What’s “grammatical gender” (das grammatikalische Geschlecht)?
Grammatical gender is an essential problem for every learner of German as a foreign language, and sometimes even for the Germans themselves.
- If we talk about grammatical gender, we mean the gender of the word itself. This characteristic of German nouns has repercussions on how the noun has to be adapted during sentence formation.
- There are three different genders: male (männlich), feminine (weiblich) and neuter (neutral).
- We have to choose the correct definite (bestimmter Artikel) or indefinite article (unbestimmter Artikel) for each gender.
- We can use definite articles – “der“(male),”die “(female) and “das” (neuter”) – or
- indefinite articles – “ein” (male), “eine” (female) and “ein” (neuter).
- Articles are declinable. For more (free) information on the declension of German articles:
- Apronus.com: German Adjective Endings: Three simple Rules for Declension
- german-grammar.de: Chapter 9: German declension
- German for English Speakers: Complete Declension Tables
- revisionworld: Articles change depending on case
- Wikipedia.org:German articles
Unfortunately there’s no way around learning the gender along with the meaning of a noun. Why? Because the grammatical gender is not always logical.
en: lamp – dt: die Lampe -> feminine! One could now think: Why is it femine? It’s a thing! So, shouldn’t a lamp be neuter?
en: house – dt: das Haus-> neuter! BUT
en: church – dt. die Kirche -> female!
Do Germans automatically know the grammatical gender of nouns?
Well, no. Although it’s often logical and you just know the gender, because you learned it along with the noun, there are some debatable cases.
One such case is butter, officially “die Butter”. Colloquially it’s sometimes called “der Butter” or “die Butter”. It all depends on whom you ask in which region of Germany.
Where do I get more information?
If you’re interested you can find more information about the grammatical gender of German nouns on the internet. I found (free) information on this topic on these websites:
- Dartmouth German Studies Department: the Gender of German Nouns (das Genus)
- dummies.com: identifying a German words gender
- Jakub Marian’s: How to recognize Gender in German using suffixes
- lingolia.com: gender
- University of Michigan: some hints on how to guess gender
- vistawide: German nouns
- Wikipedia.org: German Grammar