-keit

Nouns ending in “-keit”

The German suffix “-keit” is an alternative form of the German suffix “-heit”. It, too, turns adjectives into nouns referring to abstract concepts.

As a general rule, most German nouns formed with the suffix “-keit” have the feminine gender. Here are some examples:

Noun Adjective English
die Möglichkeit möglich possibility
die Freundlichkeit freundlich friendliness
die Gemütlichkeit gemütlich cosiness
die Wirklichkeit wirklich reality
die Ewigkeit ewig eternity
-schaft

Nouns ending in “-schaft”

The German suffix “-schaft” resembles the English suffixes “-ship” and “-hood”. For example, “die Eltern” (parents) with the suffix “‎-schaft” produces “die ‎Elternschaft” (parenthood)

German nouns which are produced using the suffix “-schaft” typically have the feminine gender. Here are some examples:

German English
die Gemeinschaft community
die Wirtschaft economy
die Botschaft message
die Gesellschaft society
die Freundschaft friendship
die Mannschaft team

Notice that “der Federschaft” is masculine. However, produced using the suffix “-schaft”, instead it is a compound of the nouns “die Feder” and “der Schaft”.

-ung

Nouns ending in “-ung”

The German suffix “-ung” forms nouns from verbs. German nouns formed through this pattern generally have the feminine grammatical gender.

Noun Verb English
die Wohnung wohnen apartment
die Lösung lösen solution
die Aufklärung aufklären clarification
die Verbindung verbinden connection
die Forschung forschen research

This pattern does not apply to German nouns ending in “-ung” when they are not formed as a verb plus the suffix “-ung”. For example:

-ik

Nouns ending in “-ik”

Most German nouns ending in “-ik” have the feminine grammatical gender. Here are some examples:

German English
die Kritik criticism
die Physik physics
die Republik republic
die Musik music
die Politik politics

Two exceptions to this pattern are “der Atlantik” (the Atlantic) and “der Pazifik” (Pacific). A possible explanation is that in German “der Ozean” (the ocean) is masculine. These exceptions are short forms of “der Atlantische Ozean” and “der Pazifische Ozean” respectively.

-tät

Nouns ending in “-tät”

German nouns ending in “-tät” are generally borrowed either from Latin or from French. In both cases, the original word is generally a Latin noun ending in “-tās”.

Latin nouns ending in “-tās” typically have the feminine gender and so do German nouns ending in “-tät”.

German Latin English
die Qualität quālitās quality
die Realität reālitās reality
die Universität ūniversitās university
die Kapazität capācitās capacity
die Autorität auctōritās authority
-tur

Nouns ending in “-tur”

Although German is not a Latin-based language, there are still a number of Latin-derived German vocabulary words.

Most German nouns ending in “-tur” are feminine. Often, they are borrowings from Latin words ending in “-tūra” which typically are also feminine.

German Latin English
die Literatur litterātūra literature
die Kultur cultūra culture
die Natur nātūra nature
die Struktur structūra structure
die Architektur architectūra architecture
die Figur figūra figure

One notable exception to this pattern is “das Abitur” (end of high school exam). The explanation is that “Abitur” is a shortening of “Abiturium”, and hence the neuter gender.

-tion

Nouns ending in “-tion”

In most cases, German nouns ending in “-tion” are derived from Latin nouns ending in “-tiō” and they are feminine.

German Noun Latin English
die Evolution ēvolūtiō evolution
die Information īnfōrmātiō information
die Reaktion reactiō reaction
die Produktion productiō production
die Funktion fūnctiō function
-ei

Nouns ending in “-ei”

German nouns which end in “-ei” are feminine when they specify an occupation.

-in

nouns ending with “-in”

German nouns ending with “-in” which refer to professions or occupations are generally feminine.

Feminine Masculine English
die Lehrerin der Lehrer teacher
die Autorin der Autor author
die Künstlerin der Künstler artist
die Studentin der Student student
die Forscherin der Forscher researcher

The masculine grammatical gender

The following word endings are frequently found in German nouns which have the masculine gender:

-er -ant

Nouns ending in “-er”, “-ner” and “-ant”

Common nouns, which can take on both genders, are marked masculine by the endings “-er”, “-ner” or “ant.” (The feminine ending “-in” functions as its counterpart—see above.)

The first group (“-er”) includes:

To the second group (“-ner”) belong:

And to the third group (“-ant”):

-eich -ich

German nouns ending in “-eich” and “-ich”

Examples for “-eich” include:

But “das Reich” (empire) constitutes a notable exception.

Masculine nouns ending in “-ich” include “der Teppich” (carpet) or “der Strich” (stroke).

-ling

German nouns ending in “-ling”

The suffix “-ling” is rather ancient and the words it definitively marks as masculine most of the times may not be those most frequently employed,

For instance,

-ismus

Nouns ending in “-ismus”

In German all -isms are masculine and end in “-ismus”.

German English
der Idealismus idealism
der Realismus realism
der Exotismus exotism
der Anglizismus anglicism
der Optimismus optimism
der Individualismus individualism
-or

German nouns ending in “-or”

Nouns with the ending “-or” are very often derived from Latin and generally have the masculine gender.

For example:

Notable exceptions include the neuter noun “das Tor” (gate) which, however, is not derived from Latin.

But “das Labor” (laboratory) is, but it is still neuter and not masculine

The neuter grammatical gender

The following word endings are frequently associated with German nouns having the neuter gender::

-chen -lein

Nouns ending in “-chen” and -lein”

In German, the suffixes “-chen” and -lein” are used to create the diminutive form of a noun. Nouns created this way normally have the neuter gender.

For example: “der Brot” (bread) plus the diminutive suffix‎ “-chen” produces “das Brötchen” (bun, or bread roll).

German English
das Mädchen girl
das Fräulein Miss
das Hündchen puppy
das Brötchen bread roll
das Engelein little angel
das Tischchen small table
das Fläschchen little bottle
das Büchlein booklet
-nis

Nouns ending in “-nis”

The German suffix “-nis” is frequently used to produce nouns from verbs. And the nouns formed this way often have the neuter grammatical gender.

For example:

There are many exceptions, however, which include “die Erkenntnis” (insight) or “die Erlaubnis” (permission), derived from the verbs “erkennen” (recognize) and “erlauben” (permit). They are feminine.

-tum -um

Nouns ending in “-tum” or “-um”

“-um” is the suffix for the neuter gender in the Latin language. Latin words adopted in the German language, which thereby are also neuter, include:

German Latin English
das Faktum factum fact
das Datum datum date
das Universum ūniversum universe
das Museum mūsēum museum
das Zentrum centrum center

In most cases, these nouns represent abstract entities. Contrast the following exceptions: “der Raum” (room) or “der Traum” (dream); neither has Latin roots and “Raum” is very concrete.

The German suffix “-tum” can be used to turn adjectives into abstract nouns which are neuter.

Notice the exception: “der Reichtum” (wealth)

“-tum” may also transform nouns into something more abstract:

Another example is “das Schrifttum” (literature).

-en

Nouns which end in “-en”

If a verb is transformed into a noun (activity), then it is always neuter. Any verb in the infinitive, which ends on “-en”, can be nominalized by applying the definite article “das”.

For example:

-o -ma

Nouns ending in “-o” and “-ma”

German nouns ending in “-o” or “-ma” are often neuter, and many of these derive from Ancient Greek words.

Concerning “-o” see:

Notice “das Büro” (office), which derives from the French ‘bureau’.

For “-ma” consider

However, note the important exception of “die Firma” (enterprise).

-ment

Nouns ending in “-ment”

In most cases, German nouns which end in “-ment” are derived from Latin nouns ending in “-mentum”. These German nouns usually have the neuter gender just like the corresponding Latin nouns.

German Latin English
das Instrument īnstrūmentum instrument
das Experiment experīmentum experiment
das Monument monumentum monument
das Argument argūmentum argument
das Element elementum element
Conclusion

For more on German vocabulary, have a look at this list of the 1000 most common German words.

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