Posts Tagged ‘nouns’

German Noun Gender

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

German Flag Man

Most world languages have nouns that are either masculine or feminine. German, besides capitalizing all nouns, goes them one better and adds a third gender: neuter. The masculine definite article (“the”) is der, feminine is die, and neuter is das. German-speakers just seem to know whether Wagen (car) is der or die or das. (It’s der Wagen.) And they also know that the other German word for car is das Auto. But when referring to cars by brand name, it’s always der Ford, der VW or der Mercedes.

It’s not the actual person, place or thing that has gender in German, but the WORD that stands for the actual thing. That’s why a “car” can be either das Auto (neut.) or der Wagen (masc.).

Forget linking gender to a specific meaning or concept. Although nouns for people often follow natural gender, there are exceptions such as das Mädchen, girl. There are three different German words for “ocean” or “sea”—all a different gender: der Ozean, das Meer, die See! And gender does not transfer well from one language to another. The word for “sun” is masculine in Spanish (el sol) but feminine in German (die Sonne). A German moon is masculine (der Mond), while a Spanish moon is feminine (la luna). It’s enough to drive an English-speaker crazy!