Identifying a German Word’s Gender

By Wendy Foster, Paulina Christensen, Anne Fox

German grammar has some striking differences to English grammar. One difference that newcomers to German notice right away has to do with word gender.

Basically, you have three genders in German — masculine, feminine, and neuter — and although English has the same three genders, they play a very different role in German grammar. Gender in English is what’s called natural gender; for instance, boy and girl are examples of masculine and feminine gender words, while computer is an example of a neuter gender word.

In German, most gender is unnatural. So instead of referring to a word’s meaning, gender refers to the word itself. To point out the gender of nouns, you use different gender markers. The three gender markers that mean the (singular) in German are der (masculine), die (feminine), and das (neuter). The plural form of the definite article is die. English has only one gender marker for the definite article of all nouns, namely the.

Look at the words for eating utensils, where you have all three bases covered: der Löffel (the spoon), die Gabel (the fork), and das Messer (the knife). Why should a spoon be masculine, a fork feminine, and a knife neuter? Don’t worry if you don’t see any logical pattern here because there isn’t one.

So how do you know how to form/use genders correctly in German? First, remember that gender is an integral part of each noun; it’s like a piece of the noun’s identity. So when you add new German nouns to your vocab, be sure to learn the article of each noun at the same time. You won’t be able to use a noun correctly if you don’t know its article. The following table breaks down the three definite articles — der, die, and das by gender, and shows an example for each.

German Definite Articles by Gender (Nominative Case)
German Definite Article (English meaning) Gender (Abbreviation Seen in Dictionaries) German Example (English meaning)
der (the) masculine (m) der Löffel (the spoon)
die (the) feminine (f) die Gabel (the fork)
das (the) neuter (n or nt) das Messer (the knife)
die (the) plural (pl) die Menschen (the people)

Some categories of nouns are consistently masculine, feminine, or neuter. For instance, noun gender usually follows the gender of people: der Onkel (the uncle) and die Schwester (the sister). In many other cases, the noun categories have to do with the ending of the noun. The following two tables provide some fairly reliable categories of nouns and their genders.

Common Genders by Noun Ending (Or Beginning)
Usually Masculine (der) Usually Feminine (die) Usually Neuter (das)
-er (especially when referring to male people/jobs) -ade, -age, -anz, -enz, -ette, -ine, -ion, -tur
(if foreign/borrowed from another language)
-ich -e -ium
-ismus -ei -lein
-ist -heit -ment (if foreign/borrowed from another language)
-ner -ie -o
-ik -tum or -um
-in (when referring to female people/occupations) Ge-
Common Genders by Noun Subject
Usually Masculine (der) Usually Feminine (die) Usually Neuter (das)
Days, months, and seasons: der Freitag
Many flowers: die Rose (the rose) Colors (adjectives) used as nouns: grün
das Grün (the green)
Map locations: der Süd(en) (the south) Many trees: die Buche (the beech) Geographic place names: das Europa (Europe)
Names of cars and trains: der Audi (the Audi) and
der ICE (the Intercity Express)
Names of aircraft and ships: die Boeing 767 (the
Boeing 767
), die Titanic (the Titanic)
Infinitives used as nouns (gerunds): schwimmen (to
das Schwimmen (swimming)
Nationalities and words showing citizenship: der
(the American)
Cardinal numbers: eine Drei (a three) Young people and animals: das Baby (the
Occupations: der Arzt (the doctor) Almost all the chemical elements and most metals: das
(aluminum) and das Blei (lead)
Names of most mountains and lakes: der
(the highest mountain in Austria)
Most rivers outside of Europe: der Amazonas (the Amazon)