Essential German Grammar – Masculine, Feminine, and Neutral

A German noun can have one of three different genders. The noun can be masculine, feminine or neutral; most of the nouns can be singular and plural. There are some exceptions to this, and these exceptions will be explained later. You can use some basic rules to identify whether a noun is masculine, feminine or neutral and these will be outlined in the following guide.

Since there are several exceptions to the rule, someone learning a language always needs to learn the accompanying article as well to use the noun in the correct context. German nouns always have both a definite and an indefinite article. These can vary according to the gender and the case that the noun has.

Masculine

Masculine nouns always take the definite article der and the indefinite article ein in the normative case. Almost 80 percent of the German masculine nouns can be identified by using this rule:

Most of the German masculine nouns can be identified if they end with these suffixes:

–el, -en, -ling, -ismus, -ner, -ig, -ich or –er

Examples:

der Vater (father)
der Onkel (uncle)
der Ofen (oven)
der Rassismus (racism)

Days, months, weather and seasons are normally masculine.

Examples:

der Montag (Monday)
der Frühling (spring)
der Oktober (October)
der Hagel (hail)

 

Feminine

German feminine nouns always take the definite article die and the indefinite article eine in the normative and accusative cases. Although the gender of some nouns can be identified by their sex in real life as in die Frau (woman), the gender of most words does not necessarily correspond to this rule. Because there are too many differences, the easiest way to identify a feminine noun is by looking at the suffixes. You also can use your imagination to learn the genders of new words.
Imagine a man (der Mann) who writes a letter – so letter is masculine = der Brief
Or imagine a child (das Kind) who rides a bike – so bike is neutral = das Fahrrad/Rad

There is a difference in meaning by changing the article and thus the gender.
Der Tau (dew) or Das Tau (hawser)
Die Steuer (tax) or Das Steuer (steering wheel)

Nouns that are feminine usually have the following suffixes:

-ie, -ik, -heit, -age, -ei, -ion, -keit, -itis, -ur, -schaft, -tät or –ung

Examples:

die Montage (construction)
die Qualität (quality)
die Ehrung (tribute)
die Freundschaft (friendship)
die Magie (magic)
die Figur (figure)
die Kindheit (childhood)

Flowers, trees and fruits, as well as cardinal numbers, are usually feminine.

Examples:

die Blume (flower)
die Erdbeere (strawberry)
die Palme (palm tree)
die Fünf (the five)

Neutral

Neutral nouns usually refer to things and take the definite article das and the indefinite article ein. Take a closer look at the suffix of the word to determine if the noun is neutral.

German neutral nouns usually end in the following suffixes:

-chen, -lein, -ett, -il, -ma, -ium, -ment, -tel, -nis, -tum, -um or –o

Examples:

das Mädchen (girl)
das Ventil (valve)
das Hotel (hotel)
das Fundament (basement)
das Meerschweinchen (guinea pig)
das Büchlein (little book)
das Geheimnis (secret)

Names of villages, towns and countries, as well as colors, infinitives that are used as nouns and several diminutives that are quite popular in the German language (words ending in –chen or –lein), usually are neutral.

Cities, regions and countries have the definite article when they are accompanied by attributes.

Examples:

das heutige Hamburg (the Hamburg of today)
das schöne Italien (the beautiful Italy)
das wiedervereinigte Deutschland (the reunited Germany)
das historische Wien 
(the historical Vienna)
das Europa des Spätmittelalters
 (the Europe of the late Middle Ages)
das Paris der Boulevards, Cafés, und Restaurants
 (the Paris of the boulevards, cafés and restaurants)
das Indonesien, das er so geliebt hatte (the Indonesia that he had loved so much)

das Schwarz (black)
das Lesen (reading)
das Kätzchen (little cat)
das Fräulein (little girl)