The DER — DIE — DAS

Der Die Das

The DER — DIE — DAS

If there is one thing that I stress when teaching German it is the importance of learning nouns with their articles. Like French, Spanish and many other languages German has genders. What makes German just that little harder though is that there are three genders. And the article for words in the plural is the same as for the feminine words.

What do you need to know about genders? Is there an easy way to tell genders? In some instances there are rules regarding the form of the word. These rules are great, but many words fall outside of these rules and will leave you guessing. You cannot rely on natural gender either or analogy to other languages.

For instance:

French ? German

le soliel (masculine) ? die Sonne (feminine)

la lune (feminine) ? der Mond (masculine)

It is important to remember is that genders are grammatical. Therefore the following rule applies:

der –> er

  • Der Hund ist nicht im Haus. Wo ist er?

(The dog is not in the house. Where is he?)

die –> sie

  • Die Katze sprang auf den Tisch. Sie ist auf dem Tisch.

(The cat jumped onto the table. She is on the table.)

das –> es

  • Das Mädchen ist sehr nett. Es schenkt Frau Müller Blumen.

(The girl is very nice. It gives Ms. Müller flowers.)

Important to remember is that DER, DIE, DAS mean “the”. The articles change in the four different cases. Thus they provide us with information about the function of the word in the sentence. Is it the subject, object, indirect object or possessive object?

Let’s see how these articles change. Like with the personal pronouns, many articles occur several times and can make it a little confusing. Masculine words change their articles the most.

articles and cases

Articles with genders and cases: Notice change going down.

What happens if you make a mistake with articles? Usually it is just wrong, but other times it can change the meaning as, like in English, German has homonyms that are spelled the same but mean something different.

For example:

der Tor (the fool)  ? das Tor (the gate)

der Mittag (midday (time)) ? das Mittag = (lunch (meal))

der Messer (the measuring device) ? das Messer (the knife)

The other reason you want to learn this early on is to understand German sentences, which do not always follow a subject, verb predicate order.

For example:

Der Mann schießt den Hund.

(The man shoots the dog.)

der Mann = Nominative = Subject

den Hund = Accusative = Object

OR

Den Hund schießt der Mann.

(The man shoots the dog.)

der Mann = Nominative = Subject

den Hund = Accusative = Object

*Not here that we cannot change the sentence structure in English and must translate it like the last sentence.

So what are some of the rules for genders to help you along the way? Here are some guide lines you can use.

Always MASCULINE (der/ein):

  • Days, months, and seasons: Montag, Juli, Sommer (Monday, July, summer). The one exception is das Frühjahr, another word for der Frühling, spring.
  • Points of the compass, map locations and winds: Nordwest(en) (northwest), Süd(en) (south), der Föhn (warm wind out of the Alps), der Scirocco (sirocco, a hot desert wind).
  • Precipitation: Regen, Schnee, Nebel (rain, snow, fog/mist)
  • Names of cars and trains: der VW, der ICE, der Mercedes. (But motorbikes and aircraft are feminine.)
  • Words ending in -ismus: Journalismus, Kommunismus, Synchronismus (equal -ism words in English)
  • Words ending in -ner: Rentner, Schaffner, Zentner, Zöllner (pensioner, [train] conductor, hundred-weight, customs collector). The feminine form adds -in (die Rentnerin).
  • The basic “atmospheric” elements that end in -stoff: der Sauerstoff (oxygen), der Stickstoff (nitrogen), der Wasserstoff (hydrogen), plus carbon (der Kohlenstoff). The only other elements (out of 112) that are masculine are der Phosphor and der Schwefel (sulphur).

Usually MASCULINE (der/ein):

  • Agents (people who do something), most occupations and nationalities: der Architekt, der Arzt, der Deutsche, der Fahrer, der Verkäufer, der Student, der Täter (architect, physician, German [person], driver, salesman, student, perpetrator).
  • Nouns ending in -er, when referring to people (but die Jungfer, die Mutter, die Schwester, die Tochter, das Fenster)
  • Names of alcoholic drinks: der Wein, der Wodka (but das Bier)
  • Names of mountains and lakes: der Berg, der See (but Germany’s highest peak, die Zugspitze follows the rule for the feminine ending -e, and die See is the sea).
  • Most rivers outside of Europe: der Amazonas, der Kongo, der Mississippi
  • Most nouns ending in -ich, -ling, -ist: Rettich, Sittich, Schädling, Frühling, Pazifist (radish, parakeet, pest/parasite, spring, pacifist)

Der Golf. Das Auto.

——————–

Always FEMININE (die/eine):

  • Nouns ending in the following suffixes: -heit, -keit, -tät, -ung, -schaft – Examples: die Freiheit, Schnelligkeit, Universität, Zeitung, Freundschaft (freedom, quickness, university, newspaper, friendship). **Note that these suffixes usually have a corresponding English suffix, such as -ness (-heit, -keit), -ty (-tät), -ship (-schaft).
  • Nouns ending in -ie: Drogerie, Geographie, Komödie, Industrie, Ironie (often equal to words ending in -y in English)
  • Names of aircraft, ships and motorbikes: die Boeing 747, die Titanic, die BMW (motorbike only; the car is der BMW). The die comes from die Maschine, which can mean plane, motorbike and engine. **Helpful reminder: Ships are often referred to as “she” in English.
  • Nouns ending in -ik: die Grammatik, Grafik, Klinik, Musik, Panik, Physik
  • Borrowed (foreign) nouns ending in: -ade, -age, -anz, -enz, -ette, -ine, -ion, -tur: Parade, Blamage (shame), Bilanz, Distanz, Frequenz, Serviette (napkin), Limonade, Nation, Konjunktur (economic trend).
  • Cardinal numbers: eine Eins, eine Drei (a one, a three)

Usually FEMININE (die/eine):

  • Nouns ending in -in that pertain to female people, occupations, nationalities: Amerikanerin, Studentin (female American, student), but der Harlekin and also many non-people words: das Benzin, der Urin (gasoline/petrol, urine).
  • Most nouns ending in -e: Ecke, Ente, Grenze, Pistole, Seuche (corner, duck, border, pistol, epidemic), but der Deutsche, das Ensemble, der Friede, der Junge ([the] German person, ensemble, peace, boy)
  • Nouns ending in -ei: Partei, Schweinerei (party [political], dirty trick/mess), but das Ei, der Papagei (egg, parrot).
  • Most types of flowers and trees: Birke, Chrysantheme, Eiche, Rose (birch, chrysanthemum, oak, rose), but der Ahorn, (maple), das Gänseblümchen (daisy), and the word for tree is der Baum
  • Borrowed (foreign) nouns ending in -isse, -itis, -ive: Hornisse, Initiative (hornet, initiative)

——————–

Always NEUTER (das/ein):

  • Nouns ending in -chen or -lein: Fräulein, Häuschen, Kaninchen, Mädchen (unmarried woman, cottage, rabbit, girl/maiden)
  • Infinitives used as nouns (gerunds): das Essen, das Schreiben (eating/food, writing)
  • Almost all of the 112 known chemical elements (das Aluminium, Blei, Kupfer, Uran, Zink, Zinn, Zirkonium, …). **Note: Most of the elements end in -ium, a das ending.
  • Names of hotels, cafés and theaters
  • Names of colors used as nouns: das Blau, das Rot (blue, red)

Usually NEUTER (das/ein):

  • Geographic place names (towns, countries, continents): das Berlin, Deutschland, Brasilien, Afrika (but learn non-das countries, such as: der Irak, der Jemen, die Schweiz, die Türkei, die USA [plur.])
  • Young animals and people: das Baby, das Küken (chick); but der Junge (boy).
  • Most metals: Aluminium, Blei, Kupfer, Messing, Zinn (aluminium, lead, copper, brass, tin/pewter; but die Bronze, der Stahl – bronze, steel)
  • Nouns ending in -o (often cognates from Latin): das Auto, Büro, Kasino, Konto (account), Radio, Veto, Video: BUT: die Avocado, die Disko, der Euro, der Scirocco, etc.
  • Fractions: das/ein Viertel (¼), das/ein Drittel (but die Hälfte, half)
  • Most nouns starting with Ge-: Genick, Gerät, Geschirr, Geschlecht, Gesetz, Gespräch (back of the neck, device, dishes, sex/gender, law, conversation): BUT der Gebrauch, der Gedanke, die Gefahr, der Gefallen, der Genuss, der Geschmack, der Gewinn, die Gebühr, die Geburt, die Geduld, die Gemeinde, die Geschichte etc.
  • Most borrowed (foreign) nouns ending in -ment: Ressentiment, Supplement (but der Zement, der/das Moment [2 diff. meanings])
  • Most nouns ending in -nis: Versäumnis (neglect; BUT die Erlaubnis, die Erkenntnis, die Finsternis)
  • Most nouns ending in -tum or -um: Christentum, Königtum (Christianity, kingship; but der Irrtum, der Reichtum – error, wealth)

So there you have it. Now just remember though the Slogan is “Volkswagen — Das Auto“, even more German would be “Vokswagen — Der Wagen“.

VW

“Das Auto” or “Der Wagen”

I’ve also made these handy flashcards to better learn the Gender rules.

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