One of the trickiest areas of learning German is simply learning the word for ‘the’. With three options to choose from this causes the greatest confusion for many learners and yet it’s one of the most basic words you’ll need.
German uses three words which all mean ‘the’. They use ‘der’ for masculine, ‘die’ for feminine and ‘das’ for neutral. The gender refers to the word, not the person, place or thing itself. So for example, there is ‘der Wagen’ and also ‘das Auto’, both words mean ‘car’, yet the first is masculine and the second is neutral. Then there is also ‘das Mädchen’ the girl, but it has a neutral gender.
So how to ever remember if it’s der, die or das ?
Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need a good memory to learn individual German noun genders. Finding the right technique and strategy to suit your learning style will help you overcome this problem.
- Follow the word pattern. One of the simplest ways to learn the gender is by looking at the word ending or suffix. Most German nouns follow this pattern and you can use this as a quick way of knowing whether the word is masculine, feminine or neutral.
|Masculine – der||Feminine – die||Neutral – das|
|-ant||-heit, -keit||many ending in -el,- en|
|-us, -ismus||-schaft||many borrowed words|
|some ending in -el, -en||-ung||many beginning with Ge-|
- If you’re a visual learner using colour, groupings and pictures to learn can help. For example if you’re learning vocabulary for a specific topic area note down new words in columns labelled ‘der’, ‘die’ and ‘das’. Or learn the masculine words together first as a group, followed by the feminine and then the neutral words. Pictures, labelling and highlighting using different colours can often aid the memory by creating a visual to recall in your head.
- Learn new words as one unit. When children learn German vocabulary as native speakers, they learn the word and its gender together at the same time. So instead of simply learning the word for dog as ‘Hund’ learn ‘der Hund’. This is especially useful when the word doesn’t have an ending like the ones given as examples in Tip 1. When you’re speaking German you’re aiming to sound as fluent as possible, so stopping to think of the right noun gender will break this fluidity. One of the best ways of learning any language and how to put sentences together is to create building blocks. By learning words and their genders together as one block, will mean more fluency, greater accuracy and less time processing the language via your internal grammar rule book.
- Trains, Planes and Automobiles. Easily my favourite way of remembering is by groups of people and objects. The masculine ‘der’ is used for days, months, seasons and makes of cars and trains e.g der BMW, der Audi, der ICE (the intercity express); nationalities e.g der Amerikaner; occupations such as der Lehrer (the teacher), and names of lakes and mountains such as der Grossglockner. Feminine ‘die’ often refers to numbers, flowers and trees, aeroplanes and ships such as ‘die Titanic’ and ‘die Boeing 737’. Finally neutral ‘das’ is generally for colours and words related to science and technology such as elements and metals e.g das Blei (lead) das Silber (silver).
So if German noun gender is causing headaches, you’re not alone. By using just one of these simple tips you will make great strides in improving your spoken & written German and be further down your path to fluency.